14 June 2011

Comment ça se passe...

That means more or less "what's happening." CHM and I got back to Saint-Aignan last Friday afternoon, after spending a week driving around northern and eastern France, going pretty much from church to church to church. CHM loves churches for their architecture and history, and there were many that he wanted to see again after many years of living in the U.S.

When we got to Saint-Aignan, we had to turn the rental car in. We had rented a sort of mini-SUV for the trip so that we could transport the paintings and other things CHM was donating to the museum in his family's home town of Péronne in the Somme. When we took the car back to the SuperU store where we rented it —10 miles north of Saint-Aignan — I thought it was in pretty good shape. We hadn't scratched or dented it, and it was fairly clean.

Yesterday was supposed to be showery, but we had
skies like this all day and no rain at all.

It was not clean enough for SuperU, though. "You are expected to return the car as clean as it was when you took it out," the woman said when she inspected it. "No, it's not clean enough at all!" She said they charged a 70 euro cleaning fee — that's 100 American dollars. Since we were, luckily, early turning the car in, I had a couple of hours during which I could wash the thing and vacuum it out. It actually took only about 15 minutes.

SuperU has a gas station and a car wash. It cost 2 euros to pressure-wash the outside of the car, and 2 euros to vacuum it out. That was a lot better than paying the 70 euro cleaning fee. I'd never had to worry about washing and vacuuming out a rental car before, since the big companies like Hertz or Europcar don't charge a cleaning fee. There aren't any car rental agencies in the Saint-Aignan area, so SuperU is the most convenient option.

A bee on a cornflower at the edge of the vineyard

One of the things CHM wanted to do here in Saint-Aignan was to go to the local SNCF (the French national railway system) station and buy tickets for the rest of his travels around France this summer. It's a lot easier to buy train tickets in Saint-Aignan's station than it is at, for example, the Gare Montparnasse in Paris. In Saint-Aignan, you don't have to deal with crowds and stand in long lines. We went to the gare Saturday afternoon.

CHM was buying about $500 worth of SNCF tickets for trips down to the Mediterranean coast, to Bordeaux, and to Normandy. Everything was going along fairly smoothly until he handed over his Visa card. The man behind the counter swiped it through the machine 6 or 8 times to no avail — the message on his computer screen said « Paiement refusé ». CHM had used the card three times the day before, and it had worked fine.

The grapes as they are at this point

We drove back home — it's only about three miles — and CHM got his debit card, which he had left here. We drove back to the train station. That card wouldn't work either — paiement refusé. We figured the problem must not be the cards, but the train station's card reader. So we drove over to my bank in Saint-Aignan and CHM used his debit card to withdraw some cash from an ATM machine. It worked just fine.

The next day, we went back to the bank — a different one, actually — and CHM withdrew the rest of the cash he needed to pay for the train tickets. Again, there was no problem with the debit card. At the train station, the man behind the counter tried CHM's Visa card one more time. No dice. « La SNCF n'accepte pas toutes les cartes, Monsieur », he told CHM. Great.

A butterfly resting on a grape leaf

Another hassle we haven't been able to solve involves connecting to the Internet. In Paris, an employee of the Orange telephone boutique — Orange is the brand name used by France Télécom for its mobile phone and Internet services — had sold CHM a USB gizmo that she said would give him high-speed Internet access "anywhere" in France. It's in fact a modem that connects to the Internet over the cell phone network.

Problem was, it wouldn't work with CHM's Mac in his apartment in Paris. He brought it to Saint-Aignan. I tried using with my Samsung laptop on Sunday, but it wouldn't work here either. It wasn't clear what the problem was. After that attempt, I uninstalled the software because I didn't foresee trying to connect with the USB "key" again.

The grape-grower's shed out behind our house

Yesterday (Monday), I tried again. I reinstalled the software, plugged in the gizmo, and after a minute or two it connected just fine.

Now, I have some American friends who own a house about 12 miles south of Saint-Aignan, way out in the country. They live in California for the time being, and they come spend the month of July in their house here. They can't get DSL or any other high-speed internet service out there. I thought the USB cell phone thingy might be perfect for them. They arrive in about two weeks.

So yesterday CHM and I drove out to their house. I have the keys. We went in, hooked up my laptop, and plugged in the USB device. No dice. I think they don't get cell phone service out there. So they are still out of luck. We drove into a nearby village, turned on the laptop, and the cell phone Internet connection worked just fine there.

Bertie the Black Cat, out exploring yesterday

The USB thing works at our house on my Windows laptop, but I don't need it. However, we still can't get it to work on CHM's Mac laptop. We don't know why. It's very frustrating. Maybe we should go to another church and pray about it a little bit. We need a miracle at this point.


  1. Last year I bought one of those USB gizmo's too. Until now I've never managed to get it to work. Although, I must admit that I haven't tried all that hard, as apparently the cost of surfing the internet with this gadget is very high, especially abroad. As long as there is wifi available, which has been the case until now, I'll stick to that. Chm, good luck! I hope you'll get your 'gizmo' to do what it's expected to do. :)

  2. We run macs - and though I haven't tried using the USB 'dongle', as it's sometimes called, CSM might have better luck connecting via the Mairie in the towns he visits. Our little (pop 176) village's Mairie had a computer free to use for the public, and Jarnac offers that in addition to free wifi to anyone who can access the Mairie during office hours (to get the password, natch. You can sit on the bench out front day or night and use it once you've got connected.)

  3. Ken,
    The Grape Grower's shed looks very Australian - rusted corregated iron is one of the staple building materials of Aussie farmers.

  4. I know it is very un-French but when we used to only visit here on vacation we used MacDonald's. Most larger places have one out in the centre commercial wastelands. They have free wi-fi and no-one minds if you set up your 'office' for an hour or so. Just buy a coffee and log on.

  5. Re your American neighbours, you can get a very adequate mobile phone signal but the usb internet will barely work, or not work at all. Here you can get a kind of aerial extension on the usb plug in.

  6. After the first time at McDonalds, you don't even need to go inside for a cup of coffee; you can usually connect from your car.

    But I really really want to have an eternal internet connection when we're in France. I just figure it would be expensive (even though I can justify it as work-related).

    Cyndi, good to know about wifi from mairies. You can always find a restroom at a mairie, and now! wifi! Be still my heart.

  7. I'll see if my Mac guy can be of any help. I will never understand why our credit cards don't have the chips embedded like they have in Europe. I heard that Wells Fargo was trying them out on a limited basis this summer.

    I'm very spoiled with wifi now. The higher end hotels charge a fee and the more economical ones sometimes have weak signals. So it goes in the world of travel.

    I admire CHMs travel abilities! Bonne route CHM!

  8. The credit card issue is getting more and more press in the US. So far, when visiting France I have had problems only at rail station ticketing machines and unattended gas station machines, but I have read comments from people who have had problems like CHM. From what I've read, the card should have worked if the sales agent knows what to do when dealing with a magnetic stripe card rather than a chip-and-pin card.
    As to American adoption of chip and pin, it seems to be coming, but very slowly. I believe Wells Fargo and Chase are trying it on an experimental basis with a limited number of customers, and the U.N. Credit Union is issuing them to its customers. There is also Travelex, a travel currency firm, which issues prepaid chip and pin cards. It seems pricey to use, but should be good to have for certain purposes in Europe (e.g, gas stations, train ticket machines, or when a strip card is refused).

  9. Ken

    The next opportunity you get , bring both the Mac and the USB "dongle" to an Orange outlet - whether they have one in St-Aignan or Amboise or Blois - which ever is more convenient and ask one of the clerks for assistance.

    We could not sort the SIM card on-line ( SFR) and we didn't have a wireline phone at the gîte. So when we went to Tours , we went in a SFR store and the clerk there re-installed the card and ensured that it was in operation.

    As a sidebar story: The mayor of Paris has been boasting left and right that there are wi-fi hotspots in the centre and nearby all the mairies of the arrondissements. However, we couldn't get a signal when we were looking for info on the iPod Touch. So the map given to us by the metro attendant came in handy ( I had left my Paris map and book at home) :-)

  10. We can get a wi-fi signal in Paris hotspots on our iPod Touch, but can't seem to log on.

    Ken, CHM might find a SNCF boutique to be a more convenient place to buy train tickets in France than any train station. There are several in Paris, and we've used them in other French cities as well.

  11. Like Rob Rossi says above, the credit card technologies are changing and the US has not kept up. New York Times had an article on this a couple months back. Out of curiosity, did CHM try using his card in any establishments other than banks (retail stores, restaurants)? A couple years ago in Paris I had to leave a restaurant to find an ATM when my cards were turned down.

    By the way CHM, it will be 106 degrees in Palm Springs today.

  12. Ken, your lovely picture of a "Cornflower"...is in fact a chicory flower. They are just coming out. Also, like the cornflower and the Gentian family... it is one of Nature's true blues.

  13. i once got into a (loud) fight with the manager of a car rental place - they were telling me i owed them for scratching the underside of the car. what?? i had driven it exactly 12 miles, on pavement. they finally just wanted me to go away and never charged me. oh well - these things happen. great to see Bertie!

  14. The real problem is the American credit card companies who simply will not implant the microchip used in European cards. Also, as you're probably aware, in Europe (especially in France) you must now also use a pin number when using the card because of so much credit card fraud.

  15. Thank you Martine and Evelyn for your good wishes.

    Chrissoup, I could go to a main train station in Paris where I'm sure they would take my card as they did before, but it was so much easier in St-Aignan! LOL

    Diogenes, I have been using my credit card to pay for hotels and meals and whatever for almost the last two weeks without any problem.
    106°F with close to zero humidity is my kind of temperature. Here, I'm freezing!!

  16. Your recent adventures appear to be have been a comedy (if you can laugh) of errors... or mishaps. And I cannot believe that car rental place.

  17. Thanks everybody, for the information and comments. CHM's problem isn't really connecting to the Internet. He has broadband in his apartment, we have wifi here, and most French hotels now seem to have wifi too. It's just getting the "mifi" Orange thingy to work.

    Tim, I know but most people call them cornflowers and don't know about wild chicory.

    Mitch, CHM took the whole situation good-naturedly, and it all worked out in the end.


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