Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Monday, May 29, 2017

4DX Movie Experience

This past weekend, C and I headed over to La Villette for two firsts.  One, our first picnic of the year by the canal, and two, our first time experiencing a 4DX movie theater.  If you haven't heard of it yet, 4DX is basically an enhanced theater, and France only currently has one.  Along with 3D and surround sound, 4DX theaters boast seats that move, blast air and have smell-o-vision.  Here's a trailer that's currently playing in French movie theaters to promote it:

I think it's pretty much mandatory that you see an action movie in order to take full advantage of everything the 4DX cinema has to offer, so we decided to see Pirates of the Caribbean in VO. The inside of the theater reminded me a bit of the rides at Disney that require a movie screen.  They were large, had foot rests and a protective bar in front.  There was also a small button on each one to choose if you wanted water or not:
I initially had it on, but ended up turning it off half-way through the film because who wants water spraying on their 3D glasses all the time?!

So what did we think? On a scale from 1 to 10, I'd say 6.5.  The timed seat movements were cool, but it did bother me a bit that they moved for both the antagonists and the protagonists.  I suppose they were just trying to give people their money's worth, but it was a little bit distracting to have the seat move for everyone, and not just from one person's point of view for example.  Two other things I wasn't a big fan of was sometimes it would poke you in the back to simulate movement behind you, but in reality, it really just felt like you had a kid behind you kicking your seat.  And secondly, the chair movement reminded me a little bit too much of airplane turbulence, and I kind of get enough of that when I fly.

There were also times where lights would turn on behind us to simulate lightning or explosions, but it wasn't that well done - it mostly seemed like someone was just turning on the lights during the middle of the movie and it was distracting more than anything else.  And the smell-o-vision was pretty limited - I think I only smelled something twice during the whole movie.  There were a few times where I thought it could have really made an impact and added to the movie - like a saltwater smell, or when a ship was burning or someone was cooking - but they didn't really take advantage of that at all.

The one thing I really did like though was the air movement.  Bullets whizzing by, etc didn't really feel realistic, but they did a great job at making us feel like we were really on a boat at sea with the wind in our hair, and since I love being on the water, this was one of my favorite parts of the whole experience. 

Besides all of that, the other bit of frustration I had was the price. I have the Gaumont movie pass, which is supposed to give me unlimited movie access, but I still had to pay 6€ extra to see this.  That's not such a big deal, but I also had a free movie pass that I was hoping to use for C's ticket.  After spending a frustrating 30 minutes trying to reserve online and finally contacting Gaumont via social media, I found out free & reduced-price tickets couldn't be used for 4DX films.  That meant I had to pay the full-price of 20€ for C's ticket + 6€ for my own - so it ended up being an expensive night when I was initially expecting to pay 0€.

So is it worth it?  Given the price....I'd say it's worth trying once or twice, but I likely won't be making it a habit. I imagine it would be a really fun activity to do as a family (though FYI, there are height requirements), and C & I both agreed that an intergalatic-themed movie would also be fun to see. I normally don't like sitting in the front row, but I would definitely recommend it for this type of theater.  It makes the movie seem more realistic since you don't have anyone sitting in front of you.

Lastly, on a side note - the mall where the theater is located was surprisingly nice for the neighborhood.  It looked like an upscale American mall, with tons of cute boutique shops and American-style restaurants.  There was a burrito place, a juice bar, an Asian Fusion restaurant, a cute pub, etc, and I would definitely recommend checking out the shops if you are looking to purchase some unique France-themed gifts.  There was also an anti-gravity flying pod that looked fun too.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bilan de santé

About a month ago, I was poking around the French healthcare website to see if I could find a new dentist in our neighborhood.  (Our beloved dentist who did American-style dental cleanings up and disappeared into thin air about a year and a half ago.).  

I didn't end up finding a dentist nearby, but I did come across an article saying anyone who is insured in Ile de France has the right to have a free health check-up every five years.  Considering that I haven't had a check-up in probably 20 years, I figured now was as good as a time as any.  There was a short online form to fill out (here) and then a week later I received a convocation with a date/time at my closest center.

They had booked me in for 1:30pm, which initially seemed fine until I noticed I had to be à jeun* until that time for the blood draw.   Not eating anything and drinking only black coffee until after lunch did not seem to be the smartest idea, especially since I work out at noon, so I called back to see if I could reschedule. It took a while, and involved several emails and phone calls, but I finally got through and was able to set up another appointment for today.

Depending on your age, the check-up covers a meeting with a general practitioner, blood & urine sample analysis, dental exam, eye exam and electrocardiogram, and is supposed to last 2.5 hours.  If they find something urgently wrong, they will call you at 4:30pm the same day to inform you; otherwise you will receive your results 3-4 weeks later by mail.  (It's now 5pm here btw, so whew - no scary illnesses to report!)

So was it worth my time (and yours)?  I'd lean towards no.  The Dr's visit was short and extremely generic and the dental exam was also lightning speed and did not include a cleaning.  I was also disappointed they didn't do a frottis or a breast exam (though a mammogram might have be included if you are over 60).  It was kind of interesting to do the electrocardiogram though, but given all of the rest of your stuff can be prescribed by your  regular doctor for testing at your local laboratory, I don't think it's really worth 2.5 hours of  one's life.

The medical practitioners were all extremely friendly though, and even more so when it came out that I was American.  Though to be honest, given the population of people who were there (mainly homeless, I believe), they could have just been happy to have someone who was clean, sober and in generally good health.  

I did get scolded for not having seen a dentist recently though, so if anyone has a good, reasonably-priced dentist they can recommend in central Paris, please let me know! 

*They do give you a cookie and an applesauce after the blood draw, and at least at my health center, there was a coffee machine and a vending machine in the waiting room.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Here, there and everywhere

I'm coming up on another crazy travel spree.  I'll spend Thursday & Friday of this week in Norway, be home Saturday and then leave early Sunday AM for South Africa. I'll get back the following Saturday and then turn around less than 24 hours later to hop another flight for a week in China. 

To be honest, I was hesitating about both the Norway and South Africa trips - given the dates, I won't really have any time to do any sightseeing, so I was waffling about whether or not I should accept.  In the end, I said yes to help out a colleague in both instances and to be able to scratch another country off of my travel map.  But what do you think?  Is it worth it?  Would you go?

I'm also slightly nervous about doing so many back-to-back 12+ hour flights.  I get paranoid about getting blood clots given all the flying I do....but I wear compression socks on long-haul flights and I  guess flight attendants are in the air even more than I am and they are fine.   Plus I'll be in the US for most of June with a jam-packed itinerary of baptisms, weddings, birthdays, work events, leadership retreats, etc, so it's true that the extra frequent flier miles will come in handy in ferrying C around the country and to and from France. 

The upcoming travel means I'll be missing out on the French presidential elections though, so I went to the police station yesterday to fill out my procuration form so that C can vote for me.  It was a relatively easy process, just a short form to fill out and then I was given a receipt for C to show.  I'll land Sunday evening around 9:30pm French time in Johannesburg, so you can bet I'll be turning my phone on immediately to check the results.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Thoughts on a Sunday

I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I've received so many messages this week with  "praying for Paris" and tear face emojis.  It's left me feeling conflicted - I'm grateful I've got so many family and friends thinking of me, but on the other hand, I'm annoyed that there is such a big fuss made about this event while shootings are a multi-daily occurrence in the US.  I mean, I literally woke up the next morning after the Champs-Elysée shooting to see "Two policeman shot in Seattle" as the first story on my news app.  But then you turn on the news, and there's no mention of it, only the Paris incident. Ironically enough, C just wrote an article on this very topic that was set to publish next week - ie why are Americans so scared to come to France when they're much more likely to get shot at home - though I'm not sure if they will post it now or wait a few weeks.

Also, how are you all feeling about the first round elections today?  I'm still not quite sure who to vote for (besides not Marine Le Pen, obviously).  I've watched all kinds of interviews, we watched "15 minutes pour convaincre" the other night - though there was no convincing going on for me.  I can definitely understand why so many voters are still undecided, and it does feel very reminiscent of the US elections.

And then there's the question of whether or not to vote your beliefs, or to vote the person who's most likely to beat FN?   C is very much of the "vote your convictions" stance, whereas I'm terrified of what could happen if Le Pen wins, so I'm leaning towards a vote stratégique.  Though if you look at the polls, I'm not actually sure who that would even be. 

Obviously the polls are not always the best predictors, but I am leaning towards the polls being a bit more reliable in France than they were in the US this last round.  So many Americans were ashamed to say that they were voting for Trump that they lied to pollsters and it completely skewed everything, whereas it seems to be not as shameful to say you're voting FN here...

I'm somewhat encouraged though by all the pictures yesterday taken of the long lines showing French citizens voting abroad, and the long lines reported at many polling stations already today.  C & I will vote just after lunch, when it will hopefully be a bit quieter...

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Faire racheter son pret immobilier, part 2

So assuming you answered yes to all of yesterday's questions, and you've done your simulation online to make sure the gains are there, it's time to think about how much this is going to cost you.

Depending on how much money you still owe, you will have at least a couple thousand euros in frais de dossier for this process - both to your old bank and your new bank, for the early reimbursement penalty, and for the new caution bancaire.  The bank won't tell you this, but if you've got the money saved up, you can pay these expenses out of pocket instead of having them included in your new mortgage. You will need to specify this when you apply however, because otherwise the bank will automatically include it so they get that extra interest.

This is also a good time to look at your mortgage insurance, and to see if there are opportunities for savings there, or if you want to change your percentage of coverage.  Initially C & I were both at 50%, but he wanted to go up to 75% this time due to reduced income and some of the crazy places I travel to.  Don't forget that you are not obligated to chose the bank's insurance, you can also go with a third party for oftentimes much cheaper.

Lastly, you need to decide if you want to keep paying the same amount (or more) and shorten the length of your mortgage, or if you want to keep the same duration and lessen your monthly payments.  Keep in mind though that most banks will still want you to stay around a monthly payment of 30% max of your total revenue.

After that, it was only a matter of choosing which banks we wanted to contact.  The application file was fairly easy to prepare - it mainly contains everything you had to provide when you applied for your initial mortgage, plus some more recent fiches de paie and avis d'imposition, so it just takes time to make all those photocopies plus a lot of ink.

During your meetings, you can also ask about negotiating their frais de dossier (most of ours put it initially at 1000€ and dropped it down to 500€ when we asked about it), and to see if you can negotiate any discounts on your monthly banking fees, assuming you will be required to move all of your accounts to their bank.

Once you've had all of your meetings with the various banks, it will take them around 2 weeks to get back to you.  If they decide to extend an offer, you will have to wait a minimum of 10 days (and a maximum of 30 days) after receiving it before signing and returning (similar to when you signed your original mortgage).

And that's about it in a nutshell.  Hopefully this has been helpful - and really a lot of this information applies as well if you are currently house-hunting.  So even though it's time-consuming, it's definitely worth it - this process will have allowed us to save nearly 30,000€ total!

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Faire racheter son pret immobilier, part 1

This is a post for those of you who are lucky enough to own a home in France (and unlucky enough to still be paying it off lol).  If you haven't heard yet, interest rates in France are at historic lows.  Like so low, the banks are lending money almost for free, at least when you take inflation and the yearly value your bien will gain into account.  It's true that they've gone back up slightly in the past month or two, but it's still a steal if you've got a mortgage or you're looking to get one.

Just to give you an idea, when we signed our mortgage 2 years ago, we also got one of the lowest rates France had seen in a long time - 2,85%.  Now we are going through the process of refinancing our mortgage, and we just received an offer at 0,95%.  So I thought I'd share a few things we learned along the way. 

Initially, we'd planned on paying down a significant amount of money in cash that we've managed to save up over the past few years.  Being mortgage novices, we assumed we could pay off the lump sum and then refinance for a lower amount. After nearly a three month wait, we found out this was not the case and we lost out on the 0,85% interest rate.

If you want to pay money down, you need to first pay your current lender (and there is a small penalty fee that comes with it - I believe 3-6 months' worth of interest), and once that has gone through, you can then start the process of either renegotiating or refinancing your mortgage.  This will take a few months however, so you'll have to decide whether or not it's worth doing that and risking interest rates going up.

I'm mainly going to talk about refinancing here though, because very few banks will accept renegotiation (because what do they have to gain?), unless you have already done the work of finding a few other hard offers from competitors and you can force their hand.

First, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself:
  1. Do you have more years left on your mortgage than you've paid back?  For example, for a 20 year mortgage, do you have at least 10 years left? 
  2. Do you still owe a large amount of money?  (Some sites estimate this as 50,000€, some 75,000€)
  3. Is there at least a 1% difference between your current rate and the rates offered now?
  4. How much will your lender charge you in penalty fees? 
  5. Do you have time to devote to the process? (It took C one full day to compile everything and then we had to have rather lengthy meetings with each bank). 
There are websites out there that can help you calculate all of this.  C was initially hesitant about the process given how time-consuming it was and how little time we both currently have, but it only took a quick estimation on MeilleurTaux to show him how significant the savings would be.

This is getting long again, so more on the next steps tomorrow!

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

A unique way to experience Venice

C had been meant to accompany me on my last trip to Egypt, and when it got canceled, he found himself with several unnecessary days off.  We talked about seeing if he could cancel them, but dear friends of ours had plans to come stay at our place during those dates, and we were worried about our place getting crowded, so we decided to see if we could find a last-minute trip to take. And that's how we found ourselves packing our bags for Venice!
I've wanted to go ever since my early days in Bretagne.  Not long after arriving in France, my bank (which offered all kinds of special deals for young folks), sent out an ad for a 3 day, 2 night trip to Venice for 189€ for Valentine's Day weekend.  My younger self found this to be an impossibly romantic idea, and I worked hard to convince Fab that it was a good idea.  Unfortunately, reason won out - Fab was working a minimum wage job and I was an unemployed student - so we didn't end up going. But it's been in the back of my head every since, and luckily I was not let down all these years later.

We arrived Friday evening, and then got a fairly good start on Saturday to begin exploring the city.  We spent the morning roaming the back streets, found a small spot for lunch, and then headed over to the marina for our gondola lesson! 

I'd been waffling back and forth about doing a gondola ride - it just seems like one of those things you have to do in Venice.  But the insane cost - 90€ for a 30 minute ride - just seemed like highway robbery. So I did some research online to see what the other options were:  doing a shared ride, taking a water taxi, etc.  And then I came across a small article about Row Venice.  They are a non-profit association run by female gondoliers, and they give 90 minute lessons for the same price as the 30 minute gondola ride.

And it was amazing!  We had so much fun learning how to steer the boats, and it is definitely a lot harder than it looks. It was also a good chance to ask any questions we had about life in Venice, the city's history, etc. I'd definitely recommend checking them out if you are planning a trip there.
Sunday, we visited the Doge's Palace and did their "Secret Itineraries" tour, which provided great insight into the building and many of the rooms that are completely closed off to regular visitors (book in advance online).  After that, we headed over to Burano island, where I was blown away by all the gorgeous colors.

That evening, we had dinner at a place near our Airbnb.  It was a small restaurant that we had walked by many times and it always appeared to be full, so we figured that was a good sign.  I started to have some doubts though after we ordered and they slapped down plastic silverware on our table, and then things went downhill even further when I noticed them dumping frozen dinners onto plates and then microwaving them.  Can you imagine? Microwaved pasta in Italy?!   We had a good laugh over it all though, and then bought a bottle of wine and some strawberries to share at 'home'.

Monday morning, we had also pre-booked fast pass entrance tickets for St Marc's Basilica. I had heard the lights were only on for an hour a day, so I had booked for that time period, but it still seemed pretty dark inside, so who knows.  I was also a bit perturbed by how you had to pay to see nearly anything of interest inside the church, so between that and the extremely rude staff, I left feeling kind of 'meh' about it.

And then it was time to head home.  But it was a lovely trip - relaxing and interesting all at the same time.  If you go, I definitely recommend just booking in lots of time to wander around the side streets - it's sort of like Paris in that way, where you can easily spend an afternoon just roaming the city. And it's surprisingly small and walkeable - our Airbnb was in the north of the city, and we were still within a 15 minute walk of all the major sites.  The only time we took public transport was to and from the airport and Burano.  It was a bit more spendy than I was expecting to eat out, but there are other cheaper options too (takeaway pizza slices and sandwiches, etc).