Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Transferring money back home

Quite a while back, I mentioned that I was looking for an effective way to save money for retirement since French savings account only offer peanuts in interest and getting a French assurance vie policy equals mega headaches for US tax declarations. (If you're looking for more information on why you shouldn't get ever sign up for an assurance vie, this article does a great job of explaining it here. As a side note, this also applies to investing any mutual fonds/stocks offered by your local bank).

So that doesn't leave a whole lot of options for Americans in France, and I started to look back to investing in the US.  I came across a group of Financial Advisors called Thun Financial, who are dedicated to helping expats abroad, and I have since watched several of their webinars.  While I have not hired them since the amount of money I have isn't nearly enough to be of interest to them, I have been able to get some good advice from their website and frequent free webinars (which is basically invest in the US in both US & World funds).

That means however figuring out how to conveniently and regularly get money back to the US in a cost-efficient manner.  Going through my bank means paying a wire transfer fee here, a wire reception fee there, plus getting a sometimes questionable exchange rate, so I definitely didn't want to do that on a regular basis.  I use (and their app) regularly for calculating exchange conversions, and I'd heard a lot of good things about them online regarding their money transfers, so I decided to give it a go last week.

The whole process was initially a bit confusing, despite their promises of "it's so easy to use!", so I thought I'd detail it here in case anyone else is looking to transfer money back home.

First of all, you have to sign up with XE, and there is a bit of information verification - including your home address, your French bank account, your home bank account, a photo ID, and a RIB or EDF bill.  Once that has all been approved, you can start your first transfer.  It starts by logging on to their Trade website, and completing a trade. You can either do an immediate trade, set up an automatic trade when the exchange rate reaches a certain rate, or you can set up a rate alert for the next seven days.

To do an immediate trade, you enter in the amount you would like to transfer, and then it gives you an immediate quote of how much money you will receive in the foreign currency.  If you're happy with that, you press "book trade", and you'll receive an email asking you to transfer the EUR amount to their French bank account, specifying your unique trade quote as the object of the transfer (be sure to select "EFT Trade" - it takes a day or two longer than a wire transfer, but it is the free option).  They will then transfer that same amount to their account in your home country, who will then do an internal transfer to your home account.  So as you can see, there's a few more steps involved, but in the end, it means you don't pay an international transfer fees on either end.  The rates they quote are also better than I've seen quotes at least by the BNP.

So voila - a little how-to on an inexpensive way to transfer money back to your home country!

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Lost in Translation

One of the other reasons I don't really enjoy going to China is that our Chinese team doesn't really have a great level of English.  This makes anything more than basic communication difficult, and also means that they rarely translate anything for me (besides the gross dishes we eat lol), which means I spend most of the day in the dark. It also means that I don't really connect with our customers, and there's no sharing of cultures - two of the things that help make all this travel bearable. So instead I spend a lot of time staring at the wall, daydreaming or on my phone.

During one particularly long dinner, the big boss had spent 5-10 minutes telling a story that had everyone laughing. At the end of it, I asked one of our staff what he had said, and he replied "He had a stroke".  I was like "Hmm...Are you sure that's the right word?"  So he double-checked the translation and it was indeed stroke. What?  How on Earth is that funny? But my further attempts to understand were met with blank stares and it's still a mystery today...

On a completely unrelated note, the ladies from my masters program organized another night out last night. We've been taking turns hosting, and it's always a good time. Somehow we got to talking about various theme parties we've been to (the "Come as your favorite metro station" was voted the best idea), and I mentioned that the night I would be attending a sort-of costumed party.  The wonderful Lily will be celebrating her recently-acquired French citizenship, and asked us all to come dressed as a French person.  So I jokingly asked the girls if they had any ideas of what I should wear, and I was just met with blank stares. I offered "You know....stuff like striped shirts...berets...a baguette under your arm?"  Cue the crickets!  I tell ya, it was pretty awkward there for a minute, but I sure was laughing on the inside.


Friday, June 10, 2016

Back before you know it

It's not often you get to say "So this week I went to China for four days".  I was told a few weeks ago that the trip was canceled, and then all of the sudden last Friday, they were like "Actually, can you leave on Sunday?".  All of this mega travel must have really changed me, because instead of freaking out about having to literally go to the other side of the world in two days, I just sighed and said "Let me check out some flights".

I ended up finding an excellently priced ticket on Finnair, an airline that I used to fly all the time when we would go visit our family in Finland, but it's been probably 20 years since the last time I used them. I wasn't super excited about having a connecting flight, since I've got a pretty good routine going on those 12h flights now that helps me avoid jet lag, but I was looking forward to picking up a few Finnish items for my family there.

It was actually really enjoyable to fly Finnair - I loved the blueberry juice they served and the Marimekko blankets and pillows.  The flight attendants were super nice, and extremely patient with my attempts to speak to them in Finnish. It actually ended up making me feel really nostalgic for my Finnish-speaking days, and I loved letting the conversations of fellow passengers roll over me.  For some reason, my last trip to Finland didn't jog my memory as much, but this time, I had memories and Finnish words popping up left and right. I understood much of what was said, and was able to order my food and have brief conversations, and it was lovely.

It made up for the rather difficult trip to China - I spent a LOT of time speeding down terrible roads in cars with no seat belts. This actually represents a sort of moral issue for me.  My father passed away in a car accident because he was not wearing his seat belt. It was all a big mystery to us because he always wore a seat belt, and always insisted that we do as well.  So why not that day? Needless to say, buckling up in a car is kind of a big deal to me, and I'm pretty principled about it, ie I won't let someone ride with me if they don't strap in.  But what do you do when there is no other option?  Taxis didn't have them, most of our customer's vehicles didn't have them, and I couldn't exactly refuse to get in when we had a three hour drive in front of us... It all left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable and ill at ease.

The food was also difficult this time around. One lunch consisted of boiled cow stomach, larynx and spine. I'm all for trying new foods at least once, but I must admit that organs are the most difficult for me to swallow, both literally and figuratively.  There were no other options, and I didn't want to be rude, so I just had to suck it up, even though the sight of them was making me gag.  I tried to psyche myself up like I did in Japan when I had to it raw egg over cold rice by saying "Look, they eat this stuff all the time. They must know how to cook it to make it tasty, or they wouldn't eat it".  Boy was I wrong - it must be one of those acquired taste things. The stomach was like rubber and I could feel every single one of the villi as I chewed. And chewed and chewed. The larynx was even worse. And I could barely swallow the fatty/cartilageous spine. I'm telling you, it was rough, and I'm getting a bit green just thinking about it again.

Luckily not all of the meals were that bad, but those were a long four days, and I sure am happy to be back home in Paris, strikes and all. Summer appears to be in full swing at last, and we've got an action-packed ten days before we take off to the US.

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