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Our Life in France – banking, money and numbers

January 31, 2010

(Please note that this post reflects our experience in the early 1990’s – I can’t speak for what anyone would experience today.)

We lived in France before the formation of the European Union, and the currency that was used was the franc.  One hundred centimes made up a franc.  At the time we lived there, a franc was worth around twenty cents, so a centime wasn’t worth much at all – as a matter of fact, many people didn’t bother with them.  The French used coins much more than we do – we rarely saw any bills smaller than 50 francs.

There were several large banks in France and we opened checking and savings accounts right away.  Debit cards were very widely used in France when we were there – this was before they were popular in the US.  Most restaurants had small, wireless machines that they would bring to the table to swipe your card, so your card never had to leave your site.  Checks were written basically the same way they are here with the amount in numbers and words.

Banks weren’t wide open like they are in the US.  At the bank in Cébazat, there was a narrow, revolving door that you had to go through.  You didn’t touch the door – it moved on its own – but walked along with it.  While you were in the revolving door you passed through a metal detector, and if you had too much metal, the door would back you up, out into the lobby where there were lockers available to leave belongings.  To get into the bank in  Ste-Foye, you had to press a doorbell-like button and be buzzed in.  Neither of the banks we dealt with had drive throughs.

When we first moved to France, we purchased a used car from an individual.  I went to the bank to purchase a cashier’s check to pay for it.  I’m not sure of the exact amount, but it seems like we paid around 40,00o francs for the car.  I wasn’t that confident with my French, so I went prepared with the amount written on a piece of paper, so there would be no mistakes.  When I showed them my paper, I was informed that the cashiers check would cost more than the amount of the check.  I was stunned.  How could it possibly cost thousands to get a cashier’s check?  It took a while, but we finally figured out that my paper made things worse since the French use periods and commas the reverse of the way we do, so to them, 40,000 looked like 40 – they would write it 40.000,00 francs.  I left with my check and we were able to buy the car.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2010 4:08 am

    You always make me miss Europe. I miss my quid and pound notes. In my mirror at my make up table I have a coveted one pound note. Not a coin!

  2. January 31, 2010 5:03 am

    I didn’t know that about the use of periods and comas in Europe. Life in Europe is interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  3. January 31, 2010 6:20 am

    That’s funny about the cashier’s check 🙂 I work for a company that has offices in the U.S. too and there are all these little things that we both do differently. The one that causes everyone most pain is the date format, while we use dd/mm/yy, in the U.S. they use mm/dd/yy. These days I just write the whole month when communicating with the U.S. guys to avoid “communication problems”.

  4. January 31, 2010 6:40 am

    Sometimes it is just the most minor things like periods and commas that can drive you right up the wall! I’ll have to ask my husband if Poland is like that. I’ve never heard of such a thing!

  5. January 31, 2010 7:43 am

    I never knew that about the commas and periods. That’s too funny! well, I can’t say I blame them for looking at you funny when you wanted to buy a car for $8 😀 (it’s early still, but I think I worked the exchange on that out right… lol)

    I love money from other countries, it’s so cool. Mags has a 20k dong from Vietnam that her dad gave her (another place where the exchange rate makes seemingly large amounts of money pocket change in the US), and she’s developing the same fascination as I have with currency. She’s recently discovered the difference in old quarters and newer ones in the sound they make, which led us to Google it only to find the 25cent pieces to be worth over $2. Now she’s testing ever non-state quarter to see if it’s made of silver. Smart girl!

  6. January 31, 2010 8:50 am

    Those commas and periods always throw me off when I’m in Europe too. I wish the US had colorful bills; it’s always so much easier to deal with paper money in other countries.

  7. January 31, 2010 9:06 am

    I love these features — so interesting. I’ve only been to England so everything you talk about is fascinating to me!

  8. January 31, 2010 11:33 am

    The banks sound so interesting. I find that funny that the revolving door would actually back you up if you had too much metal on you. I really enjoy these posts!

  9. January 31, 2010 12:59 pm

    I never knew about the periods and comma thing in numbers there. These stories are so fascinating. A tiny peek into another culture.

  10. January 31, 2010 1:02 pm

    This post points up one of the values of being able to live for an extended time in a foreign country, and also why I love this “Life in France” series. Only by really living (vs. traveling) in a country do you understand the nuances of everyday life. This was very interesting to read.

  11. January 31, 2010 1:44 pm

    I’d need an interpreter for the money alone! LOL

  12. January 31, 2010 2:50 pm

    Ces postes français sont tout simplement merveilleux! 🙂

  13. January 31, 2010 4:34 pm

    The Euro did wonders for unifying financial matters, but I sure miss the colorful currenency that each country had. Returning home with a pocketfull of different bills and coins was part of the fun of traveling.

  14. January 31, 2010 8:03 pm

    I like the way they made you enter the bank…were they held up at all???? The numbers would be very confusing indeed!!

  15. January 31, 2010 9:16 pm

    Wow that is so interesting! I love learning about different cultures and how they live.

  16. January 31, 2010 9:16 pm

    I wish the restaurants would do that in the states!

  17. January 31, 2010 9:23 pm

    Now that was a wonderful post about the banking system. Seems like the French were even more progressive in the 90’s with ATMs and Bank security measures than the US is in the 2010.

  18. January 31, 2010 9:33 pm

    I’ve heard about the thing where the commas and periods are in opposite places in European numbers, but I think it would confuse me anyway. 🙂

    The revolving door at the bank sounds like a good idea for safety.

  19. February 1, 2010 4:07 am

    That’s really weird! Inverted.

  20. February 1, 2010 8:14 am

    Another interesting story about your life in France Kathy! Europe was ahead of us with the debit card and they are smart to make their banks safer to enter. I do like the old money and coins as it is so unique and reflects each country.

  21. February 1, 2010 9:35 am

    I love this series. The differences between the banks is especially interesting, and I’m not surprised they used debit cards before we did! I certainly wish they brought the card swiper to the table here.

  22. February 1, 2010 4:48 pm

    With all that security at the bank, I bet robberies were almost unheard of! I would imagine that getting used to the difference in money, both the exchange values and the shopping for big ticket items would probably be very hard for me, but you probably got used to it very quickly.

  23. February 2, 2010 12:07 am

    I wish they could bring the machines to the table to scan your debit card here. It makes me nervous every time my card leaves my sight.

  24. stacybuckeye permalink
    February 2, 2010 2:21 am

    The money. I hate dealing with the different money. That’s funny about the banks. It actually seems like a pretty good idea,

  25. February 2, 2010 10:52 am

    I knew that most European nations used periods, but I had no idea that commas were also used and that they were used in reverse. interesting tidbit. I love these posts…keep them coming.

  26. February 4, 2010 7:45 pm

    Interesting…I’m always amazed at how different things can be somewhere else.

  27. February 6, 2010 12:48 pm

    Another great post on your life in France! These kinds of details are fascinating and would never occur to me on my own.

  28. February 6, 2010 12:49 pm

    P.S. Thank franc note is beautiful!

  29. February 18, 2010 11:25 am

    Ohhhh! That’s an interesting tidbit. Was that reversal only with how they wrote money?

    I was in France for less than a week when I was 16, so I don’t remember or even think I was aware of any of the details at the time.

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