In the spirit of Princess Di claiming that there were “3 in her marriage”, my husband has from time to time had occasion to claim that a third party was likewise also “enjoying” our bank account. The euro, it appears is startlingly easy to spend, and I have always rather ridiculed my husband’s claims, knowing full well that he lives with me, and I do have a particular penchant for flowers, nice wine and the not so occasional box of chocolates.
Today I wandered down to my bank in our quartier and in the process of getting a ‘historique’ – a neat little mini-statement, noticed a rather bizarre cheque withdrawl. Puzzling over it for a few minutes, it was sufficiently strange for me to succumb to my husband’s theory that something was ‘not quite right’.
My local bank is fabulous. It’s esprit is something out 1980’s England where every bank manager knew his customers by name. No sooner my foot was over the threshold than the lone bank clerk welcomed me by name and tapped in to his computer my details without so much as a jog to his memory. I never cease to be amazed by their ability to do so – though my peculiar accent may have something to do with it.
Today I held up the offending ‘historique’ and explained that absolutely certainly I had not written this particular cheque, that in fact I had scoured my memory for at least the last six months and could not place it. I went as far as to explain that cheques weren’t much used any longer in the UK. The system for cheques in France is entirely different from that of England. To begin with, a cheque is considered to be cash. A cheque written one day will be cleared instantly the very next. A large proportion of the french public still use cheques to pay for everyday products. Frequently I find myself simmering in the supermarket check-out queue whilst a customer settles down to pay for their groceries by cheque – a lengthy process requiring production of a ‘Carte d’Identité’ and the recording of it’s reference number. Similarly, sticking with the ‘living in the 80’s theory’, extra curricular clubs and activities insist on a year’s fees and subscriptions being paid ‘up-front’ by cheque. Since the clubs have no facility for paying by direct debit, such cheques can amount to hundred’s of euros, relieved from the bank account the very next day. One of the French systems that in my opinion could really do with an overhall.
We have just had an extended bank holiday and as such the neighbourhood was pretty quiet with the majority of the city holidaying away in the country. The prospect of a crime was pretty exciting and it was not long before the manager and another clerk has exited their offices to take part in the investigation. Five minutes later we had noted that eight such cheques, all to the same value had been withdrawn at regular intervals, all in the the same part of town, and one not often frequented by me. It pointed to only one thing – vol et usage fraudulente d’un chequier. (theft and fraudulent usage of a cheque book). The cheque book was definitively no longer in my possession. Several signed declarations later, I left the bank under instruction of the manager to ‘porte un plaînte’ (make a statement) to the gendarmerie.
On arrival at the Gendarmerie, I handed in my identity card and reported my loss, handing over the bank’s documentation and we settled down to clarify matters and record it. A few minutes into the activity, a young police woman came into the bureau to take the officer’s lunch order, and we diverted activity to decide whether the officer’s sandwich would be ‘avec legumes ou crudités’ – much discussion pursued before coming to a decision between a ‘religieuse’ or an ‘eclair’. The general consensus was that ‘Chocolat’ was imperatif, and would they go to the maître boulangere, and not to Henri Bloggs au coin. I attempted to add my own order to the list, sounding much more impressive than anything back in my larder, but to no avail.
The ‘plaînte’ made, I signed yet more copious copies of paperwork, primarily for activating the insurance on my bank account and made my way back to the bank to hand it in.
I was no further than 100 yards from my bank when a cog in my brain made a slight shift – a slow dawning of conciousness, and I began to weigh up the possibility that it wasn’t so much a ‘perte de chequier’ but a ‘perte de memoire’. Some 9 months ago I had written a series of forward-dated cheques in order to spread the cost of a subscription to a club which we no longer attend. I passed by the bank very slowly weighing up the possibilities, making eye contact with the clerk who was pausing momentarily with his finger on the roller-shutter button to see if I was going to re-enter, before setting the shutter in motion.
And just as the shutter came to rest of the floor, and the metal grill slid across the door to the gendarmerie for the officer to tuck into his ‘poulet roti avec crudités’ and his ‘religieuse’, I concluded that I had just launched an attack for fraud by the Police Nationale on….
….my children’s ice skating club!
If only my memory had been as good as the bank clerk’s!
Reminds me of the time my husband reported that his cheque book had been stolen out of the car in the main square – not much happened in St Symphorien so he had three gendarmes taking down details and ringing their man on the spot who was monitoring the weekly market (2 fruit and veg stalls and about 4 others) to see if he’d noticed anything. Reports done the OH wandered back to the car and what did he see sticking out from under the seat….
Incidentally I’ve always been told that post dated cheques are illegal here, you have to write your cheques for the actual date and rely on whoever you’re giving them to to keep their words that they’ll stagger paying them in. Our dentist does this as a matter of course.
I laughed until I cried. I can almost feel the ice running through your veins as the penny finally drops. A great blog!