Saturday, August 10, 2019

Grandmas and blablacar

"I really miss great-grandma, why doesn't she come to our place anymore?" My daughter asked.
I sighed. My husband's grandma used to come visit us once a year, and stayed for a week during summer. I have asked her many times when does she want to come to our place. She refused, as her health was deteriorating, she felt weak to move around. Beside, her sister who lives beside her just lost her husband, so she didn't want to leave her sister alone. There was also a problem of her sister's cat. When her sister was not around, she has to take care of the cat. Once they put the cat with someone else as both of them had to be away, the cat refused to eat so they had to hurry back.

We met over Easter, she was in good health, and she agreed to come to visit us during summer.

One day, I woke up with an idea. We were going to a gathering with friends just 30 minutes from her house. We could go pick her up and bring her with us home. She can join us for the school year end performance, plus my daughter was celebrating her birthday that weekend. 

With that idea in mind, I called her, she was delighted to announce :" I can come to your place now, the cat is dead. If its ok, I would like to bring my sister along, so that she can go to her daughter's place. She hasn't been out often and I'm worried about her." We can only fit 5 people in our car, so I contacted a friend who was going to the gathering, and she has one spot left in her car to bring my grandma's sister.

Then I have to arrange a return trip. They don't want to take train as it becomes too stressful to change train and bring their luggages around. I checked the bus schedule, it was going to take 11 hours as there was no direct bus to their town. The journey by car would only take 3 hours. I then thought of blablacar, a website which proposes carpooling services. Nobody was proposing the trip from my town to their town, but I found one from town R to their town, and the person was willing to send them directly back to their house.

With the logistic arranged, grandma's sister finally accepted to come along. Unfortunately, the carpooling person cancelled the trip as she made a mistake on the date. I told them to come anyway and we will find a solution for their return trip. I kept checking the blablacar anouncement and sometimes trips just came out last minute.

We went for the gathering during the weekend in a camp site. After checking out, I went to pick up the grandmas. Luckily my GPS worked. They were both ready. My grandma was in a traveling mode, but I can sense that her sister was anxious. My GPS died on me, but grandma knew the way back to the forest. We got lost somewhere due to some constructions, but we managed to find the camp site.

Then it came a challenge. Grandma's sister was not comfortable to sit in someone's car as she didn't know my friend and  her family. I had talked with grandma, I was going to ask one of the girls to go over so that both grandmas can ride in our car. The girls have known my friend's kids since very young, I figured one of them would be willing to ride with their friends. I was wrong, they both refused at that moment, even though they had both agreed during the weekend. We were all waiting on who would get into my friends' car. We sweet talked to our girls, they once again firmly refused and I can feel that they were hurt seeing me trying to send them away. I wanted to go over but my husband needed me to be his co-pilot. Grandma had been volunteering to ride with my friend, and at the end, we let her go because there was no other solution. She had travelled with my friends to Malaysia and she was a chatty box compared to her sister, so everything went well. Grandma sister was comfortable with us and at one point, my daugther was sleeping in her arm.

Everyone arrived in S town where my friends live, and grandma's sister's daughter arrived just in time to pick up her mother. They were to spend a week together, then grandma's sister would come to my place in order to take the return trip back with grandma. We then continued our journey back to our place.

We had a wonderful week with grandma. She went with hubby on Wednesday to see how he handled the day with all the activities going on. On Thursday she went with me to be a volunteer for my daughter's school sportday. On Saturday she witnessed the school year end performance, where both girls danced on stage. On Sunday we celebrated my daughter's birthday. Grandma's sister arrived in the evening and they were going back on Monday morning.

Grandma joining us for the school's sport's day

Making a cake with the girls to give to the school. The school then sells the cake to raise fund.

The school year-end performance

The school year-end performance

Hubby reading his father's day card before heading out to the treasure hunt activites he prepared for his daughter's birthday

During the week I kept checking blablacar to find a trip to send them home. I found some who proposed the trip but they refused to send them all the way back home. They only wanted to drop them somewhere on their way. Grandma said she had someone willing to come pick them up, or they could take a bus, or a taxi. Luckily, I found a trip that seemed perfect to me : pick up point 10 minutes from my house and the driver agreed to send both of them back to their house.

The day came, I was sad to see them leave. I sent them to the pick up point, the driver was late as they got stuck in the traffic jams downtown. 30 minutes later, a couple in their 50s arrived in the parking lot. They assured me that they would send my grandmas home. 

I went to work. In the afternoon I received messages from grandma, saying the couple were very nice, they chatted a lot, they had lunch in a rest area. Around three hours later, I received a message from the driver with a photo : they were having coffee in grandma's sister's house! Overall it was a great experience. Both grandmas were happy with the trip, but I admitted I was quite worried after they had gone. I won't dare to do this in Malaysia, but I feel that overall people are more trustworthy in France.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Being illegal alien for 8 days

My resident card was expired and I only got the new one 8 days after. I was not sure if I was legally staying in France, since the Prefecture didn't give me a temporarily one. I only had a letter with me stating that I could pick up my new card on which day. Luckily I didn't plan to leave the country so life just went on as usual. I only got a notice from my HR asking me to send them the new card as soon as I have it.

The whole renewal process has changed since last time. We had to take an appointment online, directly with the Prefecture (not my local Town Hall anymore). I couldn't find information regarding how many month in advance I need to start the renewal process, so I played it safe. Went to the website in December 2018, 7 months before my card expired, and got myself an appointment in March 2019. It was a smart move, as in May I went to the website to check again, the earliest appointment I could get was in October. It would be a big problem if I got an appointment after the card expired.

I was choosing which category I could apply, and I tumbled into an EU permanent resident status, where you no longer need to renew your card. It was permanent, forever. I photocopied all the documents : income taxes, payslips, proved of residency, a statement saying that I would follow the values practice in France...All these were useless. The officer only took the prove of my address (an electricity bill) and my photos. She told me I came in too early, since my card was still valid she didn't need to give me a temporarily one. And, she told me I can only apply the one category : marrying a French. I have to renew it every 10 years. She said she would send me a letter in April telling me when I can come to pick up my card.

I left the Prefecture with a very sad feeling. The whole atmosphere made me felt like a second class citizen, like I was begging them to let me stay. In fact they didn't do anything to me, but an officer was yelling to people in waiting room. There were lots of foreigners, begging to get an appointment because they didn't know how to do it on internet, some didn't come with the right documents, or the original documents... they were anxious, they were hopeless...

April came, I didn't get any letter from the Prefecture. I started to get worry, because how if they didn't take into account my renewal application. I have no proof that I was there. I sent the Prefecture an email, but no reply. Luckily, in early May, the letter finally arrived. I was to collect my new card 8 days after my current expired, even though I started the renewal process 4 months in advance.

Came the day to collect my card, I arrived in the Prefecture, and saw a line queuing from the building outside. Since I have an appointment, an officer let me in directly. But people in line, they mainly came to ask questions. Like, their cards expired in two months, and the earlist appointment online they could get were in 5 months. And they needed to leave the country. A very messed up situation if you asked me. I so didn't want to be in their shoes. I was observing people around me when waiting for my name to be called. This time the atmosphere was a lot better. The officer who was yelling last time stayed calm this time. She was very polite and  helpful. Someone didn't pay the duty fee, she said ok and allowed him to come next time. Ok, I paid 269€ for this renewal, I wonder if that person was waiting for his salary to arrive before he could afford to pay the fees. 

It was a no hassle process for me. Book an appointment online, pay the fees online, come one time for the renewal process, another time to pick up the card. The appointment times were pretty much respected. However, for people who are not family with computer and internet, who have complicated situations and need to ask questions, it could be a very stressful situations. Long queues every time at the information counter, and they are not always courteous.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

VAT tax refund drama

"I wouldn't have bought the phones if you didn't promise a VAT tax refund!" I heard my niece speaking over the phone, with a shop she just bought the I-Phone from in UK.

My family came visit me early July, after attending my niece's graduation ceremony in UK. It took them some times to walk out of Nantes Airport, as they were looking or VAT tax refund counter/machine, as they didn't manage to get any tax refund when they left UK. An non EU visiter can claim a value added tax refund when he or she purchases over a certain amount of items when he or she leaves the EU country. In France, the VAT is at 20%, and one can get back around 12% after deducting the administration fees.

The drama started when they bought three I-Phone in a shop in UK. Not only the shop proposed to trade in their current phone, they also promised a tax refund. Apparently after taking into account all these incentives, the price was a lot cheaper than buying in Malaysia, so three of the group bought one. The did it the last day in England before heading to France.

When they were taking their flight in UK to France, they were told that since they had not left European Union (EU), they couldn't claim the tax refund. Beside, all tax refunds required a Retail Export Form ("bordereau de détaxe"), which the I-Phone shop didn't provide. As soon as they arrived in my place, my niece called the shop to ask for the form, only to be told that they needed to go to the shop as a passport is needed in order to process the form. Both nieces were in the room dealing with the shop, calling the support numbers, emailing...

They bought other items in UK too, so I assured them I would help them through the process since I was going with some of them to Switzerland. Switzerland is not in EU, and there was a tax refund machine in Nantes Airport, so I figured we could do the tax refund inside Nantes Airport. They believed me, and happily did more shopping in Nantes.

Except that I was wrong. 

The day we were flying to Geneva from Nantes, we went to the information counter and were told to use the tax refund machine in the reserved areas. We passed through the security control to arrive at the reserved areas, we were told the machine was just after the passport control. We headed towards the passport control, the officers told us it was not possible to use the machine without giving any explanation. And then I found out that our gate was before the passport control, I guessed even though Geneva is not in EU but it was still considered a domestic flight. I checked with a very nice airport security control officer, she told me to go back to the information counter then come back again.

"You may be able to do your tax refund in Geneva Aiport, or go to the Embassy of France in Geneva." The information counter officer told me. Ok I didn't know Embassy of France handles tax refund. We went through the security again, I walked to passport control, hoping that they would just let me use the machine. But all I got, was yelling and yelling from them as if I had committed a crime. I felt very sorry for my family as there was nothing I could do but to wait & see when we arrived in Geneva. 

It was almost mid-night when we arrived in Geneva. The information counter was closed. We went back there the second morning to pick up our rental car, and I finally managed to ask someone about the tax refund. She assured me that my family could do the tax refund the day they head back to Malaysia. The trick was they needed to go to the French side, get a stamp from the French custom, then come back in to the Switzerland side to do the tax refund. It sounded complicated for me.

After more shopping in Switzerland (where I discovered their VAT is only 7.7% vs 20% in France), it came finally the day when they needed to head back home. I got confirmation from the Global Blue counter about the process, then brought my family to the French side. They went inside, found the French custom, and via Whatsapp told me the French was not friendly, and was just being there without wanting to help. I probably didn't explain well, they thought they could get the tax refund there and were disappointed when the French custom just said no. However they managed to get a manual stamp on items purchased in UK, and electronic stamp on items purcharsed in France.

After they went through the security control in the Switzerland side, they finally told me they got the tax refund! Since they asked for cash, they got charged again some fees, so they didn't get the 12% as expected for the purchases made in France. Beside, in the note displayed in the French counter (photo above), it stated that if you got a manual stamp you need to mail it, but actually they got the cash refund right away with the counter.

So much drama and it sure had reduced their desire to do shopping during their trips here.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Durian and love

My mom knows I love durian, so she bought some and freeze them during the durian season. 

Now, in between meals, she would de freeze some and invite us to eat. My husband loves it too. I felt so loved.

From France to Malaysia

I was preparing gifts to bring back to Malaysia, and I went for the classic one.

My family loves ciders, especially those from Brittany. Added in some wines and champagnes. It would be so much easier if we can hand carry them. 

Butter cookies, candies, foie gras and sesame sticks

Fresh walnuts, saucissons and chorizo

Different type of chocolates. The seller told us that these will melt at 30°C, so we handed carried them in the planes.

Different type of cheese including 9 packs (16 pieces) + 1 family pack (32 pieces) raclette cheese.

Some Longchamp bags

Everything arrived safely in good conditions. I thought I was pushing too far, buying too much stuffs but at the end, they all fit in the suitcases without exceeding the weight limit.