Friday, September 26, 2008

Prudent Pierre

“You need a new laptop,” she said. I have to agree. Mine is eight years old and was designed by someone who had an apprenticeship in anchor and anvil design.
Like many old things, it’s a bit slow to start but it handles my mail and word processing stuff well enough.
And a new one is going to set me back 500 euros.
France is not immune to the world financial crisis, it’s tax time (d’habitation and fonciere) and any day now M. Oignon will be showing up with a trailer load of my winter wood and wanting cash.
And unlike the residents of the UK, I can’t just charge it to my credit card and hope to defer the pain, for the French banks have a delightfully old-fashioned approach to money. I have no credit – it’s a debit card and to make it work, the money has to be in the account.
This fiscal backwardness of the French credit industry is one reason that the citizens suffer less at these times than do their counterparts in Britain and America. Food prices are up, there will be some tightening of belts and reduction in embonpoints, but homes are not being repossessed and no more than the usual number of bankruptcies are on the horizon.
Consumerism is as strong here as anywhere but consumer envy is not. Monsieur may buy himself a sporty new car but it will be for his own pleasure, not to impress his neighbour, who will still stick to his trusty ten year old Renault.
And banks do not distribute their largesse without making sure that they are going to get repaid.
As a writer, my income tends to be cyclical. To negotiate a modest overdraft arrangement on my current account, I had to take out a life insurance policy just in case I should hop off the twig and not be in a position to repay it.
And some years ago, a loan of 4000 euros entailed a two hour meeting with my ‘conseiller’ at the bank, who needed to know exactly what the money was to be used for.
Enforced fiscal prudence of this sort may be distasteful to those who are used to living with a free-wheeling economy but it does make for a more contented life.
So the new laptop’s on hold.
And I think I hear M. Oignon’s tractor coming up the driveway.


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