Skip to main content



Every interaction with a French institution teaches valuable lessons. Usually, those lessons involve learning patience. The French bureaucrat/fonctionnaire has a list and loves to check the boxes. Here are a few boxes that you need to be checking.


You have a banker, not a bank. I don't know how it is for folks with abundant resources, but we are just average folks with an income close to the French national average. That means that there's one person at the bank that handles our account, our banker. Frederick. It's a small branch with just a few employees, so there's no hand off. Frederick works on our dossier and, if he's not around, the dossier sits. (More about that later.) Get to know your banker.

Bring every piece of paper that you own when meeting with your banker to discuss your request for a mortgage. If you have been living in France, five years worth of tax returns. French tax returns. (If you live in France, you have to file whether you have to pay French taxes or not.) Proof of residence, such as a utility bill that's less than three months old. Proof of income - required even though we've been running our income through the same bank for almost eight years. If joint request with spouse, proof that you are married. In other words, bring every piece of paper that you own.

French bankers don't negotiate like American bankers. We didn't need much of a mortgage. We initially asked for a mortgage that would cover about 40% of the purchase price of our new house. (Our 'new' house, by the way, is 1,000 years old.) Between the equity in our current house and our savings just for this purpose that I'd put aside, we could easily cover the rest and didn't want to borrow more than we needed to borrow. After much typing and chin scratching and more typing, Frederick told me that we couldn't have a mortgage. He carefully went over the reasons - our age, our income, the phase of the moon. 

After several minutes of Frederick explaining why we couldn't have the mortgage that we wanted, and seeing how genuinely sorry he appeared to be that he couldn't help us, I asked a simple question. Suppose we only asked for 30% of the purchase price instead of 40%? More typing and chin scratching and typing. Yes! That would work. An American banker would have suggested adding money to the pot at least five minutes sooner.. I only brought it up because it seemed obvious that Frederick was not going to. Don't assume that French bankers are like American bankers. They're not.

You don't actually apply for a mortgage until you've been approved. That's right. We signed nothing until our third or fourth meeting with Frederick, after we'd supplied him with every piece of paper that we owned and completed an online medical questionnaire. After about five weeks of meetings and emails, Frederick informed us that our loan had been approved and that we needed to come in and sign the papers. We were surprised to learn that the papers that we had to sign were not our acceptance of the mortgage. We were to sign the mortgage application. Why waste time signing things if you are not going to be approved? But once the management of the branch approved, it's OK to sign the application.

You are not approved until the regional office signs off. Yippee! We're approved. Well, not really. It turns out that the approval of the branch isn't the final word. The dossier has to be sent to the regional office for the final checking of the boxes. A formality, Frederick assures us. Fingers crossed because, although Frederick says that we are approved, we are not really out of the woods quite yet.

There's a waiting period. French law takes cooling off periods seriously. What is a cooling off period? When buying a property, the buyer has a ten-day window after signing the purchase agreement to back out of the deal without major penalty. In the case of a loan, you cannot except the money until the eleventh day after approval - in our case, until Montpellier approves. We didn't know that until after we signed, not that it would have made any difference. But it would have been good to know. Maybe it was in the fine print. Be that as it may, whatever the schedule that you had in mind, add the cooling off period.

Frederick got COVID! I mentioned that Frederick didn't have a buddy at the bank to keep up with his customers when Frederick was sick or went on vacation. As it turned out, the day after we provided the last document that the bank required, Frederick tested positive. (He's fine, now. Thanks for asking.) Frederick was out of the office for three weeks. While we thought that our dossier was in the mail to Montpellier, in truth it was languishing on Frederick's desk. We are now waiting for the next update from Frederick, who is back at work after his bout with COVID.

It's been about ten weeks now. There's more. Stay tuned.


Popular posts from this blog


  We made our way to a new restaurant the other day, up toward the hills past La Liviniere in the small town of Felines-Minervois. None of our party had been there before, but a friend had visited and said that she'd enjoyed it. She's a vegetarian. First clue. Now don't get me wrong. I have no gripe with those who choose to go meatless. I understand the environmental concerns and I understand the horrors of factory farming. But I also understand that form follows function in the design of tools, in the design of appliances, and in the design of human teeth. Our incisors and canines did not develop over the course of hundreds of thousands of years to rend the flesh of a fresh-caught broccoli. We are omnivores by design, Darwinian design. And I enjoy eating omni. Enough preamble... I never went inside the Grand Cafe Occitan. A young lady who would be our server met us at the front door of the nicely pointed old stone house, leading us to a pebble-covered courtyard on the side


   DANCING AND SEXISM Norman and I went to the same high school at the same time, we knew each other, but we had no classes together and weren't really friends. A big, ungainly kid, as a teenager Norman played keyboards for services at a local church. I learned some years after graduation that Norman had gone to a fine arts college and had worked his way up to Resident Organist at a major, big city Protestant congregation. Fast forward to our 25th or 30th high school reunion, I don't remember which. I do remember that when the dancing started, one couple who were obviously into ballroom dancing glided and posed across the floor with serious expressions on their faces. Carefully well rehearsed. Then Norman stepped on the floor, blue suit, white shirt, red tie and all. He stomped. He twirled. His arms and legs flew in every direction. Norman truly danced like no one was watching. I envy Norman's dancing to this day. Sanna Marin wears leather coats, goes to rock concerts, and


  MONARCHY It is not possible to be an English-speaking expat living in Europe without having gained some understanding of how the UK works and how UK policies and politics affect European life. And so, a word about the monarchy is in order today. I'm no monarchist. As an American, I have grown up believing in liberal democracy. Today, I consider myself a democratic socialist. But I have come to appreciate the manner in which British royalty has accommodated itself to the modern world. There is no doubt that accommodation has diminished the role of the monarch. That's probably a good thing. But a diminished monarchy need not necessarily herald the end of the monarchy. Elizabeth's monarchy became simply the personification of her country's flag, to be trotted out to acknowledge community, in good times and in sad times, expressing publicly what was being felt privately. There was a time, during Brexit, when I was furious with Elizabeth. As one of the richest, most well-