My first five days

Hey everybody! I hope you’re all doing fine! Better than me I hope… To say my first five days have been stressful is a massive understatement. 

It all started off okay, until Saturday. I’d gone out with some fellow Erasmus students for a few drinks so we could all get to know each other. After sitting in a student kitchen for an hour, we visited an Australian bar (yeah, strange) for some cocktails. By this point, I’d paid mostly by card everywhere for convenience, but I’d planned to withdraw a lot of cash eventually to reduce cost of exchange rates and charges; better to do it all in one go than multiple times. So naturally, I paid by card here. It’s probably important to note that I had drunk a lot of alcohol by this point (my cocktail was more alcoholic than I had anticipated), and I’m not afraid to admit that I wasn’t as careful with my card than I usually would be. I had a great night, unaware that I had probably left my card at the bar; I didn’t actually buy any drinks after that. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually notice my card had gone until Monday morning, when I was at the shops. Because almost everywhere is closed on a Sunday, I had no need to go anywhere so I stayed at home. My first thought, of course, was that I must have kept my card in my pocket, so I checked as soon as I got home. Upon realising that I must have left it in the bar, I called my bank to cancel my card (the bank has a separate number for lost/stolen cards abroad), and to order a new one.

Now, obviously it would have been pointless to send my new card to my UK address, so I asked them to add on an international address for correspondence – using the address format I was given by CROUS: an absolute nightmare. According to them, all post has to have the following format:

Monsieur/Madame X

Chambre X, Bâtiment A/B/C

Résidence Universitaire Philippe Lebon

28 boulevard Côte-Blatin

63000 Clermont-Ferrand

When filling out a letter, this would make up five lines in total. You can probably get away with removing the recipient name, as that’s usually standard. But it’s still four lines, and my bank only had room for three, so we condensed it slightly. From experience, I know that many people struggle with French, so I spelled everything out with the phonetic alphabet. Yet they still somehow managed to spell it wrong:

Chanbre X, Batiment residence

Unibersitaire Philippe Lebon

28 boulevard cote blatin

Yeah, annoying. So my new card wouldn’t be delivered, as this is clearly not an actual address. And that isn’t even the worst part of the day.

Once I was satisfied my card was cancelled and on it’s way (to the correct address, mind), I went down to the secretary to pay my deposit and rent for the month. I found, however, that my card kept getting declined. I knew perfectly well I had enough money in the account, because less than 5 minutes earlier, I had moved everything from one debit card to the other. I thought it might be a problem with international cards, as I had seen someone else have the same issue. So I went to the nearest cash machine to withdraw nearly €500 in cash, only to find my card declined again. At this point, I thought it might be that my bank didn’t like me making such a large transaction at once, so I went to test out the theory by going to a FNAC store. I was intending to buy a few more plug adapters and to research webcams for a possible YouTube channel. At the checkouts, with a single €9.99 plug adapter, my card was declined yet again. So my first instinct was to call my bank and say ‘Hey! What’s up with my card today? I kind of need money.’. After sitting on hold for nearly 10 minutes, I was finally put through to a human. And I received some shocking news.

He told me that my lost card had been cancelled okay earlier that morning. But for some unknown reason, my other card had also been cancelled, but there was no timestamp. There was no way of knowing who cancelled my card or when, but it was clear to me that it had been done at the same time as my other card. I could use my card perfectly fine that morning until I cancelled my lost one. Meaning I had no way of withdrawing money from my account for another 10 days or even longer. So I immediately called up the emergency cash helpline. And yet another nightmare occurred. According to the woman on the phone, I wasn’t eligible for emergency cash because I have internet banking. I was very confused, because I was pretty sure that having internet banking certainly didn’t change the fact I desperately needed money to buy food and pay rent. So the woman instead told me to use an external money-wiring service such as MoneyGram or Western Union, whereby you transfer money to a bank account, then the recipient (in this case, me) would go to an outlet, show ID and collect the cash. It all seems a bit dodgy to me, not only because there’s a charge for sending the money, but because it goes against my bank’s advice; don’t transfer to a bank account if you can’t be sure it’s genuine. In fact, that’s just common sense. Needless to say, I didn’t go ahead with the unusual advice.

After writing a passive-aggressive post on Twitter about my situation, and tagging my bank, I was advised to call Visa, and given an apology for the incorrect advice. So I went to Visa’s website for emergency cash, and dialled the freephone number for France, my location. Invalid number. Absolutely fantastic. So I was forced to call the US number, which I would be charged for. Halfway through providing my details and the situation, the phone hung up: I had run out of credit. And of course I couldn’t top up because I had no cards to use, and the e-top up service didn’t like my bank account.

But at least there was a bright side. My parents had given me a book of restaurant vouchers called ‘Chèque de Table’. Worth €10 each, I have a book of 18, meaning I have €180 worth of vouchers to use in many restaurants. And if I don’t want to eat out, they can actually be used in most French supermarkets on ready-to-eat food like crisps, ham, cheese, canned foods and ready meals. And because you can only get them from working in France, I’m extremely lucky to have them. I had also bought quite a lot of food in my first shop, so alongside the vouchers, I shouldn’t go too hungry while waiting for my cards to arrive.

On a more positive note, the town around me is beautiful! I took a walk over a bridge which shares vehicular traffic with the city’s tram line. 20180911184728_IMG_0415.JPG

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Because we’re surrounded by the Chaîne des Puys, you can get some spectacular sunset shots! With the clouds appearing in the distance, we could be in a sprawling city in a tropical country, but we’re in France, the Auvergne region. And what a beauty it is!

I’ll leave this post here for today, hopefully everything should clear up by this time next week! Don’t forget, there’s Sunday’s post coming first. À bientôt !