On the way back from Provence to Carcassonne, we decided to drive through Montpellier and make a visit to the bank to begin immersing ourselves in the world-famous French system of red tape. We have a premier account with HSBC in France and wanted to speak to someone about a mortgage. I phoned earlier to see if they have an English-speaking associate at the Montpellier branch of HSBC, the closest to our new property.
We drove right up to the bank in the centre of Montpellier, not an easy task in itself. Upon achieving a sighting of the bank, we now had to find a place to park. We drove around a bit, following the large blue “P” signs leading to a parking area, leaving virtual breadcrumbs so that we could walk back to the bank. Fortunately we found parking less than a ten-minute walk away.
We very confidently walked in expecting to speak with the English speaking bank employee and stood in the queue waiting our turn. As we reached the bank clerk, we found out in our limited conversational ability, that the English-speaking person was not there – not exactly sure if they were not there at the moment, for the day, or ever. Sensing our frustration, the clerk picked up the phone and dialled a number and then he handed the phone over to Steve. On the other end of the phone was an English-speaking lady who listened to Steve explain what we wanted to do. She said that we would have to deal with our home branch in Nice, just over 200 miles away. She told us the name and phone number of the person that we needed to talk to. Steve thanked her and hung up. We thanked the bank clerk and left the bank. Then we looked at other and laughed at the whole situation, realizing that this is just all part of the adventure of buying a home in another country – especially one that we are not yet fluent in the language. When we are ready for another banking adventure, we will try to transfer our account to the Montpellier branch.
We decided to do some sightseeing around town. We had been to Montpellier a few years ago and wanted to revisit some of the sights and shops, and to have lunch at one of our favourite restaurants, L’ Entrecote. They only have one main dish on the menu, steak and fries – the best steak and fries that you can imagine.
It is a whole experience, from the beautiful interior to the friendly servers to the tables that touch one another. The tables are so close that each one has to be moved like a jigsaw puzzle piece to seat customers. The table moves are then repeated to let the customers out when they are finished. You can’t help but talk to the person next to you, having a wonderful conversation as well as a delicious lunch.
We arrived just after they opened, so it was still empty and quiet. We were taken upstairs to a cosy table in the corner. Then about fifteen minutes later, it was as if a bell went off letting the people know that the restaurant was now open. A sudden rush of people filled both the downstairs and upstairs of the restaurant. As the energy rose so did the noise level due to the conversations at each table. A nice lady squeezed in to the table next to us. She was on her own and had a handful of shopping bags full of goodies that she had just bought. Each bag had a designer name on it. Some were colourful and decorated. You could tell that she was proud of her purchases as she carefully placed them on the chair next to her.
The waitress came over to take her order just as our food was being served to us. So we began to eat. About half way through our meal I looked at her and said “Bonjour.” She replied “Bonjour” and then started talking to us in French. I pointed to all of her shopping bags and she proudly opened each one to show us what was in them – shoes, a handbag and clothes. Steve and I both told her how nice they were and what a good shopper she was. The waitress then brought her lunch to the table and as she began eating her meal, we continued eating ours and the conversation paused as we all enjoyed a very delicious meal. As I said, you can’t help but make a new friend, even if it is just for an hour or two.
Here are some of the sights of the city: