Friday, October 28, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans Chapter 3

The Rights of the Bloodline

The process of buying a property in France was not nearly as painful as I had expected.  Really, for me, it wasn’t painful at all because I didn’t actually do anything.  Mr. Big, on the other hand, scurried around for three months gathering copies of documents and transferring money back and forth across the Atlantic in two currencies.  To buy a house in France, the French like (read “demand”) you to use a French realtor, a French bank, a French mortgage company and, most importantly, the French Notaire.

Oh, our notaire was so cute, I wanted to ship him back to the US and send him on tour as a Quintessential French Person.  In France, you don’t go to an attorney’s office for a house closing, you go to the notaire’s.  He’s somewhere in between a lawyer and a paralegal and he handles all the property issues for his village.  You just know he’s got all the dirt on everybody in town and could tell you a thing or two about your neighbors.

He had to conduct our two meetings in English so Mr. Big would understand what he was signing.  His accent was so French, I wanted to listen to him all day.  And, it was very important that I listen because he was explaining why Domestic Son and I were about to be screwed.  Yes.  Inheritance rules in France are set in stone.  It all has to do with Droit du Sang (Blood Law) and the Napoleonic Code.  Monsieur Notaire actually said the words “Here, we still live by the Napoleonic Code.”  Not a sentence one hears every day.

M. NOTAIRE:  Eet eez quite simple.  You, Madame, weel only inherit half of zee property upon zee death of le Monsieur.  Zee other half weel be divided between your daughtaire and your youngest zohn, zee true sheeldren of le Monsieur.

ME:   Wait.  OK, so if Mr. Big croaks first, NO MATTER WHAT IT SAYS IN HIS WILL, the property doesn’t go directly to me?  The kids don’t have to wait until I kick the bucket, too, to get their grubby, little hands on my stuff?  And one of the kids is shit out of luck no matter what happens?

M. NOTAIRE:  Well, um, oui, Madame, alzough I am not sure what eez zees “sheet out of luck” zat you speak about, but, usually, zee sheeldren are kind enough to let zaire old maman leev een zee house unteel she dies.

Well, that’s mighty nice of them, isn’t it?  Generous, those French children.  I had visions of Charming Daughter redecorating MY kitchen and ordering new curtains while I withered away in the attic with a bowl of gruel.  I could see my two sons battling it out with swords on the front lawn over the right to inherit the snow blower.  Dude!  It’s my snow blower!  Napoleon said so!  En garde!

And, poor Domestic Son.  True sheeldren, indeed.  He wasn’t about to let those two youngsters usurp his place in the family.  Who has wrecked more of the man’s cars?  Huh?  Me, that’s who.  Who made the man drive two hours each way at 5 in the morning to bail him out of jail at the beach, huh?  Me, that’s who.  And, need I remind you, who taught the both of you how to drink the man’s liquor and refill it with water?  Who was that again?  Right, me.  Take my third of the chalet?  I think not.

Of course, this situation was untenable, but, happily for me and Domestic Son, enough foreigners with their “strange” ideas and blended families had come before us and had the exact same problems with ol’ Napoleon and his code, so that the French were forced to devise a system to deal with our issues.

First, Mr. Big and I had to sign a special paper leaving each other the property when we die.  This paper, however, is not valid until all three children come to France, get their own notaire from an adjacent village, meet with our notaire, and sign what’s called a “Pacte de Famille”.  It’s a treaty.  True story.

So, when it’s all said and done, our family will have its’ own treaty whereby we all agree not to kill each other over the stupid chalet and divvy it up according to Mom and Dad’s wishes.  Now, until I get all three of them over here to sign this document, which could take no small amount of time, Domestic Son and I have made our own secret pact that it is of the utmost importance to keep Mr. Big alive and breathing.

I will be in charge of regulating his diet, (no fois gras), and away from potential avalanches and power tools.  Domestic Son will filter out all stress-producing news from the homefront and try to keep the money requests to a minimum.   A healthy Mr. Big means no maman in the attic and no duels at dawn.  I really think this whole experience has brought us much closer together as a family.  What with the treaty and all.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans Chapter 2

Switzerland Versus France

For one year, after we arrived in Switzerland and got the lay of the land, we searched for the perfect “dream” spot for the chalet just for fun.  Last year, we got serious.  Now, those of you in North America who might think an Alp is an Alp is an Alp,  no, no, no, messieurs et mesdames.  The Alps stretch from Slovenia to Italy into Austria, back into Italy, then into Switzerland and France.  Every valley has its’ own personality.  Some valleys are so isolated that only locals go there and tourists are either “verboten” or “interdit” according to whether you are in the German-speaking Alps or the French-speaking Alps or whatever the word is in Italian.  Last year, we limited our choices to the French-speaking Alps because my German sucks and Mr. Big’s German is completely made-up. 
How do I know he is making stuff up?  (Aside from the fact that he quotes the Saturday Night Live phrase “gleeben, gleiben, glauben, globen” like he thinks he wrote it?)  Because I had one semester of German in college. That is the extent of my German.  He thinks German is easier than French, (it is), and he thinks his fake German accent is better than his fake French accent, (it is), so he tries to talk German.  Really, if all y’all could just follow Mr. Big around Europe for one or two days, you would have cocktail party stories for a decade.  He’s hilarious.  For example, in a FRENCH-SPEAKING restaurant, he will just yell out a random “bitte!” to the waitperson.  Sometimes, he says things in Spanish.  Just randomly!  Ask, Charming Daughter how funny it is to travel around with her dad. 
She and I, when we go into a restaurant, sometimes, just out of sheer entertainment value, let  Mr. Big go first.  He always wants us to go ahead of him and “pave the way”, but, no.  It is soooo much funnier to let him go barreling on in and then watch and see what he does.  Usually, he comes to a SCREECHING halt when he realizes that neither she nor I is ahead of him and glances around frantically for us.  We, evil creatures that we are, just let him flounder.  When he sees that he is completely on his own, he will ask in some amalgamation of French-Spanish-German-English, if there is a table available for three.  It sounds something like, “um, jah, bitte, table pour trey”?  Jeez, we are mean.  We don’t do that to him very often.  Just every now and then when we need something to update our Facebook status.

Anyway, we decided on the French-speaking Alps for the chalet purchase just for ease-of-language value, which limited us to the southern part of Switzerland or France.  Well.  Let me see.  A miniscule house, by American standards, in the Swiss Alps costs the equivalent of 3 million American dollars.  The same doll-house-sized house in the French Alps costs much less than 1 million American dollars.  Guess where we picked?
Riiiiiight.  OK.  For those of you reading this who think we are the Rockefellers, you need to think again.  We are regular people who have chosen not to die with one stinkin’ penny to leave to our children.  They can make their own durned money.  (At this point I need to explain that I have many, many Mormon relatives, my own mother included, who read this blog and they do not swear.  Ever.  So I try to tone down  my heathen language.  Feel  free to insert your own dirty words wherever you see fit.) 

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  Money.  Oh, my God.  It was so unbelievable during our house hunt.  I would send an email to various and sundry realtors and they would send me back pictures and so forth of their offerings at, get this, 33 MILLION Swiss franc.  Thirty-three million Swiss franc.  That’s around 38 million US dollars.  For a house in Zermatt, or a house in Gstaad.  It was a joke.  Excuse me, monsieur, but you have me confused with a real Swiss person.  No.  I am American.  How much does the OUTHOUSE cost at your vast estate, because I can probably fix it up real nice.  Add a few geraniums and a gnome in the yard and I am good to go.
In all fairness, we did give Switzerland a good, hard look.  Probably, a dozen houses or so.  The problem was, we need a righteous amount of space in order to accommodate our growing family.  Like 5 bedrooms.  There is nothing in Switzerland available of that size for under a million dollars, no matter what its’ state of disrepair.  We looked at two former hotels that had enough rooms, but they required a complete “gut and redo” and both of them were over a million, even before the renovation.
With my experience with service people and estimates in Switzerland, I knew that we would be in well over our heads before even one bathroom or bedroom was finished.  Hence, France.  Vive la France, here we come!

Just over the border from Switzerland, in the French Alps, there is a ski area called the “Portes du Soleil” which means Gateway to the Sun.  This huge ski station encompasses 8 or 9 villages in both Switzerland and France.  The biggest, i.e. most famous town in the circuit is Avioraz.  Within this circuit of ski resorts is a valley in France called the Vallee d’Abondance, or  The Valley of Abondance.  How precious is that?
Within this one valley, there are three villages:  Chatel, La Chapelle d’Abondance and Abondance, itself.  Period.  That’s it.  At one end of the valley is the Swiss border near the town of Morgins and at the other end is the main road which leads to Thonon-les-bains and Lac Leman.    At this point, I’m sure some of you are confused.  Here’s how it goes, geographically:
    •     There is a lake called Lac Leman.  In English, this lake is known as Lake Geneva.  It is shaped like a giant croissant.
    •    Picture the outside curve of the croissant as Switzerland.  Picture the inside curve of the croissant as France.  There are two big cities on the outside curve:  Geneva and Lausanne.  There are two big cities on the inside curve:  Thonon-les-bains and Evian.  You’ve all heard of Evian.  They were the first ones to capitalize on bottled water.

    •    Just inside the French curve are the Alps.  We are in the first valley on the right-hand side of the INNER curve.  Google map it.  Look up Chatel.
Once we had the general area pinned down, Mr. Big got himself busy finding a realtor who spoke English.  Lo and behold, Chatel is chock-a-block with English speakers!  Who knew?!  When Mr. Big found “Sam”, our English-speaking realtor, he was over the moon.  He was, as they say, ON BOARD.  Now, which chalet to buy?

First, let me explain, when I say “chalet”, I mean any mountain house.  It doesn’t matter if the house is a tiny shack, it is still a “chalet”.  Like the word “cabin” in English.  It can be a little piece of shit, er, crap, but it is still a cabin.  Or, conversely, it can be a bleepin’ mansion in Aspen, but it is still a mountain “cabin”.  See?

Now, and in the blogs ahead, when you hear me speak of the chalet, you need to picture a “petit chalet” and not a massive, Aspen-like cabin with a 5-car garage, a Gaggenau kitchen, a Jacuzzi, etc.  You need to picture your Uncle Al’s fishing cabin in the Ozarks, okay?
Much to our delight, “Sam” finds us Chalet Ruisselet.    And, now, you have to wait for the next blog to find out what in the heck a ruisselet is.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans

Chapter 1
The Blog Continues. . .

Oh, la, la!  The death threats !  The collective anger!  The abject disappointment!  When I stopped writing the blog, I was inundated with such a backlash, a backlash that I had never, ever anticipated.  You poor people!

I guess it must have seemed to you like I just abandoned you mid-cliffhanger and went off on my merry way.  Did she buy the chalet?  Was it Chalet GooGaw?  Did Mr. Big ever learn more than 4 words of French? 

The answers are yes, no and of course not, you silly monkey.  For those of you who are just joining us, you can either do one of two things:
    •     Go back to the beginning of the blog,, and read all about my hijinks in the land of chocolate and cheese amongst La Suisse, or
    •    Be satisfied with the following short summation.

Short Summation
A fortysomething, American woman, Trailing Spouse, follows her husband, Mr. Big, to Switzerland for his work, leaving behind their three grown children, Small Son, Charming Daughter, Domestic Son, his wife, Mrs. Domestic Son, and their two little children, Grands One and Two. 

Mr. and Mrs. Big rent an apartment in Lausanne, Switzerland where she attempts to learn French, writes in her blog and tries to adjust to the Swiss way of life.  Mr. Big travels all of the time, attempts to learn zero French and rolls his eyes a lot at Trailing Spouse.

In her previous life, Trailing Spouse was an entrepreneur and one of her businesses was an antique/home d├ęcor store.  Trailing Spouse is addicted to collecting “treasures” and that passion has not diminished one iota in spite of her change of continents.  However, now that she has no venue in which to SELL her finds, things begin to get out hand rather alarmingly.  Hence, (and this will make sense to no one except Trailing Spouse), she convinces Mr. Big that there is an acute and dire need to get another house.

In France.  At a ski resort.  Obviously, a necessity.  Ostensibly, Mr. Big thinks the chalet is for family get-togethers now and for generations to come.  Really, Trailing Spouse just needed a decorating project and somewhere to display her growing piles of European tchotchkes.
Got it?  Everyone up to speed? 

Before we officially begin, I have a warning and a confession.  Might as well just get them both out of the way right here at the get-go.  The Confession is that, probably, I would have never have re-started this blog if MY INTERNET and MY TV were not both out of whack at the same time. 

The internet at the chalet, where I’ve been spending most of my time, is not due to be installed until next Thursday.  Of course, it was scheduled to be installed last Tuesday, but this is France and this whole internet installation odyssey is one chapter in and of itself.  The French operate in The Universe of France and they could give two shish-ka-bobs what anyone else thinks.

Meanwhile, my SlingBox that is connected to my TV in the US and from whence I receive my cable signal here in Switzerland, got fried by lightning in one of those normal, South Carolina afternoon thunderstorms.  Getting American TV in Europe is also another chapter by itself, but, suffice it to say, that, until the new SlingBox arrives in the mailbox in South Carolina and we bribe one of our US friends with a case of wine to go over to our house and install it for us, I will have no TV.  None.  Can you imagine, all you people out there in the regular 24/7 world?  No, you cannot. 

The Warning comes just as a caveat to those of you who don’t know my writing style.  This is not really a blog, per se.  It reads like a novel.  Sometimes newbies try to comment, but I never answer back because I can’t figure out HOW to answer back.  If you really must comment, you can feel free to do so on the Facebook page called Trailing Spouse Blog.  I will answer you back on that page because I know how to do it.  It’s very simple. 

HERE:  You can comment all you want, but I am like Helen Keller at the other end.
FACEBOOK:  We can chitchat back and forth, trade recipes for fondue, etc.
So, the internet and the TV are nonfunctional.  What’s a girl to do?  Read a book?  Done.  Do French homework?  Done.  Call all the kids and make sure they are alive?  Done.  Should I restart the blog?  Well, duh.