Monday October 19th Vichy to Paris by train
We arrived in Paris in the late afternoon and found autumn had crept in through the back door. It was quite chilly as we found our way from Gare de Lyon, across the Seine and south towards our hotel where we always stay while in Paris: Hotel Chatillon. Madame La Coq gave us a very warm reception and a suite for the price of our usual double. That evening we had dinner with our friends Christophe and Ghislaine, as we always do when in Paris. It was good to see them.
The Story Of
The FF500 Note.
The next morning we left our hotel in good time. Our flight was to leave Charles de Gaulle Airport at 2:30 pm which meant we had to be at Gare du Nord at about 12:00 noon in order to catch a train to the airport. We had it in mind that we would buy some Poire William (our favorite eau de vie) on the way. We went to store after store (well 4 to be exact) before we were able to find a good stash. I loaded up with my 4 bottles and went to stand in line at the cash register. My turn came. The cashier scanned my 4 bottles and waited for payment. Without giving it another thought, I handed her my last FF500 note. She began turning it over and over in her hands, scrutinizing it very closely. "What's the problem?" I asked. She showed me the note. It was pretty raggedy looking and was covered in black ink. Someone had stamped it with some kind of official stamp at some time or other. I raised my eyebrows in a kind of "So?" gesture. She rang for her supervisor.
"Oh, Pardon monsieur. We cannot accept this note," the supervisor said when she arrived in a whirlwind of businesslike efficiency.
"But it's my last money," I explained. "I'm leaving for Canada in 2 hours and I want to buy these bottles before I go."
"Ah well - you will have to change this note at the bank. We cannot accept it."
"But the bank is where I got this note in the first place." By now I was getting mad but I was able to keep my temper in check.
"I'm sorry. It's all I can suggest. We will not accept this note. There's a bank across the street. Try there."
So I dashed out the door and explained to E, who was waiting with the bikes outside the store, what was going on. She became even more angry than I and flew into the store in a rage and accused them of thinking we were thieves and counterfeiters. It didn't get us much other than a shrugged apology.
I entered the bank and waited in line for a teller. A few minutes later it was my turn. I explained my problem. I could tell that the young girl behind the window didn't want anything to do with me or my raggedy, ink stained FF500 note. "We are not really a bank Monsieur," She pointed behind me to a row of instant tellers. "We do not deal in currency here only with machines so I cannot help you. Maybe the bank next door...?"
So out I went into the street again to try the place next door. When I arrived at the teller window I again explained my situation and what I needed.
"Do you have a bank account with us?" the teller asked me examining the FF500 closely.
"No of course not," I said. "I'm only here on vacation for 3 weeks."
"Then, I'm sorry. We can only change notes if you have an account."
"Well then, I'll open up an account." By this time I was feeling kind of punchy. I could only hope she would see the absurdity of what she was saying.
"I can only suggest you take this note to the Banque Nationale," she offered. "They are authorized in these kinds of cases to exchange damaged notes."
Disgusted, I left the premises. Auggggh....!!! What a hassle. Sometimes I hate Paris. By now we were in a hurry. I didn't want to get stuck with over $100.00 of FF that nobody wanted but we had no more time. We had to get to the train station so we could catch our train to the airport. "I guess we'll just have to keep the damn thing and see if our bank in Canada will take it," I thought to myself.
So off we went on our bikes at breakneck speed through busy Paris streets. We hadn't gone far when to my right I saw another wine merchant. We decided to give it one more try. I entered the store and explained what I wanted. 4 bottles. By way of conversation I mentioned that I would take them with me back home to Canada. The fellow smiled politely, went into his store room and came back out carrying 4 bottles. When he put them on the counter I handed him my raggedy, ink stained note. Then...I...didn't...breathe. He hesitated, looked at the note for a moment, looked at me, turned it over in his hands, thought about it some more then with a flourish, put it in his drawer and handed me my change.
"Thankyou." I said as I went out the door.
"Have a good trip to Canada," I heard him say as the door closed behind me.
Wednesday November 11th Toronto