Margaret and Dick   


October '07: Frequent cruncher

I crunched the right side of the car, again.  Last time it was against a stone house, turning a tight corner in our neighborhood.  This time it was against our garage door, turning the tight corner onto the street.  There will be hell to pay with Margaret.  She’s a little sensitive about my scraping the right side of her cars in Atlanta, usually when they are quite new.  I seem to have a habit of lightly crunching into things on the passenger side of the car.  Luckily she was due to leave for Atlanta within the week.

My plan was to keep her on the driver’s side for the week remaining until her departure, then quietly take the car in to the carrosserie (body shop) after she left.

It didn’t work.  After a few days she noticed the scratched rear door and rear fender.  She was not pleased.  “Maybe the carrosserie offers a frequent-cruncher discount,” she suggested.

I made an appointment at the carrosserie, a shop within walking distance of our house:  reasons why we love Limoux (#1).  The estimate, scrawled on a page from last year’s calendar:  300€ for sanding, painting, varnishing, and materials.  Ouch, that hurts.

I took the car in for its two-day visit, which became four days.  (This is France.)  When I came to pick it up, the owner was busy so I looked the car over.  Gorgeous.  Perfect. 

“You’ve exchanged my car for a new one,” I said.  He smiled.  I pulled out the scrap of paper with the estimate.  “Will a check be okay?”  “Yes, but I prefer cash.  Otherwise I’ll have to add the VAT,” he said, with a funny look on his face.  The VAT is a stiff sales tax, 19.6% on almost anything you buy, including houses.  Ouch, that hurts even more.  “If I pay cash, no VAT?”  “Right.”  Wow, a difference of 60€!

“When do you close?”  In an hour.  “I’ll be right back.”  He handed me the car key.  Reasons why we love Limoux (#2):  I paid nothing yet had the car back.  I dashed to the bank for cash and returned to pay him.  I saved the VAT, and I’m guessing he saved 40% on income taxes.  He quietly put some of the money aside.  I suspect the official paperwork will show a bill for a smaller amount.

Lesson learned:  If an artisan writes you an estimate on a piece of scrap paper, you can safely assume that the bill can be paid in cash at that level, or 20% higher by check.  This is called working au noir (on the black), tax-free, and the loser is the government.  They get enough of our money, the locals say.  Reasons why we love Limoux (#3).

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