Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Saturday, February 25, 2006

House-hunting guests for next week

Just as I'd walked out the door this morning to take the dog for a walk, my wife Liz called me back with "Gite booking on the phone".

Completely out of the blue it was a couple who are house-hunting themselves in the Josselin/Brittany area, had found our Gite website via Google, and wanted to stay in the Gite from Saturday next week. Fortunately we've no-one in right now so they're welcome to stay.

Whilst we were chatting on the phone I learnt that they're due to see the same agent that we bought our house through in September 2003, Franck Guillaume of Bretagne Proprietes Services in Josselin. Maybe we'll end up with some new English friends in the vicinity?

It got me thinking about my Google Adverts though, I'll setup some new adverts tailored to other people looking to rent whilst they house-hunt in the area - maybe I'll get some more out of season bookings as a result.

And Dexter (the dog), well he did get to go on his walk after a short delay!

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Interesting Blogs I've been reading for Blogger hacks

Just for a change I thought I'd write about some other interesting blog's I've found recently.

Firstly, A Consuming Experience contains a mixture of interesting technical insights, how-to's and hints and tips. From there I discovered FreshBlog which has loads of hacks and enhancements for Blogger.

One of the articles I read on FreshBlog put me onto Browservulsel who has some great Greasemonkey scripts that really make using Blogger a lot easier. Greasemonkey is a sort of website scripting plugin for Firefox, my favourite Browser (I've been using is since version 0.6). Greasemoney scripts are simply Javascript scripts that are automatically run whenever you browse specific sites/pages. Browservusel has three scripts I've found useful with Blogger:

  • Edit Comments - enables me to edit comments made on my blog (by default Blogger only gives you the option to delete comments)
  • Large Post Editor - makes the standard Blogger 'create/edit' post bigger (the standard one is far too small to easily use)
  • Large Template Editor - similar thing but this one makes the template editor window bigger
Browservusel also has a Greasemoney script to automatically add Technorati tags but I've not worked out how to use that one yet!

You may notice some subtle changes to the Blog as I start incorporating ideas from some of these sites. Yesterday I made the template change to sort the list of monthly archives into most recent first and changed the Blogger icon.
Still to do is making the Blog titles clickable and creating a favicon for the Blog and our Gite website.

One you won't visibly see me making a backup of the blog in case Blogger throws a serious wobbly and looses it all.

Another clever trick I found for Firefox is a quick way to translate pages into English using Google's translation tool by using a bookmark and finally, The Daily Hack - just what it says; some of the ideas are great and some plain silly.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Still worrying about my tax evasion

A week's gone by since I found out I was a french tax evader and I've still not written a cheque for the tax office yet. I've been very busy at work helping to put in a proposal to HM Revenue and Customs (including working all last weekend 8-(, but at least it's all in and delivered now).

Now that I'm "back up for air" I decided to actually properly read the Lettre De Rappel.

Whenever I get a French letter (hmm, given that today's Valentine's day of all days I'll not say that as a French letter has a different connotation), better make that, whenever I receive a letter from France that I can't fully comprehend I translate it courtesy of Google.

Firstly I use a really great piece of OCR software, Abbyy FineReader 5.0 Pro to scan in the document and convert the scanned image into editable text. Abbyy does a much better job than other packages I've tried, it has a French language dictionary, you can export the document straight into Microsoft Word (and it does a pretty good job of the formatting, column layout, etc), and best of all it was free on a Computer magazine cover I had a couple of years ago.
The latest version of Abbyy is version 8.0 so is doubtless better than the one I have, and at £89 or €139 is good value - I heartily recommend it.

Anyway, after I've got a French editable version of the letter in Microsoft Word I then copy and paste the bits I want into Google's translation engine, tell it to convert French to English, then voila, a pigeon-english version of the original letter.

The only limitation of this approach is Google will only translate about the first 1000 words or so of the text you submit. If I've a long document then I have to either do the translation in pieces (or else save the document from Word to HTML format, upload the page onto the internet and tell Google to translate the appropriate URL).

I've used this technique with a lot of success for a number of documents, including the original deeds and contract for our Brittany holiday home.

Back to the Lettre de Rappel ... well courtesy of Google I've confirmed what I originally read in the letter. I've also discovered that I've got 30 days to appeal the 10% surcharge otherwise it will become final. Methinks I definitely need to go and ask a friend to write a french begging letter of apology.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Tax Evasion

Today we received a "Lettre de Rappel" from Le Tresor Public (the French Taxman) telling me that I had not paid my Taxe D'Habitation that was due on 15th November 2005.

I very suprised by this as I was convinced that I had paid it, and that in fact I was paying it by monthly direct debit.

In France there are two types of property taxes we have to pay for our holiday Gite, the Taxes Foncieres and the Taxe D'Habitatation (which from 2005 also includes the Redevance Audiovisuelle - TV licence).

Looking in my 'french bills folder' I found the original bill for €683 which had arrived in September 2005 and I remembered I'd taken the option to pay online at the French tax office. I'd chosen to pay in installments and had completed an Autorisation de Prelevement to debit the money direct from the bank each month. I also had received a statement from the taxman telling me that the first payment was due on 16th January.
Going online to check my French bank account I could see that the first €68 payment had taken place on time.

So what was wrong ?

With trepidation there was nothing for it but to phone the French tax office and find out the problem. It's not all that often that I have to phone France, but when I need to, I really loath doing so as I feel my French isn't good enough and I'll make a mess of the conversation.

Spoke to a nice Frenchman at the other end and in a mixture of my poor French and his poor English I explained that I was confused about the reminder letter, that I had arranged to pay it, and that they'd collected the first payment.

"Vous payer pour Le Taxe d'Habitation pour deux mille sixe, mais vous ne pas payer pour Le Taxe pour duex mille cinq" I was told.

More studying of the November bill, the direct debit statement, and questioning in bad French, then revelation!

When I'd chosen to pay by monthly direct debit I hadn't noticed that this was to pay in advance for next year's (i.e. 2006's) bill - the 2005 bill could only be paid in full by cheque or direct debit.

So now I was offically overdue with my 2005 bill, and to cap it all, as I hadn't paid on time I was being surcharged an additional 10% so now I owed €751, not €683.

I'll have to pay the bill and surcharge straight away as there are dire warnings in the Lettre if I continue to default. Maybe my friend who can speak better french than me can help with an appeal of the surcharge as in this case I genuinely thought it was all in hand.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Insurance bill arrives - but at least it's cheap

Our annual building and household contents insurance bill for our holiday Gite arrived this week - "Hardly a cause for celebration" I'm sure you're thinking.

Normally I can't get very excited about such things, it's one of the unfortunate side effects of owning two homes is that you have to pay two lots of bills for everything. But as I was filing the Appel de Cotisation away in our 'french bills' folder I compared it against last year's bill and was pleasantly suprised.

Our insurance is through the massive french insurance company, AGF and for 2006/7 the bill is €275.43 - or about £187. Last year we paid €259.18, and the year before €244.76. So year on year the increase is only about 6%.

The french insurance is about half what I pay in for our house in the UK, the french house is larger than our UK one and it's unoccupied for much of the time.

French crime rate is generally lower than in the UK, but all in all this is still amazing value. Afterwards I didn't feel so bad about the cost as I wrote out and posted the cheque ...

PS: It's my birthday today!!