Sometimes Paris has a touch of Al Capone's Chicago about it. Maybe things are no better in the UK, but the French capital can make you feel that you have experienced something, if not illegal then distinctly dodgy at best or been royally had over at worst.
First, La Fille needs some new spectacles. We have been through several pairs and no matter the choices we make (frames, non-scratch lenses, unbreakable..) the final bill is always around 220 euros; pretty expensive for something that has to be changed regularly. This time we tried out new opticians and were delighted when, given a choice of frames, La Fille chose ones that were half the price of her current pair. The lenses were also cheaper. We were presented the bill...for 220 euros. The sales girl, or as she was grandly styled the "Ophthalmological Advisor", had added on various bells and whistles, including "special thin lenses" that cost an extra 40 euros. "We didn't ask for them; do we have a choice?" inquired the Frenchman. "No. I only work with lenses like that," she retorted. And why 220 euros? I suspect this is the limit the French health authorities will reimburse for children's eyewear.
Second: the management company that runs our building produced an estimate for work on the foundations and drains. It is for 44,000 euros. The residents asked for two other estimates; not unreasonable given the work and money involved. Also not unreasonable as our neighbour went to the trouble of finding plumbers and organising one additional estimate - this time for 37,000 - so the management company only had to find one more. At this point the architect employed by the management company - and overseeing the project - said he was not prepared to work with the firm that had produced the 37,000 euros estimate nor indeed any other company except the one that wanted 44,000 euros. We stood our ground and insisted on another estimate. Last week this third estimate arrived from the management company. It was a blatant cut and paste of the 44,000 euro bill but with a different firm's name on top and for 48,000 euros thus ensuring we are unlikely to choose it.
Then the friend whose surgeon presented him for a bill for 2,000 euros for an operation he had said would cost 700 euros telling him "It's OK, your mutuelle (a kind of non-profit making private insurance) will pay", called us. "Remember that surgeon...? he asked. "Well I've just discovered he also works at my mutuelle."
While I dig out my cheque book here are some - possibly very unfair - quotes about the Windy City to keep you amused. I have never been myself, so it's a cheap laugh.
"I have struck a city - a real city - and they call it Chicago...I urgently desire never to see it again. It is inhabited by savages."
Rudyard Kipling, 1891
"Here is the difference between Dante, Milton, and me. They wrote about hell and never saw the place. I wrote about Chicago after looking the town over for years and years."
Carl Sandburg, 1961
"A facade of skyscrapers facing a lake and behind the facade, every type of dubiousness."
"We struck the home trail now, and in a few hours were in that astonishing Chicago - a city where they are always rubbing a lamp, and fetching up the genii, and contriving and achieving new impossibilities. It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago - she outgrows her prophecies faster than she can make them. She is always a novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time."
Mark Twain "Life on the Mississippi," 1883
"There was no need to inform us of the protocol involved. We were from Chicago and knew all about cement."
Groucho Marx, pressing his hands into the cement at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.