Adventures and misadventures in France.

Posts tagged ‘Shopping’

Strip vs. chip for plastic

Even after a year in France, I’ve been determined to maintain my US bank account. While my $/USD paycheck fluctuates with €/EURO conversion rates, my bank offers free checking, zero ATM fees, and ridiculously good customer service. My only complaint is that the US banking and credit/debit system is extremely outdated. In the rest of the world, cards are equipped with a chip and PIN system instead of (or in addition to) magnetic strips. Many French stores are no longer able to “swipe” cards, as the chip only uses a slot system, so I’ve encountered plenty of bizarre looks from checkout clerks with my carte américaine.

Elise Hu of NPR posted a great article yesterday describing the benefits of switching to a chip-enabled system, linking the issue to the recent Target data breach.

Industry leaders know magnetic stripes are outdated and easily exploitable. The rest of the world moved on to a more secure, harder-to-hack payment system based on chip-enabled cards — chip and PIN. Chip-enabled cards are more secure because the data on the chip are hidden behind encryption. So even if criminals intercept what’s on it, they can’t reuse it.

This means simply entering your PIN to complete a purchase, similar to most debit cards, instead of signing. As I’m sure that everyone who has scrawled their name across a receipt or touch screen can attest, a PIN is a far more reliable and secure way to ensure that your card doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Hu’s article describes one major drawback to making the switch on a national level. Our current card readers are not equipped to read chip-encrypted cards. Replacing every card reader at every location of every business in the country will come at an enormous expense to the businesses. At the same time, the risk of another large-scale data breach is now a potential expense that cannot be ignored.

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Beaches of France : Guerande and La Turballe

Part 3

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This funny instrument is called a vielle à roue, or a hurdy gurdy.

Guerande is a fortified medieval city just north of La Baule and St. Nazaire. We decided to drop by the inner city on the way home from our beach weekend to visit the original church, get some lunch, and maybe sample their Brittany wares. The region is known its heavy Breton influence, sailing culture, and coarse salt production. Today, the city is filled with artisans and their shops selling paintings and sculptures.

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Later in the afternoon, we wanted to get a look at the marais salants, salt flats, in La Turballe. Not much to see, just piles of delicious lying around.

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Oh boy! Salt!

Next to the flats, we found a parking lot with signage leading to a beach. Adding to our weekend of spontaneity, we decided to take a stroll to check it out. Fifteen minutes of marching through a forest filled with picnicking families and the beach finally came into view. On such a hot day, we were excited to finally see a natural and tranquil beach. We finally reached the top of the dunes and looked down to admire the clear water and the bay below.

The face of ignorance

The face of blissful ignorance.

Look at that view! The sand is so soft! Let’s go dip our feet in the water!

Hey that’s weird… there’s a woman swimming – naked? And there’s another guy and he’s – also naked? And those people over there… and… uh oh…

As it turns out, this particular beach was far more natural than anticipated. We had stumbled upon an unofficial naturist beach. Standing at the top of the dunes, we tried not to stare as couples, families, and groups of friends all paraded past us to enjoy their naked day at the beach. After a few moments of shocked silence and attempts at nonchalance, Max turned to me and asked:

Can we go back to the car now?

Maybe next time, Naked Beach.

Beaches of France : La Baule and Pornichet

Part 2

“The most beautiful beach in Europe”

The morning after our St. Nazaire fiasco, Max and I woke up early and drove to La Baule, a bay spanning 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) in southern Brittany. The enormous and beautiful beach is covered in restaurants and “clubs”- bars for parents to relax while their children engage in camp activites. The entire bay is lined with hotels, luxury apartments, and a rambla for long strolls.

We parked in Pornichet, the low-key southern end of the beach, and walked forever to find some sandwiches and gelatto in the main shopping area. We had the beach mostly to ourselves until mid-afternoon, when people flooded into the water or posted up in one of the rental tents. We had to be on the lookout for enormous jellyfish that regularly washed up on shore, but otherwise spent the afternoon reading relaxing in the sun.

European beaches are notoriously laid back, but coming from America, it’s still surprising to see women casually spending the day topless on the beach (more on that later). In France, however, toplessness doesn’t seem to provoke any attention, positive or negative.

That evening, we avoided the crowds by returning to Pornichet for dinner (more forever walking), and enjoyed a tasty seafood dinner at Le Normandy.

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Check out the lemon juice contraption.

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