Tag Archives: bureaucracy

La vie chère

La vie chère

Let me start by apologizing for the lack of updates. I’m not much of a writer and as a computer guy, I’ve been finding myself focusing on the sort of stuff behind the blog rather than the content… sorry about that. I’ve been trying my hand a learning ruby and rails with some online classes from edx.org and they’re quite challenging, fun, and time consuming (and free too boot). I’ll try to keep up a better pace of posting content in the future…

La vie chère

La vie chère

Alors… Life is expensive here. When we first moved here I didn’t quite realize the scope of “la vie chère” (the expensive life). The most difficult thing is the price of food. One learns quite quickly to stop converting prices to your native currency or you’ll never buy any food. Even at the market it is pretty typical to end up paying 700 CFP for a kilo of tomatoes or 300 CFP for one bell pepper. We thought maybe local fruits would be less expensive but that’s really not the case either, although they are usually very tasty. A medium sized pineapple may run you 600 CFP. A bunch of bananas can be 500. A big grapefruit is 550. Thinking back to the times of being able to buy $0.20 bananas makes one go a bit crazy. At least the local fruit here is “normal sized” as opposed to some of those monster bananas back in the states that taste like styrofoam…

Fruits and vegetables aren’t the only expensive thing of course. Most of the groceries are on the high side. A lot of that I can understand – we import tons of our food but other stuff is made or grown here locally. The local eggs, for example, will cost you about 550 CFP for a dozen. At least they are high quality and fresh… The milk is all imported UHT stuff (man oh man do we miss fresh milk). A 1L box of milk is about 150 normally. Candy is insane. We really only buy candy from duty free shops or when we’re out of the country because we just cant bring ourselves to pay more than 800 CFP for a bag of M&Ms.

About $9.90 USD or 0.3 Kg

About $9.90 USD for 0.3 Kg

To try to combat la vie chère, the government here has begun to put price controls on lots of products.

<rant> Without getting too political, the government setting controls like this is something that drives my American brain crazy. The main reason things are so expensive is because we live on an island and have to import everything. I think it is counterproductive, however, to impose ridiculous tariffs and difficult trade laws, which make it hard to get inexpensive goods while at the same time mandating what the (low) price of a box of milk should be. For example, most of our food comes from Europe – specifically France, even though Australia and New Zealand are right next door geographically. Because of these laws, France gets to send stuff literally around the entire planet and get it into New Caledonia for a lower cost than for, say, Australia to do the same thing. Instead of setting the price of a can of coke, why not allow a little competition to drive down prices rather than forcing them down? Let us buy stuff from some of the closer countries! Making the milk cost 129 CFP just makes the non-price-controlled things cost a little more. And if we are price fixing stuff, why are coca-cola and tim-tams on the list? Shouldn’t we incentivize vegetables and fruits? </rant>

I mean... tim-tams are ok i guess... but why do they get special treatment?

I mean… tim-tams are ok i guess… but why do they get special treatment?

We’re fortunate enough to have a well paying job, but the price of things still hurts. It’s hard to image how those less fortunate can get by. Maybe the key is to live outside of Nouméa. Some deals are out there if you know where to look. Some stores are cheaper than others for different things. If you’re willing to climb the grapefruit tree in your neighbors yard (with their permission of course), you may be able to save some money at the market…

Map Data (c) Google

Let’s swap notes

So after being here for about 6 months, I took a trip back home to the USA for a friend’s wedding, family visit, and some shopping. This trip is the main reason why I haven’t been updating the blog for a while… While I was there, some of the small differences between the USA became pretty apparent. Now there are definitely some huge differences like the culture, climate, language, food, etc., but I wanted to focus on the little things in this post. I should mention that I enjoy discovering new cultures and experiencing different ways of life, but there are some things that everyone would benefit from, especially considering Nouméa is rather developed.

I think these two countries could both improve if they adopted some of these things from each other.

Things the USA needs to adopt:

1. Traffic circles.

Seriously, guys. Americans hate traffic circles and I’m not sure why. Ok, they might be confusing at first for 30 seconds if you’ve never learned how to navigate them, but once you understand the rules (in general, those already in the circle have priority and furthermore, those on the inside track have priority) it’s simple. Using traffic circles instead of stoplights could save everyone lots of time and hassle. The main reason I thought of this was when I was moving along a chain of 4-way intersections with red lights in the DC suburbs and realized how stupid it was that nobody was moving (there weren’t even any vehicles on the cross streets). I was just sitting there burning fuel doing nothing. All of this could have been easily remedied by a few circles. It doesn’t make sense to tear out the existing stuff to put in circles, but they should really be considered during new construction. And those of you thinking of the “circles” in downtown DC, those are not traffic circles. They’re full of stoplights, turn lanes, and god knows what else. I’d wager that they’d work exponentially better if they pulled out all the lights. Seriously.

2. Real prices.

Having grown up with false prices being advertised everywhere (read: taxes and tip not included), I got used to never really knowing exactly how much I was going to have to pay at the cash register. Here in New Caledonia (and many other places in the world), the taxes are built into the price and tipping is not necessary. The receipts usually tell you how much tax you’ve actually paid so you can still see how much the govies get, but building it into the price makes perfect sense while you’re shopping. Tipping is another big thing. I’m still not used to the fact that when you pay for your meal you pay the price listed on the menu and that’s it!

P.S.: Here’s a really good Freakonomics Radio Podcast that goes into some of the implications of tipping and some other interesting correlations.

3. Shopping cart technology.

This one isn’t that big a deal, but it’s simple and beneficial. If you’ve been to Aldi in the states you’ll understand this one. They have a little quarter deposit slot on the carts. You put in your quarter, your cart is unlocked, and you do your business. When you’re done, you return the cart to the cart corral and get your quarter back. This keeps wild carts from hitting peoples cars, keeps the carts with the store, and saves someone from having to gather them up every few hours. Easy. Also, having 4 swivel casters on the carts instead of the American 2 in front, 2 stationary wheels in back makes them a lot more fun to push around…

4. Two-wheeled vehicles.

(C’mon, I gotta be a little bike-centric here). There are tons more motorcycles and scooters here than back in the USA. Sure the weather is great for riding year round here and the USA is really really big, but it would be really cool to see more bikes and bike awareness back home. At in New Caledonia people generally know to look twice for bikes when they pull out, Nouméa lets bikes park pretty much anywhere they want (read: the sidewalk), and we don’t have to pay for parking – although I’m not sure if they ever enforce the paid parking for anyone…

Things New Caledonia needs to adopt:

1. Beer.

The beer selection here is awful. Don’t even get me started on the Aussie beers we get here. America has such an awesome beer scene nowadays (and seriously, people here, stop making fun of American beer as sucking. Yeah, BudMillerCoors is crap but there’s such a huge world beyond that). There are a few Belgian and other European beers available here, but they’re all just macro brews (AB InBev) anyway. The local brews “Number One” and “Manta” are fine for a hot tropical day, but y’all seriously need to step it up.  If I had a little more motivation I’d look into starting a proper craft brewery here… Any NC business-type people reading this? I guess we’ll have to stick to Fancy French Wines (which I know nothing about…) and homebrew. (Also, I think I must be a genius).

2. Internet presence.

So maybe I’m a bit spoiled, but being able to look up a business online is something I now realize I’d been taking for granted back in the states. Here in Nouméa, the vast majority of businesses and restaurants have no online presence. A website these days is the first thing I’d think you’d want as a business owner (or at least a dot on the google map). It doesn’t even cost anything to put your enterprise on the map! I guess we’ll stick to the phone book for now, but I sure do love being able to see a restaurant’s hours and menu online, or see what a business is in the business of doing before I make the trip. You don’t need anything fancy (and for the love of god don’t play music on your business webpage…). Just tell me where you are, when you’re open, how to call you, and what you do. And don’t even get me started on our local banking website…

3. The “quality” option.

Nouméa is a developed city with all the modern amenities you could want. So why is everything so junky? I’m not asking for luxury, just a quality option. If you buy, for example, a mop for the floor or a toilet brush, be prepared to pay 3x what you’d pay in the states and get something that is the quality equivalent to something from a “dollar store.” I’m not one to invest in top of the line cleaning products or anything, but having an option one step up from “junk” would be nice. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough, but a $20 mop should last longer than a month… This also goes for “durable goods” like washing machines, dishwashers, and stoves. You’ll pay the same hundreds of dollars you’d pay in the states for a washing machine, but the one you get here will be a no-name piece of junk. I’m just glad I brought that big roll of duct tape.

4. Recycling.

There’s so much garbage downtown it is a shame and most of it is aluminum beer cans, plastic bottles, and glass. It’s strange how there are no recycling bins downtown at least for metal cans. I would imagine there could be quite a lucrative business for some waste management folk if they got people to recycle some stuff or at least provide the option. It’s really strange to go from living in DC where they (allegedly) recycle most all plastic, paper, metal, and glass to here where we are throwing everything in the dumpster.

5. Mexican food.

Enough said.

Importing a Motorcycle

tl;dr – Don’t bother. Just buy one here.

When we suddenly found out we were moving to the other side of the world, one of the first things I looked into was how good (or bad) the riding would be in New Caledonia. I love my motorcycle and would ride it to work most of the year back in DC. When I did a little research and talked to some friends that had friends in NC (thanks, Reggie!), it turns out that NC is a perfect place to ride. The roads are in (relatively) great shape, there are huge stretches of paved and unpaved roads, and the weather is beautiful the majority of the year. What more could you ask for?

Since our employer covered the cost of shipping all of our stuff in a 20-foot shipping container, we were able to fit in my bike as well (for a nominal crating fee of course). Awesome, I thought! I don’t have to sell my bike and go bike shopping again since I can just bring along my old one! Piece of cake!

Now, we knew that it wouldn’t be as easy as uncrating the thing and riding off into the sunset, but we had no idea how many steps would be involved to get it registered, licensed, insured, and so forth. It has been more than a month since our stuff arrived and just recently I was able to hit the road

The process is sort-of explained on the DITTT website (DITTT is like the US DMV except it is nationalized instead of by state) but it’s in French and a little convoluted… So, without further adieu, here’s what you’ll have to do to register an imported vehicle. This is for a motorcycle, but it should be similar for any vehicle…

1. Get an RTI

In NC, an RTI is “Réception à Titre Isolé”. It is a document that, as far as I can understand, says what your vehicle is (make, model, weight, fuel type, etc.). The stamp of the approving authority is what makes it official (they really like their stamping here in NC).These should be available from a dealership, but in our case, since the bike is from the North American market, The Suzuki shop here refused to give us any paperwork about it even though it is the same bike found in the rest of the world other than the speedometer having both miles and kilometers. For this part, we had to hire a 3rd party’s services to come look at the bike (and go on the internet) to get it’s specs. After paying some money (a common theme here), you get a shiny, stamped, RTI paper describing your vehicle-as-imported.

We were recommended Alain Services (ass@lagoon.nc) (heh) and Alain was very helpful throughout the process (and speaks a bit of English as well).

This process took a few days – Alain put together a dossier with all of the info I provided and added the RTI to it. You’ll need to provide:

  • Import Certificate (provided by NC customs)
  • The Title for the vehicle (or some other document proving ownership)
  • A bill of sale for when you bought the vehicle
  • Proof of previous insurance
  • A document describing any insurance claims you may have made or stating you didn’t make any
  • Driver’s License
  • Passport
  • Proof of residence (electric bill, etc.)

2. Get the Technical Book

This is another part that should be available from the dealership which provides the manufacturers specifications of the vehicle like its weight, how loud it is, regulations it conforms to, top speed info, etc. etc.. Again, we couldn’t get Suzuki to give us one so the same company that helped with the RTI also provided this book. Great. Seems really official.

3. Visit “Control Technique”

This was a fun one. At this point, you need to make an appointment with and bring along the RTI, tech book, and other documents to the Contrôl Technique center. This involved driving through town (without plates or insurance – nobody will insure an unregistered bike), having some official-looking individuals look at the VIN, see that the turn signals work, and that’s about it. That’ll be 3000XPF, s’il vous plaît.

This was pretty easy and just took one morning. Alain set up an appointment for us and walked us through the process.

Side-note: Some of our friends that are leaving soon discovered that, depending on the age of your vehicle, you may need to go to Contrôl Technique before you sell a car so the sucker buying it gets a good deal. Now I like the idea of making sure the buyer doesn’t get ripped off in theory, but what ever happened to buyer-beware? Surely the buyer of a vehicle who knows to at least check that the brakes work and the lights turn on?! Or if he can’t then it should be on him to do the research and make sure he’s getting a good deal. Mandatory, seller-provided, faux safety checks for the perceived benefit of the buyer… Ooh la la…

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4. Carte Grise

Ok, your vehicle has passed the rigorous safety checks. It has brake lights. It has a horn. It tells you your speed in Km/H (even if the numbers are tiny compared to the MPH gauge…). Now you get to apply for the Carte Grise (grey card). This is the French version of a Title and Registration all in one. This is the sheet of paper that signifies victory. With this baby you can prove to anyone in the French Republic that you own the vehicle. So… Take all your documents from the previous steps plus a copy of your passport, the completed grey card form, and some cash/check (my bike was on the low end at 10600XPF – the price depends on the power of the engine) to the office.

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This office is a standard take-a-ticket-and-wait-your-turn ordeal. Easy enough – just drop off your paperwork and come back tomorrow (of course – we can’t be giving you your grey piece of paper today, can we? That wouldn’t be very Nouméa-y at all… Gotta have at least 2 trips!). The next afternoon you can come back and claim your card, fork over the fees, and be on your way! – to the license plate printing shop…

5. License Plate

I find it odd that every other part of the process seems pretty regulated and bureaucratic, but the issuing of the actual license plate that gets bolted to your ride comes from any old graphics/signage/printing/key-copying/watch-repair/engraving shop of your choice. At least this way you get to pick out your colors and font, pay about 2500XPF, and come back in a few days (a reoccurring theme). I ended up going to Kiscal which is right pretty close to the Grey Card office just at the roundabout next door to Meca Moto. In retrospect, I could probably have hand-painted my numbers on an old piece of metal myself and saved the money. I just assumed it would be some official looking thing, but it really is just a square of metal with numbers printed on it.

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6. Insurance

Like the US, insurance is mandatory here (and you’d be crazy not to get it with the way people drive around here – sure to have a post about that soon). Some friends and the NC motorcycle forum all recommend Assurance Mutuelle des Motards which is located downtown near the city market. They seem to have the best coverage specifically for motorcycles (although you need to have insurance coverage for something from their parent company AGPM – same office). This was easy enough – just bring your grey card, drivers license, and some documentation stating if you had any claims on your previous moto/auto insurance (a phone call back to our old ensurer in the states was all it took to get these emailed to me), and your bank account info. Moto insurance is a bit pricey here – in the neighborhood of $1K per year for full coverage… It was about $700 for the lesser coverage – both a bit more than back in the states… C’est la vie… Some other riders got better pricing but I think this has to do with them having a French license as opposed to an “agreement” that the US license is valid here. Thankfully, the insurance company provides you a 30-day temporary policy until your real sticker arrives in the mail (from France) so as long as you have your plates, you can, finally, cruise off over the horizon!

So if I knew then what I know now would I have imported my bike? HECK NO! (Sorry, bike) I thought bikes here would be really expensive but they are pretty comparable to prices in the states and there are plenty of them (and lots of nice ones that are pretty pricey back home – KTM, BMWs, sweet adventure bikes, …). By buying here you’d avoid all the RTI, control technique, etc. etc. and just have to do a standard grey card sign-over and get some insurance.

Maybe it was worth it after all

Maybe it was worth it after all…

Ride reports soon to come…

Here’s how to buy a car:

Buying a car has been quite a learning experience here – from the laws of registration, the lack of model year designations, new vs. used from dealer vs. used from individual, insurance, etc.. All of these things are generally the same as back home, but there are some odd differences… Hopefully this post will help others in our position.

If you’re buying a used vehicle, the best classifieds website we’ve found has been automobiles.nc. It’s sort of like craigslist except a little junkier – you can’t filter by price and some people are even worse at writing succinct, concise ads than on craigslist, but it works. There are subsections for cars, motorcycles, boats, help wanted, and so forth on other parts of the site. One thing that’s different from the states is that people don’t typically post the vehicle model year – instead they post the first 3 numbers of the license plate which indicates the year it was put into service. Once a new car is plated, it keeps the tags forever rather than changing with the ownership of the vehicle like in the states. To determine the year of the vehicle based on the license plate number you’ll need a copy of L’Argus magazine (850 XPF) which is available from gas stations and some supermarkets. The magazine has a table in the back which shows which plate numbers correspond to each month of the year. The magazine also has tables that show suggested prices for used vehicles – think Kelley Blue Book except instead of an online search it’s a complicated table… yeah.

Due to our employer, we’re able to get a duty-free vehicle and considering the relatively good resale value and some other relative “simplicity” factors, we decided to go with a new car from the dealership which was also an experience. Now buying a new car isn’t going to save you money, but things do tend to hold their value here a bit better than back home so we were able to justify it to ourselves.

The car dealerships here are a bit different from the states in that there is only one for each brand of vehicle and furthermore there are only 3 or 4 companies that control all of the dealerships here on the island. The largest is CFAO which runs Almameto which sells Citroen, Great Wall, Nissan, Subaru, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru and probably some more I’m forgetting. Menard is another child of CFAO that has Peugeot, Chevrolet, Isuzu, Ssang Yong, and BMW. Royal Motors is Hyundai and I didn’t bother finding who runs Renault (haven’t been too impressed with any of the French cars, really…). I’m sure I’m forgetting some other brands but you get the idea.

The frustrating thing about the car dealerships is that they are like most other businesses and are open from about 8-11:30 then closed for lunch and then re-open from 1:30-5:30. Saturdays they are open for maybe 4 hours in the morning and Sunday not at all. This means you need to go during the day, call ahead to see if cars are available to test drive, or run out for a few minutes at a time after work.

I think the strangest thing about the dealerships is doing test drives… Depending on the place/car, one of three things will happen:

  • “sorry we dont have any you can test today. Come back next week” (lolwut?)
  • The showroom car gets pulled outside and you drive it (best case)
  • You drive one of the employee’s cars that happens to have the same model only about a year older, with cigarette smell, baby seats, and sporting gear in the back (most likely)

So that’s pretty strange and makes it hard to get a feel for the cars compared to each other. I think some dealerships in the states would be terrified of option 3.

So now you’ve chosen a car you like, you’ve bargained a bit on the price (although not much – there’s not a huge margin for bargaining here), and you know what color you want. There are a few ways your next step can go:

  • It’s on a boat and will be in Noumea in a few weeks/months
  • It’s in the warehouse and will be available in a week
  • It’s the one you and everyone else sat in in the showroom and will be available in a week

Ideally you’ll pick one that’s in stock or else you’ll be waiting months for it to arrive, clear customs, get to the dealer, etc., etc. while you continue to dump money into a rental car, bum rides, or take the bus.

As for paying, since all the bank cards issued here have a smart chip, we got lots of confused looks when we handed over our American card with the magnetic stripe. There was some gesticulating and poor translation happening as the car dealership folks tried to swipe a card for the first time ever but it all worked out in the end!

Now that you’ve paid for your car, you can drive off and be on your way…. NOT. It’ll be a few days (about a week for us) until it is prepped, registered with the proper authorities and so forth. Luckily for us, the dealership takes care of the registration.

Sounds like a good time to buy some insurance!

There are plenty of insurance agencies around Noumea, most of which are French groups. We just went with a recommendation from some friends with our insurance choice. Pretty standard operation there except you have to go to the office – doing it over the phone or email is not really an option for anything here. You’ll need the standard stuff – ID, proof of residence, the “proforma” quote from the dealership, and the temporary “carte gris” (gray card) number which corresponds to your vehicle, which is also provided by the dealer. Our insurance process was pretty straightforward – just some signing and google translating…

You can’t get your insurance card until your car is actually ready for you to drive away though… naturally. This means that when they call up and say your car is ready, you have to head to the insurance office, pay your premium (a little bit cheaper than our policy in the US surprisingly), sign some forms, and then you’ll get your insurance card that you can take to the dealership to pick up your shiny new car!

At this point you’ll have a temporary tag while the dealership takes care of the “final” gray card setup which takes another week. After that week you get to go back to the head to the dealership to get your official gray card and get some tags riveted on your car then head to the insurance agency to get your policy updated with the “real” registration number and finally be on your way.

So in typical Noumea fashion, you’ll make at least 3 trips to each office before all is said and done, but then again people are usually pretty willing to help along the process. Since it’s so sunny here and I have a feeling the nickel mining doesn’t do much good for acid rain, I’ll be spending some time keeping fresh wax and protectant on the car to keep it in good shape and to keep that shiny finish sparkling. It seems that the sun here really does a number on paint jobs judging by the cars we see driving around with peeling clear coats and faded colors. A little work washing every few weeks and making sure a fresh coat of wax stays on goes a long way!