Nov 22, 2014

Of Checks & Chips: Etorki


On the one hand, France seems ahead of the game: they've had chips in their credit cards for years. Except, of course, that they're not credit cards. They're debit cards. After they insert the card, you have to enter the four-digit code. That's easy enough to do, because the credit, er I mean, debit card transaction takes place at your table in a portable machine, which is much safer because your card never leaves your sight. When will the US adopt this system?

Until just recently, our credit card -- an actual credit card, that is -- had a magnetic stripe. This has about a 50% success rate here in Europe. The machine might recognize the stripe, or it might not. Our American bank just sent us an updated card with a chip in it, which works much better in French machines, but still not 100% of the time. At the weekly fruit market, we make bets on the capricious nature of the machine-card interaction; sometimes we have to resort to the debit card in the end. Same machine, same machine operator, different results. Even though they both have chips, the debit card (with chip, of course) is a much safer bet.

When my friends move to Paris and open up their bank account, the guy there tells them not to bother with a checkbook, since you can "do everything" here with a RIB -- a Relevé d'Identité Bancaire: basically your bank account number. Monthly school fees, apartmental rental fees. My friends tell me this, and I immediately know that their banker could not possibly have children. Or ever go to the doctor, for that matter. I find that I use my checkbook at least a couple times per month, including for all of the girls' after school activities (let's face it: their painting teacher, their gym, and their dance class are not going to have the machine to accept credit or debit cards, and are not going to want to pay the fees, anyway). I find I use a checkbook far more in France than in San Francisco, where so much can be signed up and paid for online, with credit cards.

On the other hand, many small stores have been burned by checks and follow the general no-check policy so familiar to us in the States. Not so familiar is the format, when you do get to write a check. In France, contrary to the US, the amount of the check (written out in words) goes first, and the recipient goes second, so that about every 20 checks or so, I have to void one because I've instinctively written it backwards.


Etorki is a pasteurized sheeps' milk cheese. Like so many sheep cheeses, it hails from Basque country. Evidently, sheep really like the Pyrénées mountain range, specifically from the Pyrénées Atlantiques.

It's an industrial cheese that can be found in big wheels at the deli aisle, or already sliced and ready to go in the pre-packaged cheese section. The crust is a waxy orange -- not a stinky orange, and best left uneaten. I might argue the cheese itself is also best left uneaten, but that would seriously snobby and snarky of me. So instead let me just say that it's mild, slightly sweet, and very, very plain. The texture, like so many pasteurized hard cheeses, is more rubbery than crumbly.


Etorki is the kind of cheese you can usually buy with a credit card or debit card at a big supermarket. But it's still not a guarantee. Your credit card may simply not be recognized, even with a chip. Whether or not you allowed to use a check is debatable and depends on the store's policy. Either way, there are probably better ways to see your money hard et-worki (meh, ugh, I'm sorry).


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