Treat Yo’ Self – Handbag Shopping in Paris

I love a good handbag. It’s possible this started when I worked in the purse department at Macy’s for three years during high school and college. It was then that I learned about finer bags – including Coach, Dooney & Bourke, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton – and I’ll readily admit that from age 16 on, I was spoiled and couldn’t buy a handbag that wasn’t top of the line. Fast forward 30+ years and I’m still using a few of the bags I bought way back when.

Thus when we were in Paris recently, I toyed with the idea of buying a new, fancy bag from the French luxury handbag company Longchamp. Founded in 1948, Longchamp’s signature bag is very distinctive, and once you’ve noticed one, I guarantee you’ll see them all over the place. In two sizes and at least 20 colors, their Le Pliage Tote is quite lovely. Was this elegant, practical and reasonably priced $150 bag for me though? Of course not. My eyes and heart were drawn to their luscious, brand new, all leather, Roseau Tote Bag, coming in at a moderate (cough, cough) $525.

Generally speaking, I’m not an indecisive person. When I decide that I want to do something, or buy something, I do it. But it took me forever and a day to decide on this bag. We first shopped in the Longchamp store on the Champs-Élyseés, but when I finally decided that I wanted to buy the fancy expensive bag, this Longchamp location did not have it in the color red, and I couldn’t for the life of me decide between red and yellow without actually seeing the red in person, so Bob and I walked all over tarnation to find the other Longchamp store. After a couple of wrong turns, some exasperated address hunting and, finally, a phone call, we learned we had been given the wrong address. The phone call got us on track and once we found the store, seemingly hours later, I ended up buying the bag in black. Sorry dear.

When making my purchase, I discovered that by filling out a VAT (value added tax) refund form, I could receive a tax refund 2-4 weeks after my purchase. Longchamp helped me fill out the form, which required a passport at the time of purchase, and then I dropped the form into the VAT refund box at the train station on our way out of France. The Longchamp employees had provided me specific instructions on how to fill out the form and send in for the refund, as it must be done exactly as detailed. Within a few days I received an email confirming that my refund claim had been made, and sure enough, two weeks later, I received a refund to my credit card of about $60. Because you know, you’ve got to spend to save.

I worried that I would regret such an expensive purchase, one that I was making for no reason other than that I wanted it. But you know what? I regret nothing. I use my beautiful purse almost every day and when I put the supple and beautiful leather bag over my shoulder I say to myself, “Nancy, you’re worth it.” Because I am worth it.

If You Try to Sit, I’ll Tax Your Seat

by Nancy Bestor

When visiting Venice, Italy this past summer, we bought five scarves for our five employees at Fortuny, a famous purveyor of Venetian silk. The excellent customer service at Fortuny included informing us that residents living outside the European Union (EU) can get their value added tax (VAT) refunded on single purchases over 150 euros. Since we paid an additional VAT of 27 euros on the transaction, we decided it was worth it to walk across town to claim our savings at the tax refund office.

It was easy. There was no line, and our refund was processed quite quickly. The tax refund office gave us back in cash our 27 euros tax. We were also given instructions on the final steps we needed to take to ensure our refund. As we left the country, we would need to have a customs official stamp our refund tax form. We would then need to mail the form back, with the postage-affixed envelope provided by the refund office. When we explained that we would be traveling the next day via train to Switzerland, the woman at the office said that it wouldn’t be a problem, as there would be a customs officer on the train who could stamp the form for us. If we did not follow the instructions, however, the credit card we provided the office would be charged the 27 euros, plus a chargeback fee.

Well when on the train to Switzerland the next day, guess what? There was no customs officer aboard. When the conductor checked our tickets we asked him how to get a stamp for our VAT refund form. He informed us that there is rarely a customs officer on the train. He also advised us to simply send in our train ticket, which showed our departure from Italy into Switzerland, and note that there was not a customs officer on the train. We did exactly as he suggested, and mailed our refund form from Zurich.

I completely forgot about the VAT refund form until September, when I saw a VAT charge of $60 (the 27 euro tax, plus the chargeback fee) from Global Blue on my credit card. I contacted Capital One, and explained the story to them. They reversed the $60 charge, and contacted Global Blue on my behalf. Global Blue forwarded Capital One our signed contract, which stated that we must get a customs officer to stamp our refund form. Then Capital One reversed the reverse charge (putting the $60 back onto our card). I then emailed Global Blue, and told them we had followed the instructions of their official but there was not a customs officer on our train, thus we had no way to get a stamp. I also explained that we followed the instructions of the train conductor. Too bad, I was told. It was my responsibility to get a customs stamp. They didn’t explain how I could have done this, they only said I was responsible.

I contacted Capitol One again, and explained my story to another person in the customer resolution center. This time, the agent told me they would reverse the tax portion of the charges (about $30), but could not reverse Global Blue’s chargeback fees associated with the tax refund. I decided to quit while I was ahead, figuring half is better than nothing. Besides, if I charged by the hour, it had already cost me far more than $30 (because of course my hourly fee is priceless).