Insider's tip: Visit the historic vault and domed ceiling in Société Générale

The vault at the Société Générale on blvd Haussmann is listed as an historic monument and is open to the public.

One of the first things that you do after moving to a new country is open a bank account, so that's what Stephane and I did in March. Accompanied by our relocation agent, we passed through the secure doors of Société Générale to meet with our account manager, Mme X. My focus drifted in and out as she explained some fairly standard details, but she had Stephane and my full attention when she mentioned the impressive negative balance that we're allowed to have at the end of every month. To two financially conservative people newly arrived from Switzerland, it was incredible. When Stephane and I glanced at each other rather uncomfortably, I could tell that he didn't like Mme X's implication that we couldn't manage our expenditures. To put it into every day terms, it was like telling my Swiss husband that he doesn't know how to ski. Absurd and insulting - talk about culture shock!

Nevertheless, we let Mme X continue until she said that I wouldn't see an itemized breakdown of the charges on Stephane's bankcard and vice-versa. What? - Why not? Shooting a look at our relocation agent, Mme X explained with French finesse that there may be charges on Stephane's card that he wouldn't want me to see and that I would probably make purchases that I would prefer to keep secret. When we jokingly commented that the French system differs significantly from the Swiss, I could see that both women were in agreement that Stephane and I were naive and didn't appreciate the complexities of marital finances in Paris.

1912, Paris. Cross-section showing the ceiling and vault from the historical archives of Société Générale.  

It's ten month later and thanks to the French banking system, Stephane still doesn't have a clue how much money I spend on hot chocolate or scarves. Like me, he only sees a cumulative figure at the end of the month and doesn't know the details. If I ever feel the need to check, I could ask for his code and go online. But we've adopted the French approach. So, he was a bit worried when I told him that I wanted to visit the main office of our bank shortly before Christmas. Wondering what surprises I had in store, I showed him the glass domed ceiling that surpasses the one in Galerie Lafayette before leading him to the vault. Not knowing that it is listed as a national monument and open to the public, he asked if I had acquired secret stash of jewels.

If you're near Galeries Lafayette and want to see the hidden world of French finance, take a few minutes to admire the dome from the main floor and to marvel at the 15.7 inch (40 cm) vault door in the basement.

Société Générale
29, boulevard Hausmann
75009 Paris
Monday to Friday from 9:00 am -5:30 pm

Photos of the dome aren't allowed, so this is a picture of a picture.

Comments

  1. OH goodness, what an apparatus of finance==the vault and the system. And I just thought men kept a separate account.

    I wonder if the vault door is really closed at night. Maybe the Unter--people can investigate.

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  2. Well that's interesting because we had a Societe Generale account with two different cards but a consolidated statement. Had my own adventure with SG this week as Le Grand Vefour (where I ate in early June) finally decided to cash my check. Between reopening the closed account and penalties, that's turning out to be one expensive lunch. Hard to believe that they had enough cash flow to hang onto the check that long.

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  3. Now that's some bank! We have nothing as ornate as that in Boussac, it will come as no surprise to know. However, its claim to fame is that there is a defibrillator in the lobby. I guess that's for when you find out what hubby has been spending on...!

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  4. Joseph, I don't think that they close the vault at night because it's not used to store valuables anymore. Sorry, I didn't explain that very well in the post.

    And speaking of the Untergunther, I gave Stephane a book about the clandestine group for Christmas that has thoroughly captured his imagination.

    Anne, That's amazing that the Grand Vefour held on to your check that long. As it's a restaurant where I've been wanting to go, it's helpful to know that I shouldn't write a check. Not that I would because I still haven't figured out how those things work!

    And thanks for mentioning that you used to receive a consolidated statement. We'll have to ask our acct. manager again. We get a consolidated stmt but it's not itemized. We just see the total that was spent on the other card but not each individual amount.

    Steph, I haven't seen that many defibrillators in Paris but will have to check if there's one inside my bank the next time that I go. I did notice a sign about one near the Eiffel Tower last summer.

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