One of the things I have had to get used to here is going to the bank. I mean, like, going in the bank. Do you even know what I’m talking about? Like going inside, waiting in line, talking to a teller, the whole shebang. And I have to say I don’t enjoy it. In fact I kind of hate it. In the states I never went to the bank, never carried cash, never even thought of doing anything face to face with a bank teller. But here I have to go to the bank, actually, I have to go to several banks, in order to pay the bills (BCR), the rent (Banco ProMerica), and the kids school tuition (Banco Nacional). Did I mention that I hate it? I loathe it!
Here’s the deal: It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for a few highly irritating things.
Like the security guard. The one holding a shot gun and letting people in one at a time, locking the door between entrants, scanning them with a metal detector, and then telling them to go ahead even after said detector screeches a warning that this person is carrying a bomb or a knife or, at the very least, a box cutter. But no, the heavily armed guard never ever ever seeks out the source of the alarm, he just says “pase” and lets the killer, or the robber, or me in.
Then, comes the line. This part can be tricky because there might be several lines to wait in depending on your banking needs. So after you figure out if you are in the correct line, you pull a number. With your number in hand, you go to “the chairs”. This is an intricately choreographed operation that one must carefully follow or else the entire balance of peace and democracy could shift, hurling this tiny developing country backward in time. So, “the chairs” work like this: There are several rows of chairs (usually 3….or many, many more). The person in the chair farthest forward on the right is the first person in line, followed to their left by second, third, etc. When this person gets up to speak to the teller, the second person moves to take the first seat, causing a chain reaction of chair shifting so that the entire line moves one chair to the right (or from the last chair on the right to the first chair on the left in the next row). Got it? So it’s up and down and up and down all the way to the tellers window, where you must still show the number that you pulled 25 minutes ago in order to prove that you waited your turn. *note* I’m still not sure why you can’t sit in any chair and just wait for your number to light up in the little box. But I know that a riot will ensue if the anyone should try to buck the system.*
The part I find the most disturbing, however, is the teller to client interaction which takes place through a half inch of glass with no hole for transferring…oh, lets just call it…sound. So, you have to shout your account numbers, or the amount of money you’re carrying, or your remarkably bad spanish through the glass at the teller who can’t hear or understand you. But that’s okay, because the thirty people changing chairs behind you now know that you have $600 in your bag, and that you need to pay an extra fee on your electric bill because they cut off your power this morning. I might add, that the teller knows that you cannot hear him, so he sits safely on the other side of the glass, smiling and talking trash without moving his lips, about how he always gets the retarded gringos, or how this is the third month in a row that this chic has had her power shut off, or other not nice things (you know this because his coworkers start throwing sly glances your way and muttering stiff lipped responses). I had minimized the need to yell through the glass by writing down all of the account numbers for bills and other necessary information on sticky notes and sliding them under the glass. But then I realized that passing hand written notes to bank tellers is universally known as “how to rob a bank”. So I’m back to embarrassingly public means of communicating with the jerks behind the glass. Ugh.
So basically, I find going to the bank dangerous, redundant and humiliating. But duty calls. If we want to educate our children, or refrigerate our food, or, you know, live in a house, then I have to go to the bank. I have to play the game. But online banking is slowly making its way into the culture here and it will revolutionize everything. People will not know what to do when they realize that they don’t have to spend the first 3 days of every month in line at the bank. So I figure all I’ve got to do is wait it out…..and learn how to read a book while maintaining the rhythm of the chair hopping.