Tuesday, 20 October 2015
In which I go to the bank
Scene: The bank, Tuesday morning.
I am walking past the bank on the way to the Commune to finally get my new ID card (second attempt after the one that ended with my shouting "I hate this fucking place" at the sky last week), when I remember that I have a €20 note that caught in the zip of my wallet and has ripped. Surely the bank is the place to deal with such a thing? In my current mood of administrative virtue, I resolve to go in and attempt to deal with the ripped note.
In the manner of banks everywhere, the bank has undergone recent renovations to make it as unhelpful as possible. There is now no discernible counter service or any of the other traditional signifiers of a bank, just a vast expanse of floor, some motivational posters about saving products and a couple of automatic machines hidden behind bright plastic dividers. A woman sits at an empty desk in the middle of the expanse of floor with nothing but a telephone and a pen on a chain. The lobby is filled with shuffling, confused customers who aren't even sure if they've come to the bank or to a drop in centre for wayward teenagers who need to avoid excessive stimulus by mistake.
Me (with little actual hope): Can I possibly change this ripped banknote? What is the procedure?
Accueil lady: Yes you can. You need to sit down and wait for the guichet to be free then you can go and swap it. You're in luck, it's Tuesday, the guichet is open on Tuesdays! (this last part said as if I have unexpectedly come into a significant windfall)
Me (genuinely pleased, for it has come to that after 9.5 years in Belgium): Oh good! Thank you!
I sit down. Ten minutes pass. All the customers milling in confusion around the bank are over 70 and cannot cope with the brave new world of banking with no counters, staff or any way to do your basic transactions other than THE INTERNET (here be dragons). The woman at the acceuil keeps having to explain to them the many and varied ways in which they can no longer do what they have been doing for the past 50 years, particularly if it involves actual paper money, and there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
I study the motivational posters about savings products for a while and eventually it is my turn in inner sanctum-cum-locked cupboard where the "guichet" is. It is freezing in the cupboard and the woman behind the counter is swathed in scarves and looks very cross and ruffled, like a little owl removed mid-nap from its nest box for ringing.
Cashier: Can I help you?
Me (Placing ripped €20 in the plastic tray thing confidently): I would like to exchange this ripped bank note for a new one please.
Cashier (sharp intake of breath, recoil of head): Please can you wait a minute.
Much tapping away at computer ensues. She picks up the phone twice, then shakes her head and puts it down again. She stares at my note and sighs.
Cashier: I do not know what to do with your banknote.
Me: I believe you take it and give me a new one?
Cashier: But I am just filling in here. They told me to sit here. I do not know what to do. Please wait.
Me: Can't you just give me a new one? (proffers bank card) Look! I am a customer of this bank.
Cashier: (shakes head) Please can you wait.
She tries to call two people. We stand/sit in uncomfortable silence for five more minutes. I do some sighing and poke pointedly at my phone, since this is the way of my people.
Cashier: My colleagues are not answering the phone. I do not know what to do.
Me: So I see. The lady at the Accueil said I could just come in here and swap my note for a new one. She seemed to think it was a perfectly normal thing to do.
Cashier (rising tone of grievance): The problem is that I am stuck in here and I don't know how to get out and I do not know what to do and THAT is not normal.
Me: No. No indeed it is not.
Cashier: Could you perhaps come back another day?
Me: Oh, very much not. Not when we've got so far.
Cashier: Why don't you give me your bank card then I can see your dossier.
Me (thinks: WTF): Here.
Cashier: Your ID card information is not up to date. We could do that now, perhaps? While we wait?
Me: Sadly, I am just on the way to get a new ID card so that will not be possible. Can I have a new €20 note now instead?
Cashier: Just a moment.
After several more attempts, she manages to get through to a colleague on the telephone.
Cashier (with an edge of panic): CORINNE? ARE YOU IN A MEETING? CAN YOU COME THROUGH? I CAN'T GET OUT AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO?
She hangs up.
Cashier: My colleague is coming.
Me: This is welcome news.
There is some slapstick as Corinne tries to get into the cupboard, because as previously stated the Cashier cannot open the door and Corinne has to shout instructions through to her and then finally - finally! - Corinne is in the room.
Cashier (fully panicking now): CORINNE THIS WOMAN HAS A RIPPED BANKNOTE AND I DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO WHAT DO I DO?
Corinne: You give her a new one.
Corinne hands me a new €20 note.
Me: THANK YOU.
(Takes €20 and goes to spend it on crack)
The one good thing about this incident was that it made the subsequent trip to get my ID card almost painless in contrast and I didn't end up raging at the sky like last week.
I only saw one shit pumpkin on my travels through Belgian administrative purgatory, but it was pretty tragic.
50% Teenager induced rage-slash-impotence
10% Puzzlement at Milka chocolate bar (bought in error) that comes missing a square so you have to go online and get the missing square sent to the person of your choice, what, no, SOD OFF, just give me the whole bar of chocolate, thanks, marketing fops.
10% Hair (wig) dresser says "Let's try something new on Friday" terror.
10% Chinese character flashcard drudgery
10% Assorted other drudgery
10% Desire to give up and eat chocolate covered pretzels until bedtime.