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.


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. 


Corinne: You give her a new one.

Corinne hands me a new €20 note. 


(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.



blackbird said...

I have to exchange Euros for dollars at my bank and am now, after reading this, am terrified.

cruella said...

I just died from laughter so I'm afraid nothing much will ever happen at my end.

Ellie said...

I am with Cruella. I rarely laugh aloud but this did it, and much needed too. SO glad you are back, or seem to be.

Mary said...

You are the funniest! So glad you're blogging again

CJ said...

For one horrific moment I thought you'd put "Desire to give up eating chocolate covered pretzels". I was worried you'd gone over to the dark side. Well done in the bank. So glad you persevered. One of our local banks has gone all strange and modern as well. There is a greeter whose job it is to ask what you want, but to be always unable to assist with it. And the people who have a podium and a screen don't have anywhere at all to put paperwork or money or to write. It's utter insanity. (Donut robot verification today). CJ xx

jadisnoir said...

Something about loads of concrete, a half-wit blue-eyed builder and a disconnected radiator. Then imagine the end of that film, Towering Inferno. Yes, that about sums up my (very cold) day.

Jo said...

Laugh out loud funny. There is surely a coffee table book to be made of Belgian Halloween decorations. I just read your blog out loud to the family who wanted to know what I was laughing at, we are all boggled by the idea of sending a measly Milka square to somebody. Like a crap last Rolo rip off.

Anonymous said...

You have me in stitches laughing! I didn't realise that the bafflingly useless banks with pared-down customer service and mystified temporary employees were also a thing in the wealthy lands of Central Europe, I figured it was somehow part of the punishment doled out to less worthy nations for having needed bailouts.
Well done for persevering, pretty sure I would have given up and sellotaped the 20 euro bill at home.

Anonymous said...

My bank decided to cancel my debit card on a whim after their systems detected that I had used an ATM that had been "tampered with". They didn't bother to tell me it had been cancelled, of course, and neither did they do anything about the ATM. When I called them in a rage after 4 or 5 days of failed attempts at using the card in various businsses and online, they breezily told me that they were cancelling ALL the cards that used that ATM but that yes, I was right, perhaps it would be better to inform people that their cards were being cancelled. They actually said they would write that down and include it in their "procedures"...

Waffle said...

CJ - Hahahaha NEVER.

Lydia said...

This made me laugh and laugh. And it ended in success! Congratulations on your new money and ID. Condolences on your chocolate stolen by marketing evil.

Dale said...

What is it with Belgian banks? I used the mighty BNP Paribas Fortis, which had a lobby of a dozen or so ATM and ATM lookalikes that performed some other function (bill paying?) but warned with mysterious signage that they did not actually dispense money. Beyond this phalanx of machines was . . . almost nothing. A single desk, manned by a chirpily multi-lingual woman whose answer to almost every question seemed to be a version of sorry, can't help you with that.
If Kafka had run a bank . . .

bbonthebrink said...

Oh gosh! Actually, that cashier has won the shitest-job-of-the-year award! But your story made me laugh out loud. A few years back in a freelancing financial cash flow nightmare I went to the bank to pay in some cash that I had taken from the children's' piggy banks (oh yes! IMAGINE how good I felt!). I had flattened out the notes as best I could before going to bank, but not enough to stop the cashier from suggesting that I should have ironed the notes before I came! ... 20% rage, 20% incredulity and 60% prickly shame ensued. Oh, and tears.

greatbiglizard said...

Now you've gone and woken the babies up.

Patsy said...

Hurrah, banks are redesigning their way into customer alienation worldwide. The only benefit I can see is that they are now so inhospitable that no one wants to enter them any more, so when you really do have to go (to deal with a ripped banknote or takings from market stall for example) no longer do you join a snakey queue but rock right up to the 'I'm trained to be helpful but frankly would rather not be here' staffer and be served immediately. And here if you are really relishing playing the novel real life bank customer role you can help self to free machine coffee, not that I ever have, mind you.

Alan said...

A couple of years ago my sister and I set up a small investment bond on behalf of my mother who was then in a care home, it took forever to set up and a year later when it matured we were told that it had not been set up correctly and we would have to produce all documentary evidence to renew the bond.

We told them that they had seen and copied all relevant documents and they must still have those copies. The 12 year old who was conducting this interview told us that the copies would be in the vaults in a blue box marked "miscellaneous" and couldn't be found. I pointed out that perhaps they should sell their photocopier and buy a shredder, it would save time and money.

There followed a lengthy complaint procedure at the end of which we received a letter of apology, the reinstatement of the account plus interest and £150 to keep quiet.

Last year I went into the branch to report my mother's death and do whatever was necessary with the bond.

It may be general banking practice or perhaps it is only my branch which now has a policy of having greeters, in the style of the unlamented Disney Store, who hang around the bank getting in the way. These creatures seem to have been recruited exclusively from those teenage girls who failed the stringent entrance examination for the Boots make-up counter but who have stuck with the look anyway.

So it is that these raven haired, orange-faced wraiths in sub cabin crew uniforms haunt the public areas of the bank, floating on clouds of cheap perfume, throwing dazzling reflections from their lip gloss and talking into headsets which are no doubt connected to a central controller in Bolton (it's always Bolton with the NatWest, the "your branch telephone number" on my statements goes straight through to Bolton, and I live in Bath).

I don't know who trains these people but when one of them asks me if I have "a death certificate today" and I say "yes" I don't think that the appropriate response is "brilliant".

Also, when did people start putting "today" at the end of a question and when did "myself" and "yourself" become interchangeable with "me" and "you"? As in "If you sit down over there I will tell my manager, Geoff, that you are here and he will come and talk to yourself, if you need anything else, come and ask myself".

Anonymous said...

There is an excellent ( but sadly not free) app for chinese and japanese characters called Scritter. Seems to inspire unhealthy competition in young boys. Just what you need... And no flash cards!

Anonymous said...

Alan, your comment today is hilarious. Myself is laughing myself silly. Well done yourself!

I sympathise on the gruesome experience with your bank, but it makes great reading! Empathy is obviously not the strongest priority for banks, no surprise!

theharridan said...

HA! That was a good bit of Friday eve awesomeness

Anonymous said...

I rarely comment on blogs, but I've been reading yours for a while and, as a fellow Brit in Belgium, your post about the bank sums up the entitre tone and style of ALL my banking interactions in Belgium. How I laughed at your description of the bank note incident. It reminds me of when I did a 'rommel markt' and went to the bank with a 50 euro note to swop for loose change... I was told to wait by door, which I dutifuly did, only to be told some 15 minutes later that the bank 'did not have any money'. 'What do you mean, you don't have any money?' I queried, 'you're a bank'. 'Yes,' she said, 'we used to have money, but we don't any more, it's to do with security.' 'But if I want fifty one euro coins, how can I get them?' I asked (wondering how shop owners manage). 'You must order them in advance, they take a week to arrive, you must fill out these forms, they take 10 days to be processed.' Sigh.

Waffle said...

Anon - This is like the time B Post told my friend they didn't have any stamps.

Fat Controller said...

This post is exemplifies exactly why I haven't been reading this blog during working hours recently (okay, for the last three years). My immoderate laughter brought forth reproachful scowls from my spouse who somehow thought I ought to be working to restore the family's fortunes rather than,you know, seeking entertainment on the interwebs.

Anonymous said...

Your Post just summed up how I'm feeling about Belgium right now. The warm feeling will come back, just can't see when and how right now.

Mandy said...

I really, truly love your writing.

Mandy said...

And my captcha/prove I'm not a robot task was to select all of the pictures with cake - how apropos!

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