Monday, July 7, 2014

A Day at the Bank

Okay, not a day, but a few hours.  Definitely way longer than I ever plan to spend in a bank.  American banks are mostly boring, tedious during Girl Scout Cookie Sales, and terrifying when signing a loan.  But Turkish banks...Turkish banks are awful.  

My first experience was the day after I arrived.  I went to the bank on the Garrison to open a Euro account to receive my travel payments.  I was the only customer, but I still had to take a number.  The two tellers and the three ladies at desks ignored me like I didn't exist - customers are clearly socially inferior to staff.  The electronic number counter ticked thru several numbers evidently taken by people who either left or died waiting.  I tried approaching the tellers, but they gave me a look - the kind that transcends spoken language and sent me back to my seat until my number came up and they were ready to help me.

That experience formed the foundation of every future Turkish bank trip. Later visits to both the bank on Garrison to pay my gas bill and the bank outside my apartment to pay the rent were just like that....

The staff at the bank where I pay my rent speak not a lick of English.  When I walk in, I say hello to the guard, who raises his eyebrows at me and punches a button on the ticket machine.  My ticket number will get me to the right teller's desk with the maximum wait time possible.  Of course, the bank is often full, so I join the queue to get a ticket, but many Turks don't line up the way we Americans do...if I'm not physically pressed against the person in front of me, I'm not in line, and someone will step right in front of me - even on me, if I'm close enough to almost touch the person in front, but not close enough that there's no daylight showing between us.

There is no air conditioning in the bank, and the heat was on thru May (dear dog, that is not hyperbole, the heat was seriously on in the bank when I paid my rent in May; I was drenched in sweat in shorts and a t-shirt, and everyone else wore hats and scarves).  The wait in the heat is miserable...  And I don't understand the wait.  I have waited nearly two hours to pay my rent.  My transaction takes a few minutes - everyone else's seems to take forever, and people go up to the counter whenever they feel like it, interrupting whoever is already there.  And a trip to the bank seems to be a family affair:  one number pops up on the display, and a gaggle of people shuffle to the counter, bags everywhere, money everywhere, every adult talking to the teller at once.

When I finally get to a teller, I always get the same one - which is a good thing, because he knows me.  For my first eight months here, we went thru the same routine:  I tell him in Turkish that I want to pay my rent, he doesn't understand me, I show him my little book with the sentence written out, he asks me a bunch of questions that I don't understand, I shove money at him - insistent that he take it, I point to the bank account number and my landlady's name, he shakes his head at me and counts the money, and I sign the form and walk away hoping I didn't just give a stranger $1000.  Now, we mostly go thru the same routine, but we start with him waving me over to him, regardless of which teller my number says I should go to.  He still asks me a bunch of questions, and I still don't know what he's asking.  I don't know why he's asking...what's there to talk about?  Here's money and a bank account.  Put the money there!  But he smiles at me now, and tells me to have a good day.

The ladies at the Garrison bank still treat me like a mangy cat wandered in from the street...I can't wait to say goodbye to them!

UPDATE:  Today I paid my last rent payment.  I squeaked into the bank with nine minutes to spare, so it wasn't crowded...I still waited half an hour.

So teller #2's customer finished her business and left, and teller #2 pushed the button for the next customer:  the bell chimed, the number changed, and an old man with a cast stood and shuffled to the counter...and he was not quite at the counter when teller #2 pushed the button again, the bell chimed, the number changed, and a middle age woman launched herself at the counter, pushing aside the old man's money and shoving her money at the teller...who pushed the button and the bell chimed, the number changed, and a twentysomething guy charged the counter.  The middle age woman won the tussle, and the two men ambled aimless orbits about each other, awaiting teller #2's attention.

I had the misfortune of completing my business at this bank with teller #2, who spoke not a lick of English and maintained a steady stream of Turkish dialogue at me, shaking his head and clicking his tongue at my inability to understand him.  My personal teller nodded and smiled and helped when he could, and when I finally managed to complete my transaction, he called out a cheerful "Görüürüz!"

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