Monday, August 06, 2012

Don't Bank on It

Our friend and former tenant Jeff left me his ATM card to pay his remaining bills. He taught where I teach, but quite honestly, I never really pay attention to when we get paid as in the specific date of the month.

I decided I had better go to OTP, the bank where he has his account to check his balance and withdraw what I could to pay some of the overdue bills with whatever was there. Every ATM machine I have ever been to here in Hungary always gives the option for English on the main menu. None of the three machines in the lobby of this branch of the bank were bilingual. All instructions were in Hungarian only, making this the first time that I have EVER come across this.

When I went inside, the look on my face alerted the guard's attention. He barely spoke English, but understood my needs and came to the lobby to assist. Turning his back so I could put in the PIN code, he then hit different buttons hoping for a magical combination to create an English menu. Neither magic nor English were in the cards. He called me inside and took a number from the machine on my behalf; it was 201. Number 199 was on the board, so I thought it wouldn't take too long. As I am waiting for my number to come up, I am sitting there thinking about what I should tell the person who helps me. There were flashes of Jeff being tossed from the electric company for trying to pay a bill that was not in his name. Here I am trying to access a bank account not in mime. Fear that they would decide to take the card from me or worse, having me hauled off for robbery were vivid images flashing through my mind.

Number 200 was called to step forward, followed by 202, 203, 204, but not 201. After a 25 minute wait, the rehearsed story melted from my mind due to the heat while waiting. The bank is not air conditioned. When faced with the person who was to aid me, I blabbered that I needed to check the balance for my brother-in-law since he was in the US; I had to pay his bills. Why brother-in-law? I was feeling good today, so telling them he was something more age appropriate like my son or nephew would have mentally aged me momentarily. Hadn't I suffered enough already?

For now, I only needed his balance, I explained. The bank teller said that if it were my account, she could tell me from her computer, but since this was the case, she would have to show me on the ATM machine how to check the balance. Her explanation was that the ATM assumes that if you have an account at this bank that you speak Hungarian. Wow!! What a statement.

Still getting money out was still not an option. She pointed to the button I needed, but it even took her 2 tries to get it correct. She pressed what she said was “more services” first, but it didn't include balances. I was pleasantly surprised to see she couldn't operate the machine either.

If I hadn't forgotten my phone on the charger, I would have the translator app with me. I went back home to look up all the OTP branches so I could find one by the apartment as well as the nearest post office. After grabbing the phone and making a list of all the words in Hungarian for “withdrawal”, I set out for the apartment, checked the mail for any more bills, and then I crossed the street to the OTP bank. Curses, there is only 1 machine with a line of four already waiting.

Once it was my turn, there was a crowd behind me like a run on the bank. Not one option on the screen looked like any of the words I had on my translation list. More people joined the line making me nervous. I could imagine them ganging up on me if I took too long, like the angry villagers in Frankenstein. After the 2nd try I gave up. The sweat was poring down my face, not all due to the heat. As I was leaving, I realized that I could use the damn card at the CIB bank. The only reason I kept trying OPT was to save Jeff a $1. in ATM charges. I said ‘screw the transaction fee’. At the CIB machine I easily withdrew the funds. By this time I had random numbers, equations, and abstract mathematical formulas running all through my head, so I had forgoten how much I needed to take out.

There is a very convenient posta on Ferenc korut just a block away. It only took about 5 minutes to get through the line to get all the bills paid that I had with me. With a sense of satisfaction, I went home where I was greeted by Ron who said, "Jeff's latest electric bill just came in today's mail."
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Harriet Faulks said...

Uh-oh! Things quickly got lost in non-translation, eh? I’m rather surprised that a bank could have ATMs that don’t offer two languages. It’s a good thing you eventually found a way around your problems and was able to get everything done for Jeff, even if it did take you quite a while. It’s a shame you ended up not using OTP; any dollar that can be saved is always a worthy investment.

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