My first trip to the bank in Bordeaux was a non-event. I walked up to the building, nervously rehearsing the upcoming conversation in my head, and pulled on the door.
A little flustered, I tried pushing it. Nada. Was the bank closed, I wondered? It was mid-afternoon — maybe bankers took long lunches? I scanned the sign listing the hours of operation. No, it should have been open.
Oh well, I thought. Maybe it’s closed for a training session.
But the same charade played out the next day: pull, then push, then reflexively check the hours. I strained to look through the tinted windows and saw flickers of movement inside. Banging on the doors was an option, of course, but I doubted that would win me any friends among the people who controlled my money.
I retreated to the café across the road. Sitting at an outdoor table with a hot chocolate to soothe my ragged nerves, I pondered my next move. Then I saw a man walk up to the bank, do some voodoo thing with his hand beside the door, and open it.
I felt like all those guys who watched in amazement as Arthur effortlessly pulled the sword from the stone.
Quickly tossing back the rest of my hot chocolate, I marched over to the bank, where I saw something I hadn’t noticed before: a small button to the right of the door. I pushed it, the door made a buzzing noise, I opened it and walked in.
Everything is easy once you know how.
Banking went smoothly after that. It wasn’t until I was about to leave France that I hit another bump in the road. The problem concerned all the coins I’d amassed during the previous two years.
A little background: Once the Canadian $1 and $2 bills were replaced by loonies and toonies, I got into the habit of emptying all the coins out of my bulging purse every night. It’s shocking how much money you can collect that way, and if you roll them in coin wrappers, you can take them to the bank and exchange them for paper money.
When I was young and living paycheque to paycheque, there were a couple of tense months when I wouldn’t have been able to pay my rent if it hadn’t been for those life-saving rolls. This is so much a part of my cultural DNA (and c’mon, it makes so much sense) that the possibility it might not be a universal practice never crossed my mind.
So here I was in Bordeaux, with a jarful of change and a yen for some crisp euro notes. I buzzed myself into the bank like a veteran, and explained to my least-favourite teller that I wanted some coin wrappers.
“We don’t have those,” she said.
I asked her politely if she knew where I could get some.
Her nose lifted just a little higher, giving me a clear view up her nostrils and possibly right into her supercilious brain. “Such a thing does not exist in France,” she said haughtily.
This was not good news. “I have 92 euros in coins, and I’m leaving France for good in three days. What should I do?”
Her glance was scathing. “I suggest you go shopping.”
The next afternoon found me at the self-checkout station of my local Auchan, with an overflowing shopping basket and a bagful of coins. It took me a while, but I paid for my purchases one euro at a time. Then, when the bag was finally empty, I went home.
Any banking stories you’d like to share?