Bordeaux banking blunders

Bordeaux banking blunders

Rolls of Canadian coins

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.

Nothing happened.

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?


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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14 Responses to Bordeaux banking blunders

  1. Naomi Hattaway says:

    Oh I love your banking stories! We have some good banking stories … good suggestion for a blog post. I’ll write it now and will link back to you —

  2. I lived in Paris for a year when I was 25, on a fellowship. The banking system was so fraught with rudeness and officiousness we avoided it whenever possible. What I did love was that one could write a check, anywhere, anytime.

    • Maria says:

      There was one woman in particular at that bank who was unfailingly snotty to me. The rest weren’t bad. Unfortunately I always seemed to get the nasty one.

  3. Oh, banking in France. Do I ever have stories. Like discovering only once it was *way* too late that debit purchases are withdrawn at the end of each month ad oopsie, I’ve overdrawn my account by about everything.

  4. debdundas says:

    Brilliant story! I can just picture it … one by one by one. They must have hated you at that store!

  5. Sine says:

    “I suggest you go shopping” – love it!! The obvious solution, no?
    My banking story involved wanting to purchase US$ in South Africa for an upcoming trip to Zanzibar. I show up at the bank, having remembered to bring my passport, which you always get asked for everywhere in South Africa, so I knew to have it on me, but then the teller asks ” Did you bring your plane ticket?” My plane ticket? What for? Well, it turns out that SA has currency regulations that do not permit the free flow of money out of the country. You have to have permission first, and only will you get permission if you have a good reason to need the dollars, i.e. travel. So home I had to trudge to retrieve the ticket (who even has tickets anymore nowadays??), stand in traffic all the way back, and then wait in a line three times as long as previously, just because I didn’t know this simple fact of banking in South Africa. To get my money, I then had to wait through several copies being made of my passport and what seemed like 15 forms to be filled out and stamped, just for $500. Minus all the fees. The thing is though, every errand in South Africa ended up like that and needing several trips, so it didn’t even strike you as anything unusual. The unusual thing is only when you come back to the US and you call up customer service somewhere and you cannot believe that it only took 3 minutes and your problem was solved. It seems like you’re having out of this world good luck when that happens and only after months will you realize that that’s how business is conducted here:-)

    • Maria says:

      The way she said it made me think there was another suggestion she really wanted to make, but had too much class to say words like that out loud. (I was thinking much, much worse about her, believe me.)

      I love your SA stories. I have a feeling all the patience you cultivated during your years in Africa is about to be blown away now that you’re back in the land of Hurry Hurry Now. That’s the story I’m waiting to hear!

      • Sine says:

        “The land of Hurry Hurry Now” – can I use that as a blog post heading? LOL. Although I think sleepy Brentwood, Tennessee, is on the slower end of hurry hurry now, fortunately. Things progress in a more Southern slow way here, which is nice. So far the patience is holding out nicely. Or I would have had to strangle the guy at Lowe’s who took an hour to figure out and enter my shower door installation order. I’ll keep you posted!

      • Maria says:

        Good thing you banked a lot of patience in South Africa. (Did you see what I did there, with the banking thing? LOL)

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