Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A cashless society

Going into a bank in Spain is often the proverbial pain in whatchamacallit. I don't have to do it often. Cash comes from holes in the wall and most things get dealt with on cards or online. If I do have to go into a bank I always think it looks as though the clerks have never dealt with this particular procedure before. It's all a bit slow, a bit ponderous and there are always multiple documents to be signed.

We have a few banks in Pinoso but there isn't a branch of my bank, the Santander. There is an office with a big sign outside that says Santander and I once foolishly supposed that I could go there to pay in money. I can't. A bit like the wrong type of snow, on the railway, I have the wrong sort of account. It was originally opened with a bank that was later absorbed by the Santander. The name of the account has changed at least four times since then but, apparently, it still bears some Mark of Cain which makes it inferior to a proper Santander account. Whatever reason the man in the office in Pinoso cannot put folding money into my account. I have had trouble with the other banks too. They simply don't offer services to other bank's customers. Some will take my money off me and pay it into my account but they charge several euros to do it.

I had a period of being paid in cash and, to avoid charges, I would drive to the nearest branch of my bank in Monóvar, about 15 kilometres away. The process was simple enough but the wait could be mind bendingly long. At least I learned not to be coy about using the Spanish queuing technique of asking who was the last person in the bank so that I knew when it would be my turn. Spaniards do not, generally, care for the one in front of the other British queue.

At work, for reasons, I was paid with a cheque. I last saw a cheque in Spain about ten years ago so I wasn't sure what to do with it. I took it to the issuing bank and asked. Well, first I waited for about twenty five minutes before I got to speak to anyone. The two cashiers dealt with a total of three people, in front of me, in that time. I showed the teller the cheque;

"Can I pay this in to my account?"
"Of course you can."

So, I asked her to do it. She explained that she meant that if I drove to my bank and queued there then I could pay it in myself. She did say that her colleague could give me cash for it though. So I went back to waiting. I handed over the cheque and asked for cash. I was asked for ID and the man made some huffing and puffing noise when I handed over the A4 piece of paper that is my official ID document. It's been in my wallet for a long time and it looks a lot like those remnants of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then he asked me for photo ID. This is all pretty normal. Everybody in the world seems entitled to ask me to prove that I'm who I say I am so I wasn't phased. I handed over my passport and asked if he'd prefer something Spanish, like my driving licence. He said he would. He asked me if I were resident and I suggested that a Spanish driving licence and a residence certificate may be a clue. He gawped at the computer screen for a while, made a copy of my passport, got me to sign two bits of paper and then, the part I really liked, bearing in mind that we are now closing in on 45 minutes.

"You shouldn't use cheques, you know, they involve a lot of bureaucracy."
"And is that my fault?," I snapped back, in Spanish.

He'd been condescendingly talking to me in English despite the fact that I addressed him in Spanish. He responded in Spanish that time. He assured me that I was not responsible for whatever process the Caixa Bank had agreed with who knows what supranational banking system and handed over the few euros that the cheque was worth.

Sometimes there are still reminders of the years that Spain stagnated while the rest of Europe moved forwards.

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