Friday, 27 June 2008

Banking business

Among the most tangible cultural differences I have experienced is banking. I am not talking about my old country where the issue was irrelevant, but when I spent my Fulbright time in Amherst, Massachusetts, opening a bank account felt insurmountable, although I believe I am reasonably intelligent. Fortunately, my fellow professor’s wife helped me, but I never got used to paying bills with checks. When we came to live in California, I thought I was well informed, but the problem is that different states – or perhaps different banks – have completely different routines. To open an account in San Diego, you had to produce, apart from an ID, two utility bills with your name on them. Apparently, to prove that you exist. ID is not enough, but if you pay for electricity, then you must be real. Union Bank of California was so advanced that you could actually pay you utility bills by direct transfer.

Now we must open an account in the UK. I know that neither Swedish, nor American routines would be helpful, so I am prepared for anything. We consult my Cambridge friends and decide for Barclays. A nice lady at the customer service explains that we cannot open an account right now, we need an appointment. Tomorrow’s fine. And by the way, do we have any utility bills? No? That’s a shame. Can I bring a letter from the University to prove that I exist?

At the University they are most helpful and give me a certificate of my existence, so next day we meet the nice young man at Barclays who is most obliging, but no, they cannot send the papers and the plastic card to an overseas address, and no, they don’t cash foreign checks, but he hopes we will be happy with the available services. After a careful calculation of my income and living costs he says encouragingly: “With you salary, you will soon be able to save!”

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