On broke banks and Spanish cueing-culture

If you ever wonder what the well-used cliché mañana means, just visit a Spanish bank. A couple of days ago we had to go to three different banks in town, quite a timely affair, even if the banks are located within a few blocks of each other. I will neither mention names, nor give a play by play of our run-about, but here are a few not completely scientific facts about banking in Spain:

As far as ‘Banker’s Hours’ are concerned, who would not want to work in a Spanish bank? The banks in Ronda allegedly open at 8.30am, though nobody in town has been there at that hour to verify. The local clientele knows better and arrives after 10am, just as most of the banking staff has taken off for breakfast or desayunes, leaving one poor clerk to handle the morning rush. We have not managed to establish whether they clock out, or if the banks pay for this most-needed break. All we can say is that this halt in productivity must cost Spanish banks an astronomical figure. Of course it is not only banks, all government offices seem to follow this tradition. And just as they get back, it is time to pack up for the day. The bankers day ends at the convenient hour of 2 pm, just in time for lunch and a well-deserved siesta.

With these limited hours, needless to say there are always lineups. The banks seem to place a fresh-faced female employee at the front desk to allure new costumers, while the rest of the clients must line up and deal with a more homely looking teller further back. Everyone is holding onto their trusted bankbooks, something we have not sees for decades. From what we can see, nobody pays bills online or by pre-paid debit, so people cue up every time they have to pay a bill or make a deposit.

Standing in the lineup, there is inevitably a cue-breaker who comes in and waves a paper in front of the teller, insisting on asking just a single question, which turns into a 30 minute discussion. If the person is a regular, a friend, a pillar of the city or an aging client, they will slide in at the front of the line, given precedence even over the client being served, who is pushed aside without an excuse. And nobody seems to mind. Line-breaking is just another part of Spanish banking culture.

Once it is your turn, heaven forbid if you need a photocopy. The machine is never located where it is needed, so the teller has to get up, walk out of her enclosed area, across the room of waiting clients, being assaulted en route by multiple greetings and urgent questions, disappearing into some back office for an undetermined length of time. When she comes back with the pale, hardly legible copy, it needs to be ‘officialized’ and boy does the Spanish know how to make things official! Papers are usually stamped three times with three different stamps that need three separate signatures. Our time is ticking, a new cue-breaker is hovering about like a hungry hawk, and the teller tosses our bankbook at us and turns onto the next client.

Before moving here, we had read about the problems facing Spanish banks. We had not realised the extent of it, until I received my new bankcard in the mail. Since it my name was misspelled, we went back to get a new card. The teller said that they had to charge me 6 Euro for the mistake. They realise of course that it was their mistake, so I would be credited the amount. However this could not happen – yet. The bank usually have funds allocated for such mistakes, she said, but the money is unfortunately used up until January.

Of course, the mañana culture is part of the reason why we moved to rural Spain. We did not come here expecting convenient online banking, nor fast service. We love that clients still may pass a bag of fruit or other produce to the teller, even if it is a token of appreciation or in lieux payment for past of future cue-breaking.

My new bankcard arrived, of course with my name misspelled. I was charged another 6 Euros, which the bank supposedly will reimburse in January. The question is – January of which year???

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