Monday, November 13, 2006

Notebook of a Return to My Native Land - part 2

Sometimes I'm up and sometimes I'm down
Yes Lord, you know sometimes I'm almost to the ground
-- Louis Armstrong

Dog Years

Its funny how time flies. I mean, really. Our days are so densely packed with action that it feels like a week is at least a month long. An average day can entail going to the bank, printing and sending several letters, packing things, ringing 4 or 5 people - some of them on phone lines so bad you can't tell whether there is a person at the other end or if you're having a conversation with the echo of your own voice - and, on weekdays, spending nine hours at work. Our calendars are so full that we're even running out of time for fair well drinks. But the biggest problem isn't having so many things to do; its this unshakable sensation that we aren't actually getting anything done.

Take the VISA card mission, for instance.

One problem faced by all long term travellers is access to cash, to hard currency. Its one thing to go somewhere for three weeks and take money with you or pay extortionate credit card commissions; its quite another to take a wad of cash to last you six-months, or to pay ridiculous commissions for that long. For starters, you can imagine how many milliseconds a wad of cash would last in your pocket in downtown Luanda. So, intrepid Miss Begum conducted her usual thorough investigations and figured out that the cheapest way to survive out there is to have a VISA debit card.

We've been with our current bank for a good while. We like them, and they like us not-particularly-clever customer types too. We're not really the sort of people that like change, or that shop round when it comes to banks. Plus, they have a really well designed web-interface that works well with Linux. And they're fond of students. What's there not to like?

When we asked our old faithful bank for a VISA debit card, their answer was like something out of the Simpson's: a) "we don't understand your question; are you looking for a VISA credit card?" which quickly progressed to b) "nobody would ever need a VISA debit card! Switch and Maestro work everywhere!" and ended in apotheosis: c) "nobody else does these newfangled VISA debit cards anyways". The latter was particularly funny since we found out that their India operations use VISA debit cards - the only small catch is you need to open the bank account in India. And, yes, I did think "Indian bank account... How hard would that be?". Only for a split second. Shahin's slap brought me back to reality pretty quickly.

These problems and many others we've had in the recent past with companies such as Amazon highlighted a wider problem. The new global companies are great for 99% of the cases. Trouble begins when you want to do something slightly out of the ordinary. For instance, we tried to find out the bank's closest branch that opens on a Saturday. There wasn't a single person in India who was able to provide this information. And we did speak to all of them. (One member of staff even told us that a branch was open just to flog us off; needless to say, we got there and it wasn't.)

So it came to be that, having exhausted all the simpler avenues, we ended up trying to open a new bank account. We first wanted Lloyds TSB but we couldn't find any branches open on a Saturday. As we were walking back home in sheer desperation, we stumbled across Abbey National. To our surprise, they did provide their customers with shiny new VISA debit cards.

We then went through the motions. After what it seemed like hours of form-filling and question-answering, we were then very politely told that they could not give us an immediate answer - but would be in touch with us as soon as possible. "But, you do understand that we only need this card to withdraw money on holidays? We don't need an overdraft or anything! Can you not give us an answer right now?"

She could not. We would have to wait.

And all of this before 12:00 o'clock on a Saturday.


rp said...

Why dont you use a Portuguese Bank Accoun? Any regular "Multibanco" card is VISA debit card.

Marco Craveiro said...

yeah, i know... unfortunately transferring a lot of money from a uk accounts to portugal is extremely expensive, did it once for my parents... its better to take a suitcase full of cash to portugal :-)

Bruno said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruno said...

Man, all that trouble just to get a "cartao multibanco"?? :-D

UsingTangent said...


“Indian bank account... How hard would that be” oh Marco you kill me sometimes!!!!!!

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