Monday, December 08, 2003

Citibank kind of save the day

When I travel, my practice is to simply withdraw funds from ATMs, which will be linked up via a global system to my bank. In the vast majority of the world, this works perfectly every time. However, there are some countries where this does not always work, as ATMs are either scarce or not linked into the global network. As I recently, Japan is one case, although not nearly as bad as it used to be. And, inexplicably, Belgium is another. There are very few ATMs, and most do not take foreign cards. And while it is easy to laugh at the "Citibank 24 hour banking centre" just across the road from Central station in Brussels that is closed between midnight and 6am, it does at least take foreign cards. I got some money from this machine between changing trains in Brussels but as happens this morning I ran out. I couldn't find a machine anywhere in Antwerp that would give me money. This was not ultimately a big deal. I had some pounds in my wallet which I could change to euros at a physical money changer.

However, the advent of the euro has dealt a blog to the money changing business in Europe, and those money changers that do still exist spend most of their time processing wire transfers of funds to Senegal and things like that rather than actually chaning money. So, just wanting to change £10 into euros, I found myself standing behind a man who had a tremendously complicated set of transactions. After some time, he and the man behind the counter proceeded from a civil conversation to a heated argument in French. (It contained the words "deux" and "gratis" frequently, so I think he believed he should be charged a single fee for two transactions). In any event, I wanted to make the simplest transaction in the world, so I moved to serious eye rolling mode. (This type of thing annoys me about post offices, too. People are receiving welfare payments, paying bills, changing money, getting drivers licence and passport applications processed, and all manner of time consuming things, which drives me mad when I am in the queue behind them and I merely want to buy some stamps).

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