Banking in Italy – Slow Cash

Like having lunch in Italy, going to the bank can be a long leisurely experience, though not nearly as fun.  Here is a true story of one of my experiences banking in Italy.

After standing in line for ages, when I finally reach the sportello, the teller at the window gets up and leaves. When she returns to the sportello, I am ignored. The teller staples a few papers, rummages around for a rubber stamp, then takes a pile of documents and heartily begins stamping each one.

“Excuse me” I say, clearing my throat loudly “I would like to make a cash withdrawal.”

The teller gives a startled blink, seemingly surprised at my presence, and then looks annoyed that I have interrupted the stamping process. She had a good rhythm going.

“How much do you want?”This is back in the time of the Italian Lire, and I reply that I want to withdraw a million lire, the equivalent of about 500 euro ($700). “Oh,” says the teller, tsk-tsking, as she riffles through her cash drawer “I am sorry I don’t have that much.” She only has about 50,000 lire, about 25 euro.

I am confused. Isn’t this a bank? When I suggest she search further, she sighs and reluctantly gets up and goes over to another teller, who looks in his drawer and shakes his head.  Niente.  Finally, after much discussion, I am advised to come back just before closing time, and hope that in the meantime someone will have made a cash deposit.

I go outside, where Emanuele is smoking his way through a pack of cigarettes, and tell him we have to come back later, when the bank may have some money. He looks momentarily surprised, then shakes his head in disgust. As we are walking away, we pass a guard, who is standing outside the bank armed with a gun and dressed in a bullet-proof vest. Emanuele stops and says to the guard, “What are you guarding? There is no money inside. Why don’t you go home?” But the guard shrugs, mumbles something about finishing his shift and continues staring straight ahead.

Having spent a good part of my life in Italy in line, I would like to propose that the inventor of the ATM machine be immediately declared a saint. Today there are ATM machines, called Bancomat, all over Italy. Now I am free to spend those long, leisurely hours at lunch.

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