Just an ordinary day, in the beautiful town of Grenada, I went to get some money.
You probably know how it goes, when wandering in a city. You take the bus, visit a museum, go and see the sights – in this case, the Alhambra – enter an occasional shop and have a bite and a drink. And the money seems to slowly disappear, like snow under the sun.
So, after a while, there is the need to get some more. So, what do you do?
You go to a ATM to withdraw some money.
So far, nothing special.
Except for the fact that we were wandering around in this amazing town, where each neighbourhood seems to bring you into another world. Where in some streets you are welcomed by the smell of shisha pipes, and spices and surrounded by Arabic-speaking traders, and it almost feels as if you are wandering through in a little town in the Maghreb, while in other streets you’ll hear expressive and emotional singing, tunes on the guitar and can admire the now trendy white and blue cave-style houses (houses which were originally built by Gypsies, against and in the mountains in the poor neighbourhoods) or see the young and modern gipsies in their revamped cave houses and small city gardens, in search for an alternative of the daily hectic pace. From chic to hip, from Spanish to Moorish, from formal to alternative, Grenada seems to have it all.
Anyway, I was feeling good after a full day of sun and all the beauty and variety we’d seen, and we were not really surprised by the fact that, after I took the money, the machine offered me a whole set of additional options. Just out of interest, Jim pressed a button, and when the machine asked me to re-enter my secret code, I decided to play safe and quickly cancelled the transaction. Still nothing special. And we happily walked away.
And we were only quite a few blocks down the road, and Jim was talking about how ATMs have changed over the years, that I felt a mild panic coming on. And while he casually continues to relate how people would often walk away without collecting their card, that I start to wonder whether I got mine back, or more accurately, whether I have taken it back. And I cannot stop picturing my card sticking out of the machine, while the machine is beeping and shouting to all the other passers-by: take it out, please take this card out.
While trying to focus on Jim’s story and admire the beauty around me, all to suppress my irrational anxiousness – obviously aroused by the story – I secretly check my pockets.
And meanwhile I try to continue to reassure myself by slowly repeating to myself, that in this day and age, everywhere you go, you first take out your card before you take your money. Exactly to avoid this from happening – as Jim was just telling me.
And, while I try to put into practice one of the zillion pieces of advice on how to deal with my reptile brain, a brain which is not geared up to all the possible stressors we have surrounded ourselves with, I keep having the feeling that I might actually really have left without taking my card, and finally decide it’s time to act and listen to my instinct, and run back to the machine.
While Jim, who runs much faster than me, sprints back to the machine, I frantically keep checking my pockets, looking for this card, still wondering where I might have misplaced it, still trying to calm myself. Instead, I start getting angry with myself for being so sloppy, and making up stories of the card being stolen, and making it worse, by worrying how we can solve this in the coming days.
Luckily enough, this time, all the stress seemed to be unnecessary and the ending very uneventful: the machine had indeed swallowed the card and had spat out a paper to say that it had done so, just as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
Second bit of luck, the machine was part of an actual bank, a place where people work, and which you can visit. In other words: a place where an employee can directly access the cash machine, take out the swallowed cards and hand it over to the rightful owner after showing her passport.
And straight away I felt a relief. I was confident that it would be quickly solved the next day (since this was already late at night), that a bank employee, after checking my passport, would simply hand over my card and we would be able to continue our journey without delay.
Funnily enough, this is when Jim started to worry – considering the safety measures the bank should follow. Maybe they would send my card all the way back to my bank in the Netherlands.
But luck was again on my side: after showing my passport while briefly explaining what had happened, the lady opened a drawer, took out a huge pile of bankcards, all from other worried owners inconvenienced and deprived from access to their money, and handed over my card. No forms to be filled, no papers to be signed, just as if it was business as usual.
And of course, now is the moment to reflect how often I do things without thinking, even withdrawing money, an action during which I could and should probably be more vigilant and alert, and watch what I do, instead of relying on correct and helpful procedures assisting us in daily life.
I should take the time to reflect on my own actions, my response to them, and my irresponsible behaviour, and I should seriously consider increasing the time I spend meditating, training my brain to be more alert and awake in the moment.
But no, I don’t feel the urge, and won’t be doing it. This time, I just simply wonder why this bank persists in making use of unworkable procedures, unsuitable for the human brain, a brain which likes to do things on automatic pilot. And why the bank doesn’t choose to program their machines the same as every other bank, and build in an easy safety net, assuring that everyone who walks away with their cash, has also taken their card, instead of making it more complicated than it needs to be.
I understand that it is not always effective to blame someone else, but even so, this time I blame the bank, and wonder why the employees and management do not choose a procedure to avoid the chance of unnecessarily activating my reptile brain, and overcharging me with stress, while it can be avoided so easily.
And you know what, it just feels good to blame the bank, and for once not doubt my own reaction.
Thai banks do the same the same thing – I replace my cards at least twice a year for the very same thing – get my money and walk off still working out whatever I was thinking about instead of focusing on the task at hand.