Who Said Time Is Money
By Kamal Sunavala

I have been robbed twice so far in Prague. Now, mind you, being a big-city girl, I understand that it's par for the course. But naturally I don't want to be carrying large amounts of cash around or international credit cards. So I thought I should do the right thing and open up a bank account in one of the local banks. Having narrowed my choice down to the prestigious CSOB I took my documents and my passports and toddled off to the bank.

What ensues now is only just short of a tragedy. The tragedy of wasted time. Precious moments on a sunny day. First, I take a token number. 325 if I remember correctly. I see the ticker showing 317 and steadily ticking to 324. I start gathering my female paraphernalia (the women will understand), and am about to bound to the correct counter when I see the ticker entirely miss my number and jump straight to 326. I was surprised. What was wrong here? Isn't 325 a legitimate number in the mathematical world, to be followed by 326 and preceded by 324? I may be an English teacher but surely this basic mathematical ability was something I very well possessed.

I sat down again and waited patiently thinking, alright now calm down. It's probably because you took the ticket off the English option and they are waiting for their English speaking colleague to return from the nearby Sandwich Express. I conceded to the fact that it was the lunch hour and a velký Alaska was surely more appealing than a current account.

After half an hour's wait I went to the Duty Manager who was patient and very good at English. She immediately put me in the seemingly capable hands of one Miss Markéta. Miss Markéta looked over all my papers, peered suspiciously at my passports (both are legal in case the foreign police are practising their English), then looked at my face to check if I was indeed the holder of my identity. She asked me in intermediate English if I had another form of identity. I explained to her clearly and slowly that since my purse had been stolen all my forms of identification had gone with it. So no, except for my passports and a letter of appointment from my employer I had no other forms of ID.

Miss Markéta was not pleased. She said 'moment' in what I thought was a curt voice and shuffled off to another colleague who was throwing me suspicious looks almost as if I were planning to blow up the bank. Meanwhile I was getting very edgy because they were holding both my passports and for the moment I was truly without any identity. I couldn't have proven who I was if you would have stuck a knife into my oesophagus. Another twenty minutes elapsed. A lot of photocopies were being made. I was being watched. Miss Markéta dropped all pretence of politeness and told me it was 'highly irregular' to allow me to open an account with the bank under these circumstances. And pray, why did a lowly English teacher want an account in two currencies? How could I possibly afford it is what she meant. Now don't tell me I am not free to surmise things. A - You were not there and B - I am a trained actress. I know vocal expression.

I showed her my credit history. Miss Markéta shuffled off again joined by a Miss Monika who incidentally was dressed like Diana Ross, seconds later and they announced that they would let me open an account after all. I breathed a sigh of relief and thought happily that now all that remained to do was sign a few forms, fill out my name and address a trillion times and that would be that.

But that was not to be. Miss Markéta and Miss Monika, the bankers from Hell, gave me contracts in Czech, forms in Czech and Terms and Conditions in Czech. They barely explained to me in suddenly pre-intermediate English what the terms were and expected me to put my signature to them. Now being in a foreign country, a girl has a right to know what she is signing, eh? I mean it could've been anything. Not that I am saying it was. But the mere possibility of doing something totally stupid like that set my heart a-racing. So I asked very politely, could someone please translate this for me? Not word for word, just the basics. They shook their heads in unison and chorused Ne.

I bit my tongue, prayed hard and put my signature. You can call me Miss Stupid. Miss Markéta and Miss Monika took the papers off to another colleague and I sat there, thumbing through a copy of Murphy's Grammar trying to find the present tense for stupid girl. Another half an hour passed. Miss Markéta returned without Diana Ross. She was smiling suddenly. I was not. She gave me a folder filled with Czech forms and made me sign them all. She made two mistakes writing down my address. So all the forms had to be signed again. I was about to punch her in the face when a smiling man announcing himself to be Mister Luděk presented me with a fancy box. Apparently I had signed up for internet banking. Gadgets make me admittedly nervous. I accepted it gingerly while he started telling me in Czech what I was meant to do with the darned thing. I just decided to shut up and nod.

As I walked out of the bank, I noticed the sun had set. It was dark. I had missed two appointments but I was now the proud owner of some gadget, which, for all I know was a toilet cleaner, a promise of credit and debit cards to be issued in a fortnight, and a current account.

Thank you Miss Markéta. Thank you Miss Monika. I hope your purses get stolen on Tram No. 22.