Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bills, Banks and Benevolence

We've been back in Ukraine for a little over a month and I'm not quite used to all of the routines yet. For instance, bills are due on the 20th of the month. The bills come in the mail between the 5th and the 10th and then you have until the 20th to figure out how much you owe (you fill out the water and electricity bill yourself) and then get to a pay place and do so. You can pay at most banks, at the post office, at some automated bill pay machines and, allegedly, online. Obviously, paying online or at an automated machine is very modernized. It's too modernized for us, in fact; we go to the bank.

Anyway, as you could guess, if you pay your bills at a counter of some kind and do so on the 15th, the lines will be fairly short. If you wait until the 19th or the 20th, the lines are much longer. If the 20th falls on a Sunday, when the post office and all banks are closed, then all the people who wait until the 20th to pay are in line with all of the people who wait until the 19th to pay and it's torturously long. Our routine is to pay on the 16th or 17th but, since I'm not yet back into the routine, I didn't put 2 and 2 together until this morning and had to rush to arrange all the paperwork and get to the bank, with a myriad of others.

Now, we usually go to one particular bank that charges a very small fee for bill processing (25 cents or something like that). This guarantees a shorter line. Additionally, this bank will process our internet bill, which some banks and the post office will not process. Unfortunately, this bank isn't open on Saturdays like it was a year ago. So, I was forced to go to a bank with a longer line and, as far as I remembered, did not take our internet bill. However, as I was standing in line I noticed that other people were holding their internet bills in their hands from our very same internet company. How cool! I'd still be able to pay all the bills at once and, since I waited in a long line, I wouldn't have to pay extra to do so.

Or so I thought. As soon as I got to the counter and handed over the bills, the teller handed me back the internet bill and said something too quickly for me to understand but that communicated that I would not be paying that bill at that place today. I'd have to come back when there was a shorter line or go the internet company and get a new form or something. (When you don't understand, just about everything is a possibility. I wasn't feeling too proud of my language abilities at that point.) Then she said the total for the other bills that I needed to pay. It was clearly higher than it should have been but, with 20-25 people behind me I wasn't about to say anything. I just guessed that, due to the economic crisis or something, all bill pay stations were charging fees now. I gave her a round sum and, being short on change, she had to go get some from her coworker. That gave me time to think about how much more the bills were than they should have been. I was coming up with about $4.50 or so (35-40 hrv.); WAY too much for a processing fee. But again, I didn't want to feel the piercing stares of 20-25 people on they out, so I just exited.

When I got to work (Josie had taken Dietrich to the store; I was not abandoning my family), I messaged a friend to see if my bank-fees-for-all-bills theory was true. It was not. I also called the internet company and asked if they might know why the bank refused to process my bill. They said that I had likely taken the wrong bill to the wrong bank. And that solved a mystery. We received 2 internet bills that looked identical. We could not discern a difference between them and so I tossed one—like a dummy—and took the other with me to the bank. And, in fact, I had tried to pay the УкрСиббанк bill at Ощадбанк. I asked where the nearest УкрСиббанк was located and, on my way home from work I tried to pay the internet bill there but, of course, it was closed on Saturdays. So I went home with an unpaid bill and a $4.50 less than than I should have come home with. Telling myself that I was making a contribution to a struggling economy provided no real solace.

Josie got home a few minutes after I did and she could tell I was down. She asked what was wrong and I told her that I'd tell her in a minute, after I had finished catching up on her brother's Los Angeles Angels blog. I was trying to lighten my spirits but I was too disappointed with myself. I started to tell the story with even more boring details than you've just read.

And then it happened. The bank called, right in the middle of my story, and told me that they had charged me twice for one of the bills. If I could come back to the bank in the next 10 minutes (before they closed) then they'd give me my money back. Unbelievable. Not only did they stop my quick slide into depression, they showed me that they care enough about the hundreds of people that pour into their bank every day to follow up. If I were them, I MYSELF might have considered the mistake as a contribution to the struggling economy. But they not only caught the error; they corrected the error. I'm a much happier person now. I've got $4.50 in my pocket and more hope for Ukraine's business future. Happy Saturday.


fong said...

Why don't you just pay over the Internet?

eric O said...

Because I'm too much of a Luddite.

Donna said...

Well done, well done! It is totally no fun to be explained-to-like-you're-an-idiot or fussed at or yelled at in any language, and it seems particularly awful when you know they're fussing and you don't understand what it is they've said. But to find out that there was humanity there - that somehow makes it all the better. I hate going to the post office because there's just too many decibels going on there and I like to be a chicken and stay out of the line of fire. Once, though, I had to mail a package and couldn't avoid it. I got some harsh comment - even before I got to the window - and because I didn't get it, I just stayed in line and waited until my turn. Although the tone was still harsh (to my ear), she had been trying to tell me not to wait in her line because she didn't have the customs form I'd need to fill out for the package I was wanting to mail!

As I said, well done! May the Lord bless your next endeavor, which will come soon enough! By the way, do you think they'd let me pay for Abby's school at your bank?! I forgot that the 20th was a Sunday...