Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Odyssey of Getting Paid

Well, all my hard work finally paid off today, and I was able to get paid for the first time since moving down here.  It took forever to finally get some cash in hand, but now I can breathe a sigh of relief.  Oh, I should specify.  Earning the money wasn't the hard part.  Cashing the f*cking check was.  Take a journey with me...

I received my check last Friday after my 5:00 PM class ended.  Fortunately the office was still open, and I got my check in hand.  The lady who gave it to me told me that tomorrow, I could take it to "any bank" and cash it, because that's how it works in Chile.  To confirm, I asked her "Any bank, really?"

"Any bank."

After my classes ended on Saturday (oral quizzes with the girls, as you may recall), I walked to the nearest bank.  Most banks weren't open on Saturday, but I passed one that was open until 2 PM.  I walked in, waited in line (number 82, current was 54), and passed time trying to read the advertisements surrounding me.  One of the benefits of not speaking the language down here is that every sign is an opportunity to practice my Spanish.  Commercials, graffiti, advertisements, everything.  It's definitely softened my intolerance for ads taking up every available blank space.

Finally, my number was called, and I got to the counter.  The lady looks at my check for 2 seconds, then says she can't cash it.  "Por que no?"  I ask, slightly annoyed now that my 45 min wait was for naught.  She mumbles some incoherent Spanish behind the plate-glass window.  I ask again, and get the exact same inaudible response.  I storm out of there, and cross the street looking for another option.  A "ServiPAG" is open, with a big sign on the front "cambiar sus cheques aqui!"  I get inside, and there are only 3 people in line.  Score!  I get to the front of the line, and again the lady looks at my check and just shakes her head.  "WHY?"  I ask, momentarily dropping my Spanish.  "necesito un otro banco, no es posible aqa".  Great.

So after an uncomfortable conversation with my landlady about why I couldn't pay her that Saturday, I end up getting out early today (Monday) to try and cash the check.  I'm talking like 11:30 AM early.  Seriously, I'm not kidding.  I decide that if I couldn't get it cashed at the 2 little banks I tried yesterday, that I'd go to the biggest bank in Chile.  Aptly named "Banco de Chile", this one is practically everywhere, including on the jerseys of the national soccer team.  I go to the biggest branch I could find (right next to Moneda Palace, one of the govt buildings), and after a brief 80 min stint in line, I get to the front, and again ask to "cambiar mi cheque".  The guy takes one look at it and goes "Lo siento, no puedo ayudarte."  I'm about to explode.  I ask him where I can get it cashed, and he points across the street to a small bank called "Santander."  He then points to a small corner of the check, which shows Santander's logo in the corner.  So much for "any bank" for this check.

I get over to the other bank, go downstairs, and take a number (all the banks here operate like the DMV).  It's number 275, and the current ticker is at 201.  I wait for about 5-10 minutes to gauge the burn rate of the numbers, and realize that I've probably got about an hour or so before they get into my vicinity.  I look at my watch - it's 1:45 now, so if I come back at like 2:30, that'll be plenty of time to get in line for my stuff.  It's a beautiful day, so I go outside and peruse my book of Chilean Slang.  None of it really sunk in, as I have some sort of engrained inability to study outdoors, but the sun felt great.  2:30 quickly came, and I wandered back up to the door to try and get in.

The doors are locked.

As I've now discovered, the way it works in Chile is that every bank "closes" at 2:00 PM.  Meaning the doors are closed, and as they've probably got 3 hours worth of people inside anyways, their people will be able to go home at 5:00 like normal.  I tried to talk the guard into letting me back in, but my inability to sweet talk in Spanish came back to bite me.  The guy pointed me again towards a "ServiPAG" a couple blocks away, which theoretically would help me get my check cashed.  I was hesitant to go back to one of those places, as the same company had already turned me away on Saturday.  But as I was running out of options at this point, I decide to roll the dice again.

I get to the ServiPAG, and decide to just jump in the shortest of lines I saw.  It was supposed to be for preferred customers only, but I decided that my blue eyes made me a preferred customer.  I get up to the front, and once again, the lady can't cash my check.  Through gritted teeth, I ask her where I can get it cashed.  She gives me crazy complicated directions to a mall on the other side of downtown, where I would then have to go into the basement and find the "SuperCaja" which was affiliated with the bank from which the check was drawn.  "Pero mas rapido," she tells me, "se termino a las 4:00".  I look at my watch.  3:30.  Awesome.

After power-walking about 12 city blocks, and asking 2 separate sets of cops for this elusive mall, I find it.  I get in the doors at about 3:55, and attempt to draw a ticket from the magical turn-dictating machine in the middle of the room.  It asks me for a "RUT", which is essentially a social security number that I don't have yet.  I'm about to punch the machine when some guy comes up to me and says "Here, take mine.  I'm leaving".  I widely smile and thank him.

I look at the ticket.  It's number 748.  I then look up at the counter.  They're on 591.

Goodbye, wide smile.

I actually remembered to pack my camera along on this trip, so here's a few shots while I had some down time in Hell's finance department:
The lineup of people waiting to get paid.  When I first started waiting, there were people all lined along this bottom floor as well.

 The ticketing machine which wouldn't recognize me as a non-RUT having guy.  Notice the man in white leaving - security is standing right next to him to close the door upon his exit.

How I entertained myself.  Thank you, Angry Birds!

Finally, I get up to the front (2+ hours later).  I hand him my check, with both of my fingers crossed behind my back.  The guy takes my check, briefly looks at it, and begins to type into his computer.  THANK GOD.  I almost start dancing in front of him.  Of course, that would have been too easy.

He tells me that the signature on the front of the check is different than the signature normally expected for my company.  I'm at a loss - I have no idea what to do with that.  I ask him to check whatever else he can, and he goes away to talk to his manager.  I can see her through the class, and she begins to work on it.  He returns to the counter and said, "Please, take a seat.  We're working on it."

No thanks.   I'll just wait right here, prick.

After 6 minutes or so of uncomfortable eye contact (mostly on my part), the manager returns and gives him the nod to process it.  I see him reach into the cash drawer, and as I do I hear angels start to sing.  I double check my ears - nope, no ipod buds.

After receiving it, I realized that I had class in 30 minutes, which left me no time to go home and address the 622,776 pesos in my pocket.  I ended up putting the money in my inner jacket pocket, and not taking the jacket off for my entire 3 hour class.  For that time, I was the Chilean Fonz.

I've gotta admit though, it's pretty great getting paid when the exchange rate is ~460 pesos to the dollar, and you get paid on a monthly basis.  For your consideration:


3 days, 6 banks, and 6,287 numbered turns later. Sweet, sweet orange victory.

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