I've traveled all around the world, but I haven't been to Switzerland. I've heard their bankers are ultra-serious, but you would expect that from the Swiss. The disconnect about banking in Panama is that you expect the relaxed Panamanians to be a little more--well, relaxed--about banking. This isn't the case. They dot their i's and cross their t's in triplicate... and then they do it again for the sake of redundancy.
Banking in Panama reminds me of getting called to the principal's office. I have to be on my best behavior when I enter a bank and dress as if I'm a nun. Yes, there's a dress code for entering a Panama bank--no hats, no sunglasses, and long pants are required for men. Being a daily hat wearer, this means I always enter my bank with bad hair. Plus, to ensure security, men are wanded with a metal detector before they can walk into a bank, and women's handbags are given a cursory search.
Almost every banking transaction is worthy of being retold at a cocktail party. Yes, the rules are that ridiculous to my Western brain. So imagine you have a cocktail in your hand while I regale you with my latest banking escapade.
My fiance, Kleriston, went to the bank to pay bills for our clients, which meant he had five deposits to make. Each one was a simple one-check deposit and literally took just 20 seconds or so to process. But after the third deposit, the teller said to him, “I’m going to lunch. You have to go to a different teller to finish these deposits.” What? You want a client to go get into a different line so you can head to lunch one minute early? Is this a version of Candid Camera that will be posted on YouTube?
Now had it been me, I would have not had the Spanish words to argue. Like the chastised child in the principal's office, I would have gone to a different line and finished the deposits with another teller, fuming with American indignation. But my sweetheart speaks Spanish and is Brazilian to boot, which means he pushes back. He argued with the teller until the teller realized he couldn't push this particular client out of his line, and he finally deposited the remaining checks.
When Kleriston got into the car and told me what had just happened, my laughter was heard in Costa Rica. One more crazy story in a cache of hilarious banking stories.
I was having such a hard time wrapping my brain around it that I told my Spanish teacher, and she said, “That’s not true. You’re making that up.” HA! I wish my imagination were that good. If it were, I could dream up the next Harry Potter series starring bad bank tellers in Panama and become a multi-billionaire. Until then, I'm stuck with the crazy truth.
The next time I was in the bank, I noticed that there was a sign over most of the windows that said, "Rapido Caja," which is the equivalent of the speedy checkout lane at the grocery store. Underneath it said, "Maximum 3 transactions" in Spanish. Aha... I was about to cut the bank a break, when I realized that all of the open tellers had the Rapido Caja sign up. There were no normal teller lines open.
Is there a reason that the bank only wants its clients to do three transactions per day? Is four transactions a red flag of financial hanky panky? This is something I ponder as I sip wine and swing in my hammock, watching the ships go through the Panama Canal. If banking is the most frustrating part of living in Panama, hammock time is definitely the best. Ah yes, this is why I moved to Panama.