Yep, now that David is no longer at death’s door, and we have our car back at least for small trips, it was time to deal with a few errands. Sounds simple enough right?
Let’s backtrack just a hair to Saturday. And I guess even before that is a brief explanation of bill paying here in Costa Rica. Most bills — ICE (pronounced ee-say, the government monopoly for electric and phone), most water bills (not ours, but most), and cable TV for instance — can all be paid practically everywhere. Say, at the customer service counter at the grocery store, heck, right at the check-out counter at most grocery stores, at the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) office, and even at many mom-and-pop pulpurias (which are sort-of like a very low-tech 7-11 convenience store).
But, sadly, our internet service has in recent years been provided by small companies that somehow haven’t managed whatever magic is required to be able to pay the bill at those same outlets where you pay your other bills. So they give you their bank account info on your invoice (which they do — unlike most other services — actually send you each month!) and you’re expected to go to the Banco Nacional, for instance, and stand in line forever and pay your bill by depositing your payment into their account.
On the most recent bill, however, they’d noted also the SINPE which is a sort of interbank transfer number that should allow you to make a “transfer” from your own bank directly into their account. Ah ha!
So I don’t actually have to do battle with Banco Nacional in person. Woo-hoo. I can just go to my friendly ScotiaBank and make the transfer from there. Much more appealing.
However, between David’s foot traumas, and Mom’s poopy traumas (don’t even get me started on those; I’ve spared you, my gentle readers, from those!) we’d somehow let the internet bill languish unpaid this month.
To our current company’s credit (unlike those in the past) they did actually send us not only one reminder earlier last week, but a second and more pointed one on Friday to say that 5pm on Monday would be “service interruption” moment.
So, I schlepped into ScotiaBank on Saturday, David now feeling well enough to be safely left at home for a little while as the care-giver for Mom, and waited patiently in line. One of the reasons we (and many other gringos) use Scotia is that the lines are vastly shorter than at the national banks. Even so, they’re not exempt from lines by any means.
Finally got to the teller and asked (all in Spanish, of course) if the info I had on the invoice — that showed the company name, their cedula number, and the SINPE info — was sufficient to pay the bill.
Drat — she said “No.” Followed by a whole lot of other rapidly spoken Spanish. I caught the “banco central” part, and it seemed that they couldn’t make transfers based on this info I had. When I protested that I’d made other transfers in the past based on no further information, she stared at me blankly for a moment or two (this is a teller I know who usually seems to communicate pretty clearly with me) and finally said, with great puzzlement “¿el sábado?”
Ahhh… Sábado. Saturday. Apparently that part I’d only partially caught about the Banco Nacional was that it didn’t work on Saturday. After confirming that it would, indeed, work on lunes (Monday), I left.
So, Monday comes. Lots of work in the morning, and finally around 11 I head out to the bank. Went through my usual huge annoyance at the new “security door” system where you have to push the button outside to open the door, then you stand in the little “air lock” zone until the outer door has FULLY shut, and then you can open the next door to the bank itself.
Note those capital letters? FULLY shut is an elusive concept. It sure seems like the outer door has shut, but the inner door won’t open. This is apparently supposed to allow the bank to isolate potential bank robbers or other undesirable characters, but it mostly just pisses the hell out of customers. So you stand in the DMZ, frustrated as hell that you can’t open the damn door into the bank, and eventually the guard takes pity on you and does his magic and opens the doors.
Sheesh. I hate this new “security addition” to our local bank. Admittedly banks down in San Jose have machine gun wielding guards, and the “national bank” (Banco Nacional) installed a similar airlock setup about a year ago, but I was very disappointed to see our very civilized ScotiaBank (a bank I fondly remember from living in Nova Scotia nearly 30 years ago) resort to the same tactics.
I finally get inside and wait patiently in line. In a mere fifteen minutes I’m up at the teller and present her with my trusty printout with the necessary info to make this easy SINPE (interbank) transfer.
Oops. It seems to be clear fairly early on that this teller has never done a SINPE transfer. No problem. If left to her own devices long enough, surely she’ll figure it out.
Twenty minutes later (no joke) she had finally managed it. The intervening time was spent with much staring at the computer screen (on her part) where she was either reading complex and detailed instructions (possibly written in Swahili) about the procedure, or more likely simply staring at the screen hoping divine inspiration would strike about what she was to do next. Only once in this procedure did she acknowledge me in any way with a hint of apology for it taking so long, to which I gave the only possible answer, “Tranquila.”
No worries. What else are you gong to do, anyway.
Eventually the deed was done, and I headed out, clutching my handy receipt proving payment. I went into the mall to the grocery for a few items. Gathered them up and found myself in the only open checkout behind a woman and her teenage son transacting some apparently complicated business. I chilled. What else are you going to do, anyway.
In time, their primary problem seemed to be solved (I’d given up even figuring out what that was) and he gave over his cell phone number for the bill to be paid. I couldn’t help but overhear — the bill was ¢25,o00 or around $50. This, in a country where the typical cell bill is $10 or $12!?! As a mom I’d’ve been hard-pressed not to smack him around a bit, but she just coughed up ¢25,000 from her little change purse, and off they went.
I could now finally buy my few dollars of groceries and be finished with the mall.
Okay, nearly done. Down the main road, off to the pharmacy for a few more of the steroid shots for David’s foot. The good news is that most drugs (other than “controlled substances”) don’t need an outside prescription to get them. You simply declare what you want and the pharmacist hands it over.
(Now, to be completely accurate, in addition to controlled substances, a few years ago they started “requiring” prescriptions for many antibiotics, but after an initial flurry of pharmacists saying “No, we need a prescription” — in Spanish, of course — the whole thing seemed to disappear.)
So, at my trusty pharmacy, all three women stared at me blankly while I asked for my Deltasone. (Hey, I’m not a newbie — I know that this word is not pronounced the way we would in English with the silent “e” — I pronounced it “Del-tah-zone-ay” — but even so the blank stares came out in force.)
One gal finally gave me a piece of paper to write it on, at which they still all three stared blankly. I wracked my brain for the actual brand name and could come up with a capital “A”, and 4 to 5 total letters. I did my best to remember it and write it on my designated piece of paper, and although I wasn’t quite accurate, it was apparently enough to spark some flicker of recognition in the pharmacist and off the gal went.
She came back with three glass vials of Deltasone (what we would know as Prednisone in the states) and gathered up my requested jeringas (syringes) and after paying my $5 and change, I was out of there.
More than an hour, to accomplish what seemed like 3 incredibly simple errands.
Ah well, as the saying goes, it is what it is. Worrying about this sort of thing is the shortest route to going crazy here in Costa Rica. I got home in time to fix lunch, which was the big thing, was able to photograph my receipt (my scanner isn’t working) to send to the internet company, and gave David a shot.
All is right with the world.