“I saw a bank that said ‘24-Hour Banking,’ but I don’t have that much time,” comedian Steven Wright once joked. Ha! To hardened veterans of the Spanish banking system like us, 24 hours sounds laughably swift. Rich and I have been trying to untangle an issue with our Seville bank for over a year, and last week was our final showdown.
The trouble started in January of 2021, when Rich and I were in the US and our residency cards were on the verge of expiring. Knowing this would cause our Spanish bank to freeze our account, we transferred all our money to an international bank, leaving 10€ in our checking account, and somehow just a single centimo (one cent) in savings. Last week, thinking we ought to tidy up our affairs by closing those frozen accounts for good, we made the 45-minute trek to the only local branch of our bank. There I explained that if they’d give us ten euros, we’d sign the closing papers and be on our way.
The clerk looked at me as if I’d asked him to hand over his wristwatch — or possibly his firstborn child — to settle the account. “Cash? We don’t handle cash. Transfer only.”
No cash? In a bank? Apparently it all happens online now. Don’t get me started.
Unfortunately we didn’t have our international bank’s transfer details handy, and a sort of discreet pandemonium ensued. After fifteen minutes of furious keyboard activity, the clerk announced he could transfer the money to UNICEF. Fine with us! I naively supposed the charity would also wind up receiving the savings account’s final penny, but no. The clerk explained in order to do that we would, inexplicably, have to reopen our account, a process which would involve a second visit to the bank within 48 hours. At the look of horror on my face, he took pity and offered this wise advice: “Just walk away.” And so we did, leaving our penny behind to fend for itself.
I love nearly all aspects of living in Seville, but I have to admit I’m glad to be done with the Spanish banking system. Rich and I will soon be heading to the US for the rest of the spring and summer, and as always in the run-up to departure, we’re reminding ourselves of the petty annoyances we’ll be happy to leave behind. These include line-dried towels that are stiff as boards no matter how much fabric softener I lavish on them; having to huddle over space heaters on chilly nights (yes, we get them here!); and the endless dust that comes from living in an old building in an ancient city filled with new construction projects.
Seville is in a flurry of preparations for the floods of visitors expected soon for the spring festivals, Holy Week and Feria. Paint cans, tarps, and tools litter the sidewalks as hopeful owners spruce up store fronts, restaurants, and hotels, restoring them to their pre-pandemic glory. The atmosphere is one of cheerful bustle, and I often hear workmen singing as they push carts filled with beer barrels and grocery deliveries through the streets.
In the midst of all this normality, it’s hard to believe that just 2500 miles away, another European country is at war with Russia. Sevillanos have been holding demonstrations of solidarity, chanting “Ucrania es Europa”(Ukraine is Europe). Measures large and small are being taken to poke the Russian bear in the nose. Zara’s parent company, Inditex, closed 502 Russian stores. Spain’s Royal Opera House canceled the Bolshoi Ballet. The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona dropped the Russian pavilion. I expect any day now to hear that the Spanish are changing the name of Ensalada Rusa (the potato-based, mayonnaise-laden Russian Salad) to Ukrainian Freedom Potatoes.
A few nights ago over dinner, a friend asked if I thought nuclear war was coming. No, I don’t (touch wood!). But it’s certainly less absolutely inconceivable than it was a month ago, and that’s making everyone justifiably jittery. Fortunately for my ability to sleep at night, military experts are saying it’s highly unlikely that nukes will be deployed. More selfishly, I’m reassured by the fact that Seville is 2500 miles away from the action. Rich and I don't feel any immediate need to brush up on the duck-and-cover skills we learned as kids, although I do find myself eyeing my Ikea desk and wondering how it would hold up in a bomb blast. Let’s hope we never have to put it to the test.
This week I’d originally planned to write a lighthearted post about International Happiness Day, which is coming up March 20. But right now that doesn’t seem to strike the right note. I’m reminded of the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a woman who knew more than most about life’s joys and sorrows. “Don't wish me happiness,” she said. “I don't expect to be happy; it's gotten beyond that, somehow. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor — I will need them all.” And so will every one of us in the days ahead. But if we’ve learned anything in the last two years, it’s that we can cope with challenges that five minutes ago were unthinkable.
In other news, Rich and I depart for the US a week from Thursday. No, we are not fleeing Europe one step ahead of the Red Army; our tickets were purchased weeks before the invasion of Ukraine. As my regular readers know, Rich and I always spend part of the year in the US, and we arranged this trip to see family in New York and friends in Arizona, making up for visits too-long postponed due to the pandemic. We plan to spend the summer in California and return to Seville in September. We’ve renewed our Spanish residency cards and continue to cherish this city as our home.
But there’s a lot of wisdom in the old Yiddish adage Mann tracht, un Gott lacht (Man plans, and God laughs). The last time I organized a short visit to the States, back in May of 2020, it was 16 months before I could return to Seville. I don’t presume to know the mind of God, but I can tell you one thing for sure: that old trickster has a few more surprises in store for all of us. And you can take that to the bank.
I'll be on the road for the next few weeks, so I won't be posting on this blog.
Check out my Facebook page for updates on our travel adventures in NY, AZ & CA.
And hey, stay safe out there, everybody!
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and currently visiting my home state of California.
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