Sunday, July 31, 2005

The downs and downs of waiting in an ATM queue

For those of you living in Japan, the above photo will surely be a familiar sight - a gaggle of old ladies in an ATM queue. Looks harmless enough doesn't it? Well, think again. This is panic stations. Here's why.

Japan is wonderful in many ways, but the ATM system is a bit daft. Perhaps the daftest is the fact that the ATMs all close at 9pm, and 5pm on the weekend. It's very easy to forget this, and you can be without cash for a day because of it. A further problem is that this, coupled with the innate predictability of the Japanese means that everyone seems to go to the ATMs at the same time.

In England, you have a card, you put it in the machine , you press some buttons, you take your money, and receipt if you want one. Finished. Easy. In Japan, there are umpteen options, for taking out money, putting money in, checking balances, printing balances, setting up standing orders, printing paying cards, the list goes on. There are also the bank books, which can be inserted into a slot and on which the transactions are printed for further reference. The trouble is, with all these options and having to find and insert both a card and a book, using an ATM in Japan takes longer than it should. And when you have a line of old ladies in front of you, as in the above photo, you might as well put the kettle on.

As I already mentioned in an earlier post, Japanese old ladies can be very difficult and awkward. They are not good in queues. They fidget, they push, they grumble, they cut in. And they also have numerous accounts with numerous cards and books, which means that instead of a 3 minute visit, they are often at the machine for a good 15-20.

The photo above was taken at about 2.30pm on Friday. I was in something of a rush, as I had an appointment with someone at 3pm. I needed some cash, which I would have got the night before, but as I said, the ATMs religiously close at 9pm and don't open again until 8am. Inwardly sighing at the sight of the old ladies, I patiently stood there and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The first lady was fast, but the second, with her daughter in tow, had 5 different accounts and 5 books. With a bit of efficiency she could have finished in less than 10 minutes. But she was of the grumbling-pointing type, and seemed intent on examining each book suspiciously after every print out.

The remaining old ladies were only marginally better, and it was well after 3pm when I eventually got to the front of the queue. Of course there were more old ladies behind me, and there was grumbling, prodding and teeth-sucking.

There were audible gasps and mutterings when I didn't use a bank book, and even more when I was finished in about 30 seconds. Turning up for my appointment late, I had only to mention the words ATM and old ladies, and my Japanese friend nodded knowingly...


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