Buying an umbrella is one of those things that makes me feel unfit for everyday life. Certainly there must be cheap but good ones somewhere!?! But I don't find them. I always have a sneaking feeling that, as soon as I buy a new one, stands of cheaper (though not necessarily better) umbrellas will start sprouting out of the pavement in front of every other store, mocking me for my non-thriftiness and haste in buying the first one I saw.
On top of the umbrella errand, I decided to cash an old traveller's check while I was in town. They are so old-fashioned! I could hardly believe it. I had one from a trip a few years ago. I went to my bank (a major Czech bank) that, I thought, should exchange a traveller's check. They did last summer, but things have changed. Even then the end of the check as a "safe" means of taking money travelling was imminent. The undergrads I knew all had AmEx "checkcards" or just used ATMs.
At the bank, I took a number. When it was called, I went up to the window and explained the situtation. "You'll have to go over to the lady at counter 12 or 13," the teller told me.
Counter 13 was on the other side of lobby. Above it hung a large sign that said Informace — I am skeptical about information counters. The lady at counter 13 said, "Oh," and looked at the thing as if it were a Czechoslovak crown from before the revolution. She waved it around, perhaps hoping that friction with the air might cause the check to disintegrate and disappear. "We stopped accepting those things last year."
"Where might I go to get it exchanged?" I asked.
"I haven't the faintest idea. You might try the Czech National Bank. Nobody accepts these things anymore." The Czech National Bank. Right. That would be like telling a tourist in Washington (D.C.) to try exchanging a silver certificate at the Treasury building. Ha. I left the bank with the kind of unvented anger that can only be aroused by peonic (as in annoying little people, not flower-like) little clerks who like to dole it out from on high. There's not much you can do when you're at the receiving end of one of these exchanges. They occur regularly at banks, post offices, government bureaus, the foreign police. Anywhere that has overgrown bureacratic leanings that haven't been czeched since the glory days of Franz Josef.
Unsure what to do, I tried Komerční banka, another bank that was down the street. They had always cashed my traveller's checks before. It took a while, but finally the teller handed over a few crowns and had me sign a very extensive contract that stated how much I'd received, what sort of identification I'd presented, my name and ID number, nationality, eye color, height, weight, and they would've written down my hotel if I'd been staying in one. I hope they don't change their minds and issue an APB for me because they want their money back.
By this time, not having bought an umbrella yet, I was wet. I finally found a few umbrellas in a shop, bought a ridiculously large one (hoping to overcompensate for procrastinating earlier), and continued on my errands. If you happen to see a damp sort of person wandering downtown waving around uncashed traveller's checks with a hopeful look, don't pass by without a sympathetic glance—it may not be a tramp but a worn out grad student.
Tags: Brno, summer, discursions, rain