“You have a tattoo on your arm?”
At first I hadn’t realized he’d spoken to me in English. He had a thick Indian accent, a pink polo shirt, and awkward looking khakis that topped white Reebok’s.
“Yeah, it is,” I replied, briefly rubbing the letters on my wrist with my left forefinger.
“Is it old?”
I shrugged. “Maybe five, six years. Something like that.” The math between now and my junior year in college has become too complicated for bank-line conversation.
“Oh, well, that’s probably good because you know many diseases can be transmitted in this way.”
On a top-five list of strange things that people have said to me in my lifetime, I’d have to say that a stranger telling me (ever so politely!) that I probably have an infectious disease rates just under “Can I photograph your feet?” and “The bags under your eyes looks so beautiful when you smile.” And I thought I was socially awkward.
I frowned. “Why are you telling me this?” What possesses a person to choose infectious diseases as a topic for bank-line small talk with strangers? Was he screening me for a date? Did he have a bottle of spray disinfectant in his bag ready to disarm me? Are there other people who ask strangers this question? Are there people who like it?
I waited for an explanation, but my tone had disarmed him; apparently he didn’t know why he had asked that either. When the teller called him up to the counter he scuttled away from me, relieved.
The Dresdner Bank is a strange place. The kind of place that always leaves me with the uncomfortable feeling that I’ve just had an encounter with a strange and highly illogical alien race.
When I first opened my account I had just come from teaching, and I suppose in my black turtleneck dress I must have looked respectable. The teller was friendly and polite; I suppose as far as she knew I was a rich American heiress here to flit through Frankfurt’s cosmopolitan nightlife drinking cosmos and flirting with wealthy businessmen.
But one night at the atm in ripped fishnets, boots, and a patched and fraying hoodie, three business people—two men and a women in long black dress coats and shiny black shoes—came in behind me and started to laugh. I turned to see what they were laughing at. Oh. They’re laughing at me. Laughing and pointing. I looked at them in disbelief. They continued to laugh. Perhaps on their planet anyone dressed in ripped clothing couldn’t possibly have a job, let alone an account at the same snotty institution that safe-guarded their money and managed their investments. I shoved my money into my wallet and headed out into the night feeling like I’d just had a close encounter of the third kind.
Later, in my teacher disguise again, and with a lost atm card, tellers at several branches gave me cash without asking for any ID at all, once when I didn’t even have my account number with me. Several weeks later, this time in a dirty t-shirt and cut off shorts, a teller in Mainz refused to give me cash because, according to her, American driver’s licenses are not a valid form of identification. Picture or not. Wallet full of other picture IDs, credit cards, library cards, frequent buyer cards or not. No, I’m very sorry, but unless the person who is in charge of your account knows you personally and approves the withdraw, I can’t help you.
Can someone please explain to me why I need to have anything to do with a company that treats me differently depending on how I am dressed? Bank account what? Fuck it, from here on out it’s hidden compartments and pirate chests for me.