Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Caixa: a monument to efficiency

It’s been a long time since I talked about the humorous (or aggravating—depending on one’s mood) process of taking care of business here in Brazil.

I think Caixa Econômica Federal ranks Brazil’s third largest bank now, since the recent merge of Itaú and Unibanco usurped Banco do Brasil. In any case, there is a huge Caixa branch in Centro, where I went today for the first time to pay a bill. Incidentally, I normally bring my bills (the electric, my internet service, my membership dues to Internacional, etc.) to a lotérica, or lottery shop, where they sell a myriad of scratch-offs and quick-picks, make photocopies, and accept most bill payments, as one would expect (ha). Today was different because I was paying a new bill—my pre-paid membership to the health club has ended and I am now receiving a monthly statement. The club banks through Caixa, unlike my other accounts thus far, so I wasn’t sure if I could make the payment through the lotérica. Besides, why not check the place out, right?

After I removed my keys and cell phone from my purse, set them in the designated Plexiglas pass-through for inspection by the armed guard on the opposite side of the (presumably) bullet-proof barrier, made it through the revolving door with the built-in metal detector without getting trapped (as sometimes happens), and nodded congenially to the other SWAT personnel manning the entrance as I collected my things, all of which is customary, I headed toward the Information Desk.

“Eu preciso pagar uma conta, por favor.” (I need to pay a bill, please.) Two clerks and an armed guard advised me to turn 180-degrees and take 15 paces toward the two young ladies stationed atop the down escalator, where I would be given further instructions.

Arriving at said young ladies (one Colorada, one Gremista, as I learned... always time for a brief “how-do-you-do”). “Eu preciso pagar uma conta, por favor.” I was directed upstairs to retrieve a senha, which is like those little numbers you get when you wait in line at the butcher, only computerized—to be more efficient, ironically.

Upstairs I was greeted by a young girl. “Eu preciso pagar uma conta, por favor.” Ok, please wait in the line here, marked by this tape outline on the floor. One of these counter agents will attend to you shortly.

At the desk agent’s counter: “Eu preciso pagar uma conta, por favor.” Ok. (Agent presses a single button on senha dispenser and hands me a number.) Take that downstairs and have a seat in the middle waiting area.

On the way downstairs I pass the information desk and the two ladies by the escalator (old friends by now), and several more covert military agents. Downstairs, I take a seat for about five minutes while soaking in simultaneous reactions: I am mystified, delighted, and indignant all at once. Being summoned by a beep and a light board to Counter 5, I hand over the statement: “Eu preciso pagar esta conta, por favor.” The woman scans the barcode, stops to discuss her preference for the recent cold over summer’s stifling heat with two colleagues, collects my money, turns toward the coffee-clutch to reaffirm her opinion since one colleague has agreed with her, hands me some change, swivels her chair to face opposite me in order to better engage in the conversation (still about the weather), and after I demurely clear my throat, swings back around to hand me my receipt.

I promise, trusting reader, I am not exaggerating. Ok, the use of “covert military agents” I embellished because it sounded more fun—but the rest is completely true. And actually, I didn’t mind the experience. I wasn’t in a hurry and I believe it’s good for me to relate to the complaints of locals with first-hand experience. Nevertheless, next time, I’ll just go to the lotérica.

Patiently yours,