Electronic Bill Counter

This story I haven’t revealed to anyone but my wife.

Today I went to my bank to deposit some cash.  I am not going to disclose the amount, suffice it to say that it was a decent amount and the bills were in all denominations.  I previously counted the money, but the bank teller had to count it again.  The bank is in the business of making money, and it doesn’t trust its customer.  Rather than count the money in front of me with her hands, the teller took it the other side of the counter and placed it in what seemed like a little box.  She pushed the button and I heard a rapid click, click, click.  After only a few seconds, she handed me a piece of paper with the total amount on it.  It matched my count and I nodded my head.

This simple act of bill counting—using an electronic device—transported me back to Kathmandu when my wife and I visited three years ago.  Please sit down and relax; it may take a few minutes to read my whole story.  I promise you wouldn’t be disappointed.

Prior to traveling to Nepal, I informed American Express that I would be using my AE credit card while traveling.  I often get a phone call from my credit card company if I charge a large sum of money while traveling in the U.S. – I guess they want to confirm that the charge is mine. How nice that the credit card company is tracking my purchasing activity. Unfortunately, I don’t think they are doing it for my own good.  They track this activity for the bank’s own interest.  If someone posts fraudulent charges to my card that I later dispute, I will not be held responsible for the charges.  If they cannot hold anyone else liable for the charges, the credit card company must absorb them and take the loss. So, while it may seem that the credit card company is doing me a favor and cares about me, it truly is all about business.

While in Kathmandu we were staying at a hotel—while I won’t say which one, it was a good hotel and there were quite a few tourists from Europe and America sharing it with us.  On the last day of our stay, the hotel provided its shuttle service to take us to the airport.  About three hours before our departure time, I went to the counter to settle my bill, assuming that it would be a quick affair as in the U.S.

The hotel clerk took about 20 minutes to calculate my food, room, printing, telephone, and laundry charges.  When all was said and done, I produced my American Express card to pay.  It was a Platinum card – not just any card.  The clerk said politely, “Sir, we don’t accept American Express.  Do you have Visa or MasterCard?”  It’s not that I didn’t have other credit cards, but the purpose of using AE card was that I was receiving 2% cash back for any travel related expenses.  It also provided free insurance coverage for damage or theft of any items purchased during travel.  Using my AE card as much as possible was a good deal.

Grudgingly, I took out my Visa card and handed it to him, forgetting that I hadn’t notified the credit card company that I was in Kathmandu.  After swiping my card, the clerk said, “Sorry sir, your charge is declined.”  At this point I remembered my failure to alert the credit card company of my travels. The time was ticking—I had less than three hours before my flight and was beginning to get nervous.

I asked the clerk, “What are my options?”

“You can pay in cash.”

“I don’t have Rupees.  I used them all.  I can pay you in U.S. dollars.  What’s your exchange rate?”

He gave me a ridiculous rate.  “But that’s not the bank rate,” I protested.

“Sir, if you want the bank rate, you have to go to the bank and exchange your dollar there.”

There was a money exchange booth next to the hotel, so I walked over there and emptied my wallet.  But wait until you hear this— the nightmare is still yet to happen.

I put all my U.S. dollars on the counter and asked the lady to convert them into Nepali Rupees.  As she counted my money, she set aside a few of the hundred dollar bills.  I wondered the reason for this.  What the heck was she up to?  Then, I got a rude awakening.  “Sir, I can’t take the old hundred dollar bills.”  “What’s wrong with them?” I snapped back, frustrated with the day, “They are money.” She replied, “That’s true, but that’s the order from the management, and there’s nothing I can do about it, sorry, sir.”

Wonderful, this was just what I needed on my final day in Nepal – my first trip to the country after many years.  But she was just a clerk, I shouldn’t have been mad at her.  She was doing her job as she was taught.

I walked back to the hotel lobby to meet my wife and asked her to empty her purse.  Luckily, she had some new hundred-dollar bills.  I ran back to the currency exchange booth with the new bills.  After punching in a few numbers on her calculator, she gave me a total conversion that met my expectations – and then followed it up with another piece of bad news.  “I ran out of large bills, so I have to pay you in small bills.”  No matter the denomination, money is money. So I nodded my head in agreement.

She started to count the money by hand, taking her own sweet time.  I looked at my watch nervously—time was passing by.  At this point we had about two hours and fifteen minutes before our flight.  After about 10 minutes, she finished counting and finally gave me a big stack of money and a plastic bag to put it in.  I thanked her, but as I began to shove the money in the bag, she said, “Sir, you have to count the money before you put it in the bag.”

“What?  You just counted it and I believe you,” I replied to her.

She said, “But this is the management policy.  You must count the money in front of me and tell me that you have exactly what I said I gave you.”

“Oh my God, are you kidding?  I am not an expert counter like you.  It will take me an hour to count this pile of money, and I don’t have that much time – I already am late for my flight!” As I tried to exit the room, the security guard blocked the doorway.  As I realized she wasn’t kidding, I took the money over to another counter and pretended to count it.  After two minutes, I announced that all was in there.  I reluctantly thanked her and left the booth as quickly as I could.

The nightmare was not over yet.  I took the bag of money to the hotel counter and gave it to the clerk.  You guessed right – the clerk repeated the same thing, counting one by one, so slowly that I could have died of boredom.  One thousand, two thousand… I stood there watching, jaw dropped.

A simple electric bill counter would have saved my sanity that day.  Why did the foreign exchange booth or the hotel not invest such a small amount to purchase an electronic bill counter to make life a little easier?

Back to present day California, I relayed this story to my bank teller, who listened with much interest.  She finally asked, “What country were you in?”

“It’s embarrassing to name the country.  So I am not going to tell you the name.  Sorry.” ⧓