Friday, October 16, 2009


A Wells Fargo ATM refused to give Jerry any cash this week, so a trip inside the bank elicited the explanation that some software changes were in process, temporarily shutting down the ATM. But he could have his cash “the old fashioned way” – from the hand of the teller, they said.

When he told me this I was reminded of a very funny situation that happened to us in Istanbul shortly after we moved there. The bank we used was across the street from Jerry’s office and just a few short blocks from our house. It was very convenient; the only problem was that the instructions on the ATM screen were in Turkish, of course. Ahmet Bey, our young driver, always stayed close by in case we forgot the sequence of which button should be pushed when. We just had to remember “top left button, key in pin number, bottom left button, key in withdrawal amount, and push right middle button.” If we remembered correctly, out came our money.

One day I couldn’t get that sequence to work, so I walked over to Jerry’s office to ask for his help. He was sure I hadn’t pushed the right buttons, so he watched me do it again. Nope. No money. “LET ME TRY” he said authoritatively. It didn’t work for him either.

Ahmet went into the bank and learned they had reprogrammed the ATM so that now we had to punch in a different sequence of buttons and keys. In other words, we had to mentally erase what we had just learned and remember the new sequence. We knew that if we had been able to read Turkish this wouldn’t have happened, so in a sense we had created our own problem. But obviously it would be a while, if ever, before we could read such instructions. That is why Ahmet was such a help to us.

The next weekend we were planning to head out of town on a tour arranged by the American Research in Turkey organization and we needed a little more cash than usual. Ahmet had been off on an errand so Jerry went to the ATM by himself and pushed the new sequence of buttons, keying in that he wanted 1 million Turkish Lira. (At the time that was about $200 US.) When he finished pushing the last button, the machine whirred…. and out came a piece of paper. No money. Just a paper with Turkish printing on it.

Stunned, Jerry took the paper into the bank, found the only English-speaking person on staff and asked what this paper said. The Turkish lady smiled and said to Jerry, “Oh thank you. This is your receipt for making a donation of 1 million TL to the Old Soldiers & Sailors Relief Fund in Ankara. Thank you very much.”

Jerry informed her that he had intended on withdrawing his own money for the weekend, not making a deposit. He asked her to cancel the donation and give him the money as he intended. “Oh no, we can’t ask the government for the money back,” she stated, looking a little disturbed.

A Turkish “fire drill” looks the same as a Chinese “fire drill.” There was much confusion, many people running around, lots of telephone calls, and a great deal of handwringing. Finally Jerry went across the street to his office and brought not only Ahmet but his accountant. They learned that the previous day the ATM, for the second time in a week, had been reprogrammed so the combination that gave money last week donated it this week. Finally it was decided to fax a request to the government in Ankara to cancel the donation. Quaking, the bank manager dialed the fax number, but that day the fax did not work. The fire drill crew all moved over to Jerry’s office where the faxes WERE working, and finally permission was given the bank to reimburse Jerry.

For about the next week we waited for the Turkish police to knock on our door and hand us tickets back to the U.S. Luckily it didn’t happen and at least for the time we remained there in Istanbul, the ATM worked as expected. Again, we had to acknowledge that the problem was partially of our own making, and of course it wouldn’t be the last time our lack of knowing the language exacerbated a situation.

In the privacy of our house we laughed our heads off at the commotion we caused. We felt sorry for the Old Soldiers and Sailors, and even sorrier for the Bank Manager. But you know, when you want money from your ATM , you want your money, right?

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