Lynn and I decided to go to the new French restaurant here in Eleuthera. We were intrigued: Eleuthera is not known for gourmet food preparation: most restaurants serve the regular staples of peas and rice, mac and cheese, and fried or barbequed meat or fish. It’s good home cooking, but not particularly innovative. A French restaurant? What a concept!
The food was superb, particularly the chocolate souffle—light and puffy, delicate, with a dish of deep, rich chocolate sauce on the side. You dig a little hole in the center of the souffle, watch it collapse in on itself, and then pour in the chocolate sauce. Magnificent!
But I digress. A meal at such a singular establishment does not come cheap, of course. So I asked the dread question: “Do you take credit cards?”
“Oui”, was the surprising reply.
What we’ve found here on the out-islands (“family islands” is tourist-speak for places like Eleuthera), is that modern banking methods leave much to be desired. Credit cards are virtually unheard of, utility bills are usually paid in person and in cash, checks (even on local banks) are not acceptable for most transactions, and the banks themselves do everything they can to prevent a successful transaction rather than accommodate it.
For instance, our bank – Scotia Bank of the Bahamas – is legendary for its unfriendliness, even among the native Bahamians. An hour wait in line is customary if you’re doing your banking, and you stand (no chairs or coffee or a writing desk), crumpled paperwork in hand, watching the clerks discuss lunch break, the curious actions of the copy machine, and their manicures. Either that or they stare fixedly into huge, clunky computer monitors, waiting for the secrets of creation to be revealed to them. (For Americans, this stare is analogous to that of the airline ticket agent re-booking your ticket after a weather delay).
Once you do reach the head of the line, the level of service at Scotia Bank in Rock Sound is nothing short of obstructionist, Lynn arrived in the Bahamas with a couple thousand dollars in cash to deposit in her account so she could pay bills, and was told that she could only deposit $400 cash per day. Scotia rejected my $100 Am Ex travelers check because my two signatures weren’t exactly the same. Lynn had corrected a date on a check, initialed the correction, and the bank refused it—even though she was standing in front of the clerk. And numerous times customers have been told that the automatic teller machine was out of cash, and would not be functional until a certain time one or two days hence when the cash supply would be replaced.
Last year I wrote to the Scotia Bank corporate headquarters in Canada. “Scotia Bank in Rock Sound, Eleuthera, is an embarrassment to your organization,” I told them – to no avail.
The moral of this story: bring plenty of cash to the Bahamas. Plastic, paper, and electronic funds transfer don’t work in the out-islands.
Last week I had to change my airplane ticket on Bahamas Air: I wanted to head home a week earlier than I had originally planned. Of course, an online ticket change is not possible in the Bahamas, so I headed for the Rock Sound Airport, planning to be there at a time when no planes were arriving.
From the parking lot I could hear the music from inside the terminal. It was loud, solemn, church-y, funereal. “This is not even a Sunday,” I thought. “What is going on?”
Inside, a group of about 15 Bahamians were watching the ancient television set mounted high on the wall. An Anglican bishop was being buried, and his funeral was broadcast live (and loudly). Everyone in the airport was transfixed, a room full of motionless statues.
The Bahamas Air ticket agent reluctantly invited me into her office, a tiny cubical with one desk, mounds of paper, and a single folding chair, currently occupied by a man in a wilted white shirt who was obviously the supervisor of the Rock Sound office of the airline. He was looking wan and pale under his dark skin.
“This has been a terrible day,” he mourned, accompanied by the solemn Anglican hymns from the next room. “It is the first day of our new Bahamas Air computerized ticketing program, and it’s been nothing but problems since 6 AM this morning.”
“Yes,” said the clerk. “We were trained on it last November, but now we’ve forgotten everything.”
The two of them huddled over the ancient computer, discussing the best strategy for changing my ticket. Should they cancel the old and write a new one? Just change the date and time on the existing data file? Should they enter the data in all capital letters, and put dashes in my telephone number?
It was at least a half hour while they worked through these problems.
“Ah, I think we got it,” said the clerk. “But now it wants more information. Do you have an e-mail address?”
I told her I did: judith at judith lindenau dot com. She asked me to spell everything, including the ‘at’. When I told her one used the ‘at’ sign in an email address, she looked confused until I showed her on her keyboard where the “@” was located. Then she got it.
For this she charged me a $30 change fee.
“Do you accept credit cards?” I asked.
She looked helplessly at her supervisor. “Of course,” he said, wearily. “I will have to go in out to the ticket counter and plug in the phone line extension to the machine.”
He opened the office door, and the dark chants of the funeral mass surrounded us.