English notes by a Ukrainian woman. Part 3: “To the bakery by cab.”

07.07.2022Irina Potanina

After Russia's attack on Ukraine, saving her two sons, Irina Potanina - a Russian-speaking Ukrainian writer from Kharkiv, author of more than 30 works of fiction in various genres for children and adults - moved to the UK at the invitation of relatives. Now she works in a small cafe, believes in the imminent victory of her country and keeps a personal diary. Excerpts from it Winter shares with readers. This - the third - is about how banks in England differ from banks in Ukraine (though not only banks, many things differ, and the third chapter is about that too).

You can read the first part here and the second part here.

By another eight in the morning I was so tired that for the first time in my time in Britain I decided to call a cab.

In my case, it amounts to betrayal. If only because I violate the fraternal code of modern Ukrainians, where every spare penny goes to volunteers. But there are two sides to every coin, and I allowed myself to consider the second one: since I earn, I can spend. I’ll drop Igor off at school and come to work at my cafe not as a chicken, drenched from the rain, but as a human being.

Ha! You wish! In one cab service an automatic girl advised to apply after 11 o’clock, in another – a little sleepy but friendly man said that he had a covid, and his wife is loaded so that all routes are scheduled for a couple of days ahead, in the third simply did not pick up the phone …

I just got a call from my oldest son. He’s a “boarding” student, and the morning “what’s up – love you – see you later” usually happens in text format. But now something of the lessons carried over, and I, of course, began to describe everything in colors:

– It is especially symbolic that my cafe is essentially a bakery,” I say, which makes the bakery quote even funnier: “Our people don’t take cabs to the bakery”. You remember that line from the movie, right?

Son Ivan is at that marvelous upper teenage age, when you are still sure that you are a hundred times smarter than your parents, and already, in truth, smarter in some things. So he answered me like this:

– Of course I remember. Except it’s not from a movie, it’s from an anecdote, and it’s not about a bakery, it’s about a laundromat. And actually, normal people hail cabs using an app, not by voice.

Okay, let’s put an app on it. This time I was informed about the lack of available cars by a beautiful inscription on the screen. And I, of course, felt a terrible homesickness.

Our cab driver may be too talkative or haughtily silent, he may be late or, on the contrary, arrive too early and demand payment for demurrage, he may argue with the navigator about the route, sing along to songs from the radio or chat on the phone all the way, but at least he is definitely there. Within fifteen minutes, a car will come to pick you up anywhere in the city and take you wherever you say, because the cab driver most often has kids who want to eat and play on an iPad. English cab drivers have babies too, but as I’ve come to realize, whether or not they’ll have an iPad doesn’t depend at all on whether or not their parents have jobs. And that makes the service in Ukraine an order of magnitude better. Well, it did, because now it’s war…

War is always bad timing, but it’s still a shame that the aggravation happened just now, when (and you only realize this after losing it) it’s been twenty years since everything was fine. Despite a lot of problems (let’s not forget that the first time modern Ukraine was attacked was eight years ago), the country managed to live a decent life and, most importantly, to constantly develop. People have already got apartments, cars, exotic vacations and plans for their children’s education in prestigious universities, but there is still the need to work, and quite a lot and with full dedication. As a result, we had an excellent, handmade and lovingly created by private business infrastructure: round-the-clock cafes, beauty salons, working without weekends, a lot of competing companies trying to lure customers with prices and other perks. In short, beauty, work until the last customer, and not this one, nurtured by stability and satiety “sorry, we close in half an hour, and we still clean the floors, can you do shopping in another store?” ….

– Now,” I sigh into Ivan’s phone, “our first-grader will definitely be late for school. You know what situation this reminds me of?

– I know. Some. – The son replies nonchalantly. But curiosity still wins out: – I’m just kidding. Tell me, of course.

Ivan, to remember the analogy, was enough to mention that this is the story of how I went to the bank, but here, I will describe in more detail.

After arriving in England and realizing that I would be moving back and forth for a long time, I decided to turn it into a cashless account to avoid carrying cash (leftovers from NZ for a rainy day). And in dollars, since it so happened that I opened a dollar account in the bank.

– I see, – having listened to my task, said the girl behind the cash register in the branch. – But you see, we had a bank holiday yesterday, so we’re all very tired.

I have to say that I was there for the bank opening, so I was a little surprised that it was the weekend that had everyone so exhausted, but the girl was relentless:

– Would you like to come back later?

I didn’t want to, but I didn’t dare to argue, so I took off work and came to the bank in the afternoon.

– Oh,” the girl said after listening to me again. – It’s not an easy task. It’s probably best to have a good professional handle you.

She called a young lady in her fifties and retired to the hall to help people at the ATMs. Here I was surprised again – this time that no one in line behind me was outraged. After all, it turns out, we weren’t going to be served by a pro before….

– It’s beautiful! – The specialist smiled at me and began to scrutinize my five bills of one hundred dollars each. – Let’s get started, shall we?

She typed something into the computer, took a yellow sticker (the kind offices use to attach notes to monitors) and carefully handwrote “$500” on it. Then she pulled out a regular mailing envelope, counted my five bills again, and loaded them inside. Then she wrote “$500” again – this time on the envelope – and froze, staring tensely into the monitor. I cautiously tried to figure out what was wrong.

– To be honest,” I was told with great cordiality in response, “you and I are now just waiting for the request to reach the central office and for them to find a team that can fulfill our task. I’m sorry. Yesterday was a day off, so it’s a little difficult for us today. Especially all of them in the central office… Well, you know.

Though I didn’t understand, I nodded.

For the next twenty minutes we discussed the city, the weather and the difficulties of Ukrainian refugees (the young lady’s boyfriend often goes on business trips, so she understands how difficult it is when loving souls have to be in different countries). I was already thinking of leaving – the half an hour I had asked for at work was rapidly melting away – but then the computer beeped and the lady said that everything was ready.

– Great job! – She praised herself and sealed the envelope with my money. – Have a good day! Five hundred dollars will appear in your account tonight. Tomorrow at the latest.

The desire to be modern and conform to British standards fought my fear of losing money. The last one won:

– And could you give me, well… some kind of paper that I deposited into the account… well….

– Yeah, no problem! – said the young lady and, taking another yellow sticker, wrote on it the sacred inscription “500 dollars”, wrote some number at the bottom and with a very serious expression handed me this sheet.

My soul, accustomed to the fact that any sneeze must be confirmed by a dozen forms with stamps, seals and signatures of all involved, was in confusion. But I didn’t listen to her. I took my yellow sticker and, thanking the specialist, went to work, scrolling in my head shameful pictures of how I will explain to the court in case of missing money, why I gave my EO without complaint, without receiving any receipt in return. What kind of a joke is this? I realize they have centuries of impeccable work, but could they still have taken care of the paperwork for the peace of mind of anxious customers?

However, the entire sum was safely deposited into my account that evening, and I forgot all my resentments.

The ride to school that morning also, incidentally, ended perfectly. First of all, my son Ivan had been Googling and found a free cab, and secondly, the owners of the household where we live, having seen this, not only offered to give us a ride if it rained, but also said that they would start giving me driving lessons in left-hand traffic in the near future. Why? So that I can borrow their car as needed in the future. They have two, and on one, of course, I can drive Igor to school …

And you know, all my complaints about countries with a high standard of living instantly evaporated. Let it be tall, what’s the big deal!

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