So I pass a certified Canadian bank cheque across the desk to Jose Nunes, my Banif banker in Madeira and ask him to put it into the account of my friend John De Carvalho. It’s a substantial amount, the annual payment to John who, after building my little house in Jardim Do Mar took back a portion of the mortgage. Jose’s fast and efficient, and I’m hoping this will take no more than a minute because I have more complicated transactions to do.
“The problem is,” says Jose, “John only has a business account with Banif and this is a personal cheque.”
After some debate, Jose picks up the phone and calls John in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he’s recovering from a serious cycling accident. John and I have a nice chat on Banif’s dime and it’s decided that I must drive to the capital of Funchal, almost an hour down the coast and deposit the cheque in John’s personal account at the bank of Santander Totta.
“This name is wrong,” says the Totta teller.
“No,” I say. “I know this man personally and that is his name plus this is a certified bank cheque, good as cash and his bank account number is written on the back where my banker, Jose Nunes wrote it. Also, Jose called ahead to tell you I was coming, right?”
“Yes, but the name on the cheque is not the name on this account.”
“His name is John De Carvalho, he’s a friend of mine and I need to put this money in his account.”
“I’m sorry but his name is not John De Carvalho. His name is Joao Francisco Gomez Carvalho.”
“Well in Portuguese yes, but ‘Joao’ is ‘John.’ Carvalho is the same last name and the numbers match so cash the cheque already.”
“But this is Portugal.”
It has taken me three trips to the Electric Company, four documents, a meter reading and another trip to Banif for a fifth document just to get the correct name on my hydro bill so, yes, I know this is Portugal.
“But that’s his name in English and you’ve already confirmed the account number matches the name on the account of Joao Francisco Gomez Winnie Mandela Whatever Carvalho, so just cash the cheque and I’ll be on my way.”
Apparently, I’m shouting at this point because the other tellers are looking our way.
After he tells me the name is wrong 22 times and he hears my rebuttal 22 times, I ask to see his supervisor. The assistant manager, a nice middle-aged woman who does not speak English comes to the counter. I explain that the certified cheque is as good as cash, the name is slightly different in English than in Portuguese but the account number is exactly the same and I understand that this could be a problem if I was trying to take money out of this account. BUT I’M TRYING TO GIVE YOU THIS GODDAMN MONEY ON BEHALF OF ONE OF YOUR BEST CLIENTS WHOSE NAME HAPPENS TO BE JOAO FRANCISCO GOMEZ WINNIE MANDELA POPE FREAKIN’ FRANCIS OF ASSISI WHATEVER CARVALHO!!!!
Things got pretty quiet in the bank. The place seemed eerily empty except of course for the 20 people now lined up behind me. The Totta teller did the translating to his boss, so for all I know they could have been discussing Portugal’s $286 billion debt crisis caused in part by bankers who actually did take money that unfortunately didn’t belong to them.
The assistant manager took me gently by the arm and to her credit, instead of calling for security or escorting me out onto the street, she led me to a staircase, pointed up and said: “Director.”
Now I’m sitting across from the bank’s manager whose name is AH, TO HELL WITH IT! and as it turns out, he knows my friend Joao Francisco Gomez Winnie Mandela Pope Freakin’ Francis Cristiano Ronaldo Hugo Chavez Whatever Carvalho personally. Personally! Finally, we’re getting somewhere!
“What do you want me to do?” he asks.
“Well, I hope this doesn’t come as a big surprise, but I would like you to cash this certified cheque into the matching account number of our mutual friend, the famous house builder John “D As In Deposit” Carvalho.
“Yes, but the name …”
“Oh, no. I will not go 23 times on this, please call John and yes, I know he’s in South Africa. So the manager calls John and we all have a nice chat on Totta’s dime and the manager wishes him a speedy recovery, hangs up the phone and says: ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do. We cannot accept this cheque.”
I know I’m beat at this point, because it’s obvious there must be a lot of suspicious characters like myself in Portugal, trying to deposit money in other peoples’ accounts. It’s like a highly illegal Robin Hood-like crime.
The International Monetary Fund is currently giving Portugal a $110 billion dollar bailout to keep them from declaring bankruptcy. From personal experience — unless the IMF officials go charging in wearing masks, carrying guns and screaming “Take all our money now!!!” — I just don’t think Portuguese banks will accept this kind of deposit.