The Best Little Bank in the World by Helen Bing
Money. Currencies. How much, how little. Where to go to get more money when the funds are running low. Our bank at home had recommended taking cash with us rather than using cards, because many of the ports we were going to would not necessarily have handy cash machines. We have also always found it nice and easy to have cash to use in market places, where we tourists often congregate. But, we really needed some more American dollars. We had left home with what we thought was enough, but somehow they were disappearing at an alarming rate.
At home it’s straight forward. Go to your bank or a Foreign Exchange, hand over one lot of money get it swapped to another. For a small transaction fee, its all done.
We assumed it would be the same in America. After all, it was their currency we wanted. Easy, yes? No. Into a very pleasant bank in New London, Connecticut we went. The air outside was steamy hot - the bank was cool. Did they do Foreign Exchange? No, said the lovely staff. Actually, they were seriously lovely, even offering to let my husband and his walker stay there to keep cool while I went to find the other bank. Just go back on to the main road, they said, and take the next road on the right. They’ll be able to help you.
Off we went to find a rather imposing building with glass doors and air conditioned coolness. Bliss. We stood for a moment not sure where to go when a “Can I help?” called to us from behind a bullet proof, glass shielded counter to our left.
“We need to buy some dollars,” we say.
“You don’t have an account with us, do you. If you want us to help, that will be US$20. Then there’s the transaction fees, etc etc”
“Oh,” we say. “Thanks for your help anyway. Good bye.”
Obviously American banks were not going to be very much use.
And so we continued our travels watching our dollars carefully, which probably wasn’t a bad thing, until we got to American Samoa. There, in the centre of town was the ANZ bank, so, not feeling overly hopeful, in I went leaving my husband outside under a shady tree.
Inside there was a large airy room. No fancy air conditioning, just big ceiling fans. And signs to show you where to go.
I went over to the information desk to ask about exchanging some Australian currency (yes I know, I’m a Kiwi not Australian, but that’s what the ship works on) to American dollars. It was absolutely possible, not problem at all. After a brief conversation asking me where I was from and being told where her relations were playing rugby, I was given a number and asked to go and sit on one of the chairs that had been placed under the fans. Not a queue in sight. How civilised.
Now the islands are not known for speed, but who cares. I didn’t have to stand in a queue, I was cool, and so far things were going just fine. It took a little while for my number to be called, but finally I went up to the allotted counter. No fancy security here, just a face to face talk with a lovely young teller who, it turned out, had family in Auckland. Fortunately, I had my drivers license on me because I did need a photo ID. No, I hear you thinking, I didn’t think to take my passport ashore. My license and my details disappeared into an office somewhere to be photocopied, bits of paper were stamped, drawers were delved into and my lovely bright Aussie dollars were replaced with the somewhat uninspiring, but very useful American equivalent.
Forty-five minutes later I emerged from the bank into the sun of beautiful Pago Pago to find my husband still sitting under the same tree where I had left him. His first thoughts - that bar up the road everybody was saying is so nice.
I left him there with his cool glass of Vailima beer while I went shopping. I really should have got a few more dollars!