Monday, September 25, 2006

The Return of the Nasty American

Even though I have been cursed at (in more than one language), forced to use the men's toilet, reduced to tears over 4 cents in a department store, tram-wrecked, evacuated by threat of bomb, laughed at, stalked, rained/sleeted/hailed/snowed on, propositioned by more than one dirty old man, deprived of Mexican food, insulted, forced to engage in road rage, beaten by an old lady with a cane, terrorized by the very spawn of Satan, concussed, and, oh yeah, deported, I have tried to maintain the attitude of a good global citizen. Some days, I'm better at it than others. Yesterday, wasn't one of them. (For the first appearance of the nasty American, see December 2005 archives, "From Good Global Citizen to Nasty American in 1 Hour and 52 Minutes.")

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of searching for an ATM machine in Brussels, it's not like in the States where the things are on every corner, in every convenience store, Indian reservation and fast-food joint. Even living in the city center, the closest ATM to my house (which, by the way, is not on my bank network) is 7 blocks away. Fortunately, the machines that I have found do not charge a service fee for non-customers of the bank, which is a good thing, because Dan, who has never said a word about how much money I spend on shoes, has a tendency to go stark-raving mad over a $1.50 service charge for ATM fees.

I was in front of the ATM machine at the KBC bank on Rue Antoine Dansaert (the one where the scaffolding is finally being removed after all these months), and this blonde-haired guy wearing a green army jacket and carrying a black backpack steps in front of me and walks right up to the ATM machine. As I was in a fairly good mood, I decided to let it slide.

The guy, who I will call Rudy, had his ATM card in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. Rudy was much more interested in putting the cigarette into his mouth than he was in putting his ATM card into the machine. Since I had no idea what kind of transaction he was contemplating, I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he may need nicotine courage to get through the ordeal, and I waited patiently as he took a long pull on the cigarette.

Several puffs later, I was no closer to getting my turn at the ATM. Thinking that he may have somehow failed to see me when he cut directly in front of me, I coughed, politely, to let him know that I was, in fact, still waiting patiently for the machine. He turned, shot me an annoyed look, and held up one finger, which I interpreted to mean that he was only going to be a minute longer. Wrong. I guess it is French for "Not only am I'm going to finish smoking this cigarette, I'm going to light another one and I will get around to using the ATM when I'm good and ready, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it."

As he fumbled for his lighter and a pack of Marlboro Reds, I fought to contain the rage that was building up in me. I tried to reason with myself. I wasn't in a hurry. I could use the time going over the list of things I wanted to get done that day. I could start naming all the things I was thankful for.

By the time he got his second, cigarette lit, I was calm again. How stupid would it be to lose it over an ATM machine? Besides, I was the one that did not want to walk all the way to the ING bank to use the multiple machines at that location. Serves my lazy-ass right!

Rudy finally put his card into the machine. This particular machine is insanely slow, so I was expecting a little bit of a wait while his transaction cleared. While I was waiting, this cute little girl in a blue and white dress with a pixie haircut starts walking toward the bank machine. Oh good, I thought, someone I can wait in line with and share looks of annoyance and exchange rolls of our eyes as we wait for Rudy to get his act together.

Pixie girl had a few problems, not the least of which is that she did not know how to form a proper single-file line. She did not take her place behind me, as would be normal under the circumstances. Nor, did she stand on either side of me, which would have been equally appropriate in proper line formation. No, Princess, positioned herself in FRONT of me, and slightly to the side. To anyone approaching the machine, from her position, it would be logical to conclude that Princess was next in line to use the machine and that I, the one that has been waiting through multiple cigarettes, would be second.

I was momentarily distracted from Princess when I saw Rudy take his ATM card out of the machine. Thinking he was finished, I took a step forward -- merely for Princess's benefit. I wanted her to know that I had been waiting for the machine, that I was next to use the machine, and that I had no intention of allowing anyone to cut in front of me (again) to get to the machine. Princess stepped forward too. At this point, I'm good and irritated. Princess is clearly working in concert with Rudy to put me over the edge.

Speaking of Rudy, I'm was beginning to think that chances were he would die of lung cancer before I got to use the ATM. He pulled his ATM card out, only to replace it with another one. He also took this opportunity to light his third cigarette. Frustrated and out of patience, I asked, "Will you be much longer?" Rudy, as his name suggests, ignored me.

I looked at Princess Pixie and said, matter-of-factly, "I'm next." She, too, basically ignored me. I took a step closer to the machine. PP did the same. Oh, so she wants to play, huh? I hoped Princess brought her A-game, because she was going to need it! Good global citizen had officially taken a backseat to pissed-off, smoked-out, competitive Nasty American!

I took a huge step forward and sideways, basically, blocking Princess Pixie from the machine. I felt like Shaq posting up under the basket. Screw the discreet distance. We are now standing way inside Rudy's personal space. Not only could I see his fingers (assuming they ever got around to entering a PIN), I could read the screen. The bank was not accepting Rudy's card.

Rudy, working on his third cigarette and third card, is starting to get distracted by all the action that is going on directly behind him. Concerned that this may push him to a fourth cigarette, I say to Rudy, "It's ok. She's trying to cut. How much longer?" Rudy looks at PP, PP rolls her eyes, and they both ignore me.

By this time, the two men taking down the scaffolding are just standing there, waiting to see what happens. Rudy finally finds a card that the machine will accept, and he is waiting for his receipt. I take this opportunity to turn my head and stare down Princess Pixie, while raising my arms at my sides ever so slightly, so as to further impede any forward progress on the part of PP. She looked at me with this bored aloofness, that, quite frankly, I found more annoying than her proximity and rudeness, simply because it made her look even cuter! I committed myself right then and there that there was no way in hell that she was going to get to the machine before me, even if it meant a catfight, which I'm sure is what the construction crew was hoping for!

As Rudy was leaving, probably to buy another pack of cigarettes to get him through the next 30 minutes, I stepped up to the machine and shoved my card into it. I turned to shoot PP a victory glance, but she was gone! Turns out, she didn't even need to use the machine, she was just waiting on Rudy.

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

3 Comments:

Blogger woman wandering said...

Deargod, I want to sympathise and I was and then came the last line and I roared with laughter. I'm sorry.

What a horrible experience!!!!
(There, I think the exclaimation marks convey my experience).

I do hate the way people queue-jump here. We simply don't do it in NZ so the European way takes some getting used to.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Cindy Lane said...

With my luck, there is some European blog somewhere describing the dumb American that went psycho at the ATM machine! It would serve me right.

3:58 PM  
Blogger V-Grrrl said...

Too bad you don't have a penis. It would have been nice to pull out and pee with, marking your place in the queue and expediting Rudy, man of a thousand cards and cigarettes but appaprently no EUROS.

6:35 PM  

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