Column published in the Observant, Maastricht
If you’ve ever played the computer game Age of Empires – that’s the sort of geek I am – you’ll know that the Dutch are always bankers. And I for one – hold on to your hats – love Dutch banks. Oh, how I adore and treasure them. Now that I’ve made the switch to Britain’s eternally backwards Lloyds TSB, I appreciate what I had with ABN AMRO. It was one of those oh-so-innocent, hassle-free, low-maintenance relationships. I never had to call. No nagging letters arrived in the post. We rarely had to see each other in person. In fact, we essentially ignored one another for four glorious years of blissful obliviousness.
Sure, there was that time when they rejected my credit card application but approved my partner’s, though I was making bucket loads more money (which wasn’t hard, since he wasn’t making any at all). But seen from the vantage point of the Stone Age of the Banking World (aka the UK), my long-dormant affection for the Dutch banking system has been reawakened. Generally speaking, I like things from England: steak and kidney pie, rugby, my parents, etc. But some things here should just be allowed to curl up and die. The enduring class system is one. Cheques are another.
Let me just reiterate that, in case you missed the key point. In Britain, they are still using cheques. CHEQUES. The first time I was presented with one, I had to ask my department secretary – who, incidentally, is herself a good 300 years old – what to do with it (‘But how does the paper get IN the computer?’). I couldn’t help but think back fondly on those innocent, carefree days with the über-modern ABN AMRO. While living in Maastricht, I did my master’s degree part time via distance learning with a British university. They demanded that I pay my tuition fees by cheque, so I paid a visit in person to my local Maastricht branch. The cashiers were as perplexed as I was. I was told to come back later so they could look for the manual, since no-one had asked for a cheque since 1983.
This pleasing propensity to drop the old and embrace the new is part of what makes the Netherlands known for innovation. And it’s almost enough for me to forgive ABN AMRO its hiccups with the wereldpas, which you can supposedly use in any ATM in the world. Except, of course, if it’s somewhere beyond the world-according-to-ABN AMRO, such as my home town in Australia. Or, you know, London. But no doubt the Brit banks are to blame for that. Somehow.