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Bank Habits

May 8, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Visits to the bank give me an education in what passes for societal norms in behavior.

Researchers in clinical psychology would probably benefit by leaving their rats and their labs and spending some time at my local bank. There they would witness a microcosm of humanity and experience a vast array of social behaviors.

I definitely think of my time in line (and I seem to have a lot of it!) as research.
The first thing I discovered is that the more they say their goal is customer service, the less they seem to mean it (verifying the Torah principle spoken in praise of Abraham that "The righteous say little and do much").

In a misguided effort, they seem to have spent significant money on redecorating their space. It is now slightly more attractive while you wait in line, but I would have preferred for the money to be used to hire another teller.

Visits to the bank give me an education in what passes for societal norms in behavior. There was one customer who seemed to have a lengthy transaction. She spent the whole time with her phone in front of her face, blocking the teller and busily text-messaging, putting her hand out when necessary to receive her money or documents. She never actually deigned to look at the employee serving her. I couldn't believe her rudeness and lack of consideration. She wasn't at the ATM machine. There was a real person standing there.

Then there is the opposite phenomenon -- the shmoozers. The tellers are their new best friends and every detail of the past weekend must be discussed. I think it's appropriate and nice to be friendly, but a long conversation when there are many people waiting in line is just another form of selfishness.

With the long wait, there is ample time to have all forms filled out before approaching the teller (in fact, they should be filled out before getting into line). Sometimes I watch, amazed, as people take their turn, empty forms in hand and begin to fill them out at the window, completely oblivious to the needs of others.

The bank experience can be very frustrating. Due to very rigid policies (or so they say), certain checks can't be cashed, certain funds not accessed. And certain customers find it very annoying. Actually all customers do, but some customers give vent to their emotions. The harried and powerless teller is subjected to a loud and nasty harangue, as all those behind them cringe in embarrassment.

Not only is it an ineffective strategy (you catch more flies with honey and all that) but it is such an obvious sign of poor character -- a volatile temper, displayed in public, with such seemingly little provocation.

Of course the greatest study opportunity of all is to observe the varying levels of patience. There are the politely patient (just waiting their turn, perhaps reading a book and smiling at everyone around them), the politely impatient (making jokes about the lines and inefficiency) and the impolitely impatient (making loud tapping or stomping noises, making loud cell phone calls and finally yelling at the manager to bring out another teller because it seems the manager could not think of that solution on his own!).

I'm lucky to live in a neighborhood where most of the stores have a community feel. Everyone knows each other and there's a lot of friendly courtesy. I also happen to spend (for a variety of reasons too uninteresting to mention) time at the bank on a very regular basis – at least once or twice a week. So I'm always slightly taken aback by the actions of one manager who insists on double checking my ID, comparing my signature to the one on file, and having me recite by heart the amount of our recent deposits (since there aren't that many of them I know the answer!). While I appreciate their caution (I have been the victim of fraud), I also think there should be some recognition of regular clientele, some sign of friendliness in return.

It is very easy to be "spiritual" alone on a mountainside. It is a greater challenge when dealing with life's daily hassles. There are certainly those customers who are succeeding. They are unfailingly polite and friendly. They are organized and considerate. Likewise there are tellers who always greet their clients with a smile and who graciously offer their assistance.

Since dealing with money seems to have the potential to bring out the worst in us, these people are to be praised. And it's a great opportunity for introspection. Where do we fall short? How could we improve? At least we have all that time in line to work on it.

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