Posted by: 4initalia | January 23, 2009


All is well here, if you consider the cappucino, the pasta, the freshness of the produce, and the general fabulosoity of the surroundings. From the perspective of a person who would like to withdraw cash from a cash machine. it’s not so good.

Yesterday, I went to the market for some supplies for an Obama bash. I bought roses at an outdoor stand, I’ll wrap them with ribbon and give some to everyone in our apartment building. At the market I bought ribbon, some party food, a heap of small things. I gave the cashier my debit card. She swiped it and said it didn’t work. How embarassing. So I handed her my backup debit card – that didn’t work, either. There are people behind me in line and the stupid American’s cards don’t work.

No problema – I took my card to the ATM. I put in my card, I put in my PIN, the machine asks how money much I want, I’ll get this done quickly…and then the ATM screen says “Card rejected. Card retained.” Card rejected? Card RETAINED????? !! The machine ATE my card. My groceries are already rung up, there are people waiting in line, and This is not going well. I go back to the cashier and try to explain, but she’s not at all interested. The ATM ATE my card? This seems to require some humanitarian assistance, but that’s not happening. The manager flicks a glazed eyeball at me and they start putting my groceries away.

Who needs embarassment? I’ve moved on to shock – when I packed for Italy, I didn’t bring any credit cards, because I can’t pay the money back. So Miss Responsible brought only my debit cards. Now neither of my cards work and one has been confiscated. This is not a positive development. And there’s not even a phone number on the ATM.

But I have a get out of jail free card – it’s the business card of Sharolyn’s sister, Melanie. Melanie is an American who has lived here for years and can fix any logistical problem, in several languages. So I called Melanie. Melanie said “These people will not help you unless you insist. Give the phone to the store manager, and I’ll talk to her.”

There was a long conversation, which involved a lot of head shaking, but eventually Melanie got them to give her a number for the bank that owns the machines. From Milan, she figures out which company services that machine at my grocery store a hundred miles away – Melanie should be in charge of everything. Of course my cell phone is running low, so I go home and call my bank. My helpful bank person says that the ATM confiscated my old, expired card; it wouldn’t work anyway. So we’re even. But Melanie calls back and says that the bank has sent a guy to the store to get my card back – I need to wait for him.

So I go back to the store, and the very nice ATM guy opens the machine, gives me back my card. But I ask him to wait while I try the other card, so I know it works and I can get the groceries. I put in the card, enter the PIN…”Card rejected. Card retained.”

RETAINED? What IS it with this country? You could rob a bank, and they wouldn’t keep your card. You pull an armed robbery, get hard time, get out of prison, stroll directly to an ATM, and the bank will pump out a stack of fresh twenties: “Here’s your cash, we’re all still friends.”

My account is fine, I have money, I tell them my PIN and t’s all over. What???!!

Today we went to our Italian bank. Well, it’s not exactly our bank, yet. It’s still their bank: they let us give them money, but we can’t have it back. We can make deposits, but to make withdrawals, to give us an ATM card, they’ll need a few more days, maybe some more documents. It takes time for Italians to trust you enough to give you money through little plastic cards. It’s all new, you see, this money for plastic idea.

We chatted amibiably about how we can’t take money out of our account, and all agreed that we should check back in a few days and see if we could take our money then. Since we were now practically related. I asked about my debit card. We put it in their ATM, I put in the PIN, and: “Card retained.”

I’m starting to get a little peevone, here. Everyone else has fistfulls of credit cards that they can’t possibly pay off, is able to wrack up mountains of debt – I’m not allowed to touch a dime of my own money. Is this fair?

The Italian bank guy calls someone, who explains the problem: I have used my card too many times – “too many operations.” I have no idea what that could possibly mean, but I love that he actually tried to help. And I HAVE to say, he’s completely adorable in that Italian way that makes you forgive them everything, especially if it involves sex or cappucino. Well the sex is out, so I’m totally ready for coffee.

I called my bank again, and this time the helpful bank person said both of my debit cards were cancelled, and they sent me a new one, on December 29th. I distinctly recall talking to the customer service person at my bank the week before we left. “I’m going to be in Italy for a year.” I said. “When were you planning to tell us that?” she demanded. “I’m telling you now. And is there something you want to mention about the solvency of this financial institution?” Okay, no, I didn’t ask that, but this openness thing does not seem to go both ways.

So when I say, “I’m leaving for Italy next week” the bank interprets this as “this is a great time to cancel her old card and send a new one to Lakewood, Colorado.” The two cards had the same number, so both cards went kaput at the same time, just before I set my Obama festivity purchases on the conveyor belt at the grocery store. I don’t need Italians to drive me to financial ruin, I can do that in English. My country tis of thee, I don’t think so.

I still don’t have a debit card, and the Italian bank is still mulling over our relationship. So everyone out there who has plastic money, go for it. Have fun, at my expense. Just watch out that you don’t perform too many operations. If you do, try Melanie at

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