Government-run banks in Argentina are a breed of institution apart. Take a good deep breath before you go in, because you never know when you will encounter fresh air again. A variety of snake-like queues slowly writhe towards distant counters, and the space between same is usually occupied by lost souls trying to ascertain which snake might best fit their purpose. Personally I find the security guard is the best source of information despite (or possibly because?) being employed by a third party contractor rather than the bank itself. It represents progress therefore that our San Francisco branch of the national bank has replaced their standing in line with a system of numbered tickets, cheese counter style, and a waiting area with seats and a TV. Hence I arrived this morning and took number 45. A glance at the screen showed that they were currently serving number 13, so I stood and watched to make sure that the screen was definitely working, and thus decided that I had time to go and do the rest of my shopping first. Arriving back half an hour later, we were now up to number 40. Result. So I sat and waited, till the lady next to me said, “You’ve got a baby they’ll serve you first if you go up”. I always find that one something of a dilemma… while I might not inspect the dentistry of a gift horse if it’s offered, I’m not totally comfortable with the idea of taking the initiative to push past a room full of people who have been patiently queuing since breakfast time, especially since babe was quite happy sitting in his little rucksack. As it happened my dithering was cut short since the cashier noticed and sure enough called me up ahead of the queue. It was only at that point that I realised they weren’t serving number 40; it was 940, and I didn’t have number 45; I had 045, not five people from the front but a hundred and five. And thus the moral of the story is this; anyone planning on doing any banking in Argentina would be well advised first to borrow a baby.
On the way home, I called in at my favourite pasta shop to pick up a box of raviolis (real ones, not tinned by Heinz!) for lunch. “They’re not quite ready, so if you can wait a few minutes…”. In front of me a guy pummels a mound of dough, while his wife behind the counter fields a succession of other small-business employees delivering ingredients; a ham, a box of spinach. Food doesn’t come much more fresh and local than this; now that´s my kind of waiting.