Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Oh... my

During dinner, I was mentally composing the entry I'd write.  I was eating at a restaurant in downtown Reykjavik, and had several borderline interesting observations to make about the food, the city, my travelling habits, and so forth.

After dinner, I waited a good ten minutes, but they never handed me the bill.  Thinking back to last night at Pizza Hut -- I'd had to walk up to the counter to pay -- I figured maybe this was some Icelandic custom of which I was unaware, so I went up to the lady at the bar (where the cash register was) and said something about how I should probably pay her before I left.

She ran a computer printout of what I ate.  It was in Icelandic, but I assumed it was right (had the right amount of items on it, anyway).  I handed her my Mastercard.  She ran it.  She ran it again.

She shows me the slips the credit card machine printed up -- they all say-- well, they say something in Icelandic, but she tells me it means "No answer."

No problem.  I am carrying another credit card.  Problem.  It is also a Mastercard.  (I used to carry a Mastercard and a VISA, but Citibank changed my VISA to a Mastercard behind my back.)  It gets rejected too.

No problem.  There's an ATM nearby.  I run down to the ATM, leaving my jacket in the restaurant as a sign of my good faith.  I stick my ATM card in the cash machine.  It says (and it says it in English, as I was able to select my language) "BREAKDOWN -- Unable to dispense money."  This is not good.  I give it my OTHER ATM card.  Same response.

I run back to the restaurant.  I tell them what happened.  The guy at the restaurant (there's one girl and one guy, and, I assume, a chef in back) tells me there's another ATM belonging to a different bank down the street.  Try them.

I do.  I take my coat this time.  Good faith is one thing, but freezing my buns off is another.

I get to the ATM.  I give it my first card.  It says "Please wait" for an eternity.  Some guy appears and waits in line behind me.  I drum my fingers in annoyance at the "Please wait."  Finally, I decide to cancel the transaction and see if this other guy can have any luck with his card.  I hit "Cancel" and it doesn't work.  It's sorta like when you hit "Esc" when your computer is in the middle of something and won't let go.  Finally, the ATM gives me the same "Breakdown -- No cash for you" message.  I retrieve my card, take a step back from the ATM, and gesture to the guy to be my guest.

He tries.  He fails.  I don't even bother with my other ATM card.  I count all the money in my pockets.  I'm about 1500 kronur short on the bill, but could cover it if they'd take American money.  I go back to the restaurant again.

Good news!  Well, not that good.  The system isn't working again, but it now rejected someone else's card, so the restaurant is now fairly certain that I'm not trying to get out of paying.  I offer the American money.  He declines.  He goes digging through a nearby drawer -- his junk drawer.  I can tell because everything is jammed in there totally unorganized.  (In a way, I was pleased to see that, because everything else I've seen in Iceland is so tidy and organized, it's almost like the Stepford Country.)  Anyway, dude is throwing around miscellaneous receipts, an electronic translator, and a nearly empty box of ballpoint pens, and he finally finds one of them old-fashioned credit card imprint machines.

He does not, however, find the slips that you use in said machine.

He finally gives up.  He tries the Mastercard again -- and again generates a slip with the total, my credit card number, and a "No answer" notation.  He staples this to a piece of paper which he asks me to sign.  I did, and left -- with him wanting to believe he'd be able to put it through once the system went back up, and me wanting to believe he'd tear up the slip once he put through the bill and only the bill.

Ah, the spirit of international trust.

1 comment:

pegluh said...

Icelanders are a pretty trusting and gracious lot.