Thursday, July 20, 2006

Deposits and Souvenirs

The final few days were a frenzy of seeing people and places one more time before leaving for Florida. We returned to Prague Tuesday evening, the 6th. I wrote this on Monday, June 12 and when we are on the plane flying back.

The Fulbright folks worked the Vodafone connection for me, but even in Czech they could not convince Vodafone to put my 5,000 czk deposit for my internet service back on the credit card to which I charged it. I love this story because it is so wonderfully typical of Czech people.

In the Czech Republic, process is important. There are procedures and processes for how things are done. They cannot be changed; they must be followed. To return a deposit on an internet account with Vodafone, the process is that you wait two weeks after the service is disconnected. It can only be disconnected as of a billing day. My billing day is the 24th of the month. When the two weeks have elapsed, Vodafone sends the customer a notice saying she can go to the Post Office and pick up the deposit, in cash. This is a cash economy. For the most part, only foreigners have credit cards and only places that deal with foreigners accept them.

Of course, I will be in Florida when the notice arrives at my former apartment telling me I can go to the Prague central Post Office to get my deposit back. The Fulbright folks advanced me the 5,000 czk (about $250). I then went with one of them to the Post Office where, passport in hand, I got a notary (more like a lawyer, here) to help us arrange something like a limited power-of-attorney so she could pick up my deposit, when the notice arrives, and reimburse Fulbright.

Then I went to the Vodafone office and cancelled the service, although it will not be really turned off until June 24, since the process insists on that date. I learned what I owe, so far for this billing cycle, 600 czk (about $25)...but the process does not allow the store clerk to know if that includes the monthly service change of 238 czk or only the variable download/upload charges.

Next, since the process does not allow the customer to pay at the store, I went to the Bankomat (ATM) down the street and tried three times to pay 840 czk. That amount is the 600 I knew I owed plus the 238 I might owe, rounded up because the process cannot deal with numbers unless they are divisible by 5.

Alas, the Bankomat rejected the transaction. Back at the Vodafone store I explained the problem to my favorite clerk, a Polish immigrant who went to college in Canada where he learned to speak English and to be good-humoredly sympathetic to foreigners who are less than fluent in the language and less than knowledgeable about how the process works in the country.

His guess was that the Bankomat didn't like my foreign debit card. Some Czech banks apparently have a process that rejects foreign cards.

He walked us back to the Bankomat and paid the 840 with his Czech card, thank goodness he is one of the few who has one. We gave him the 840 in cash. He wished us a God-Bless and we returned it with a heartfelt thank you. One deposit finished!

My other deposit is on my apartment. I was anxious enough about getting it back that I called the real estate agent who helped us find the place, and asked her to come for the closing procedure. She called the property manager ahead of time and got an agreement that he would return the deposit, in cash, at the closing procedure. Of course, the process didn't allow for that! Although the agent was willing, the process was not.

The three of us went through the closing procedure, checking off the four pages of items that I was responsible for leaving in the apartment when I left. They included 3 radiators in the living room and 1 in the bedroom, a toilet, a dishwasher, a range top, an oven, 3 plastic drinking classes in the bathroom, 2 soap dishes, 6 forks, 6 knives, 5 spoons, and so on and on in Czech. I never receive a copy in English. The program manager agreed that everything that ought to be was still in residence. However, he needs to go to the gas and electric and find out if my pro-rata monthly payment actually covered my costs. Then they will do a wire transfer of my deposit to my US account. He was really sorry for the inconvenience, but that's the process.

Czechs are really patient. They have a sense of humor about process. They do whatever they can to beat the process, and, thank goodness, are totally kind about helping the uninitiated beat it too, when that's possible. But when it isn't....oh well, that's the way it is.

I rewarded myself for getting through to the "oh well" stage on both deposits by going souvenir shopping. Russ and I looked for Bohemian crystal wine glasses, unsuccessfully. But we found abundant trinkets to hang on our Christmas tree and some nice jewelry.

For our last Prague walk we strolled across the Charles Bridge and back through Old Town Square. The big tv screens were set up and lots of people were drinking beer and watching the World Cup game. It was a warm evening and we didn't even wear jackets....the perfect Prague good bye.