Our first real encounter with Spanish banks was in 1980 when we’d only been in Madrid a few days. We’d found a flat, and we needed to change the last of our travellers’ cheques to pay the deposit and first month’s rent. We’d checked the board outside showing the exchange rates and calculated that we’d have just enough left over to keep us going until the end of the month, when Dave would get his first pay cheque.
But when the cashier gave us the slip to sign, it seemed we’d living on bread and water for the rest of the month. We’d changed travellers’ cheques before, but the commission had never been that high. They couldn’t charge us 50 quid to change £400, could they?
“Shouldn’t it come out to more than that?”
“That’s the rate – 150 pesetas to the pound”
“But it says outside it’s 175 pesetas to the pound.”
“Oh, that’ll be yesterday’s rate. 150 is today’s rate. It’s changed.”
“That much? It’s a big change in one day, isn’t it?”
He shrugged. “Well, that’s the rate – I just asked my colleague.”
“It’s probably something to do with the recession in the UK,” he said, with all the assurance of an expert economist. “But that’s the rate.”
At which point I burst into tears.
“Look, those are the rates there”, he said, walking over to the screen in front of his colleague to prove his point to the couple of idiot Brits at the counter making a fuss. “Oh.”
His mate had quoted him the rate for the Irish pound.
So we got our 70,000 pesetas, and he was very happy to have solved the problem for us. He turned to me and asked, “¿Estás contenta?” It didn’t occur to him that he might have had something to do with me being descontenta.