Anytime during the day that I walk into the establishment, it would reek with the strong heavy aroma of roasted dark coffee beans with cardamon. Everybody around me has a frown on their faces, maybe from all the coffee they are drinking, and all men have some sort of facial hair.
Like visiting my grandmother, it is impossible for me to leave there in less than 20 minutes, regardless how simple my request is, whether I have an appointment or not, I am held captive of trivial talks of events, politics, markets, and internal office gossip of marriage and divorce.
If what I need requires a phone call to another department then I have to hear about upcoming holiday plans, updates of soccer leagues, and latest movies playing in the cinema, before getting into the core of the matter. I was later told that this is the unsaid protocol within the staff. Otherwise it would seem that the person calling would only call when he needed something which is considered a cultural faux pas. Apparently they seem to believe colleagues call each other for greetings and small talk and whatever business request they were inquiring about are side matter that happen to come up.
The curiosity that looms within the office is like the smoke of their cigarettes that incense the place. Like my grandmother’s neighbor who hides behind the curtains and eyes the entrance to see who have come and left and then calls her friends and says “Farida, do you know who visited Um Omar today?” The employees would scavenge the dealings of the customers for their water cooler gossip.
I once asked for the manager to oversee a certain transaction of considerable value. The clerk refused to fetch the manager with the pretense that he would be reprimanded for calling the manager without reason. So I helped myself to the manager’s office, but the clerk kept following me saying that I cannot go into the manager’s office without being let in. The manager’s secretary stood in awe as she saw me knocking on his door. She pleaded with me to wait, but her bureaucratic logic failed to convince me. The clerk made sure to remain within hearing range.
When I asked for a safety deposit box, the officer remained breathing down my neck counting the gold coins and evaluating the worth of my wife’s jewelry with his eyes. I confronted him for some privacy and he mentioned its their policy to oversee all deposits into the box to ensure that nothing illegal was being hidden. On the way out he started sharing with me stories of gold bars he’s seen deposited by clients. To avoid having tales of my wealth being spread I told him that these coins were gifts, but he was quick to point out that my wife’s jewelry wasn’t.
My father once withdrew money from my account, I didn’t have time to make a withdrawal before the bank closed and my father said he would do it on my behalf. Without an ATM or power of attorney, he sat with a customer service representative, chatted and drank coffee, then asked him to withdraw an amount from my account. When asked for a supporting document for the withdrawal my father said that he was my father. For the teller that seemed a good enough reason.
I guess they got it right when they named the establishment “Arab Bank”.