“The system says you have some Americanism in you.”
At first, I thought I didn’t hear her correctly. I asked the lady working at a local bank branch near my Moscow apartment to repeat herself. But she just said the same thing.
“What do you mean by Americanism? And what does it have to do with my credit request?” I asked.
“It means there’s something wrong,” she replied coldly, without turning her head to look at me, busy reading the screen. Her blond hair was in a ponytail and she was wearing a white shirt with a red name tag that said, Natasha.
“You’ve been moving money to the U.S. and the system thinks it's dangerous.”
I had no idea what she was talking about.
The last time I was in the U.S. was two years ago. I came to this branch to discuss my credit scores and to know whether I could get another loan to cover my existing debt to lower my total payment.
Plus, I thought that the Cold War was over 50 years ago and people weren’t suspicious if you moved money away from Russia.
As I saw now, I was mistaken.
“Whatever you say,” I said.
The woman still didn’t look at me and kept banging the keyboard. I looked away. I was sitting in a white-walled room with fluorescent lights. It was the central branch of one of the biggest banks in Russia. Besides me, there was one other customer sitting nearby, talking to another bank official. There was also one worker sitting at the entrance, greeting new customers — that rarely came this time of day.
I looked at the faces of people working at the bank.
How can they stand it? Living a purposeless existence. Spending their precious time working with papers, moving money, filing applications.
If there are occupations in hell, one of them is being a bank worker. No doubts about that.
One of my first jobs as a teenager was working at an office at one of my father’s companies. I remember coming to work and seeing adults sit beside me in their cubicles, with serious faces, as if doing something important. To me, they looked as if they were doing something important. But as I got older, I couldn’t let go of the idea that 99% of what people were doing in the office had nothing to do with reality and, to be blunt, quite useless.
Applications are not real. They are just applications.
Contracts are just papers with text. They are not death sentences.
Money was created by humans to keep score or who owes what whom. It’s just numbers. It’s overrated. And it’s definitely not worth killing yourself over.
Most people take these things too seriously.
I looked at the lady in front of me, trying hard to fill out some sort of application — or whatever she was doing at that computer — and tried to imagine her being a little girl, dreaming of coming here, in this dusty air-conditioned office, spending 70% of her life telling customers that they have too much Americanism in them.
No. That’s probably not what she dreamed about, I thought.
Little Natasha probably wanted to be an actress, perhaps even a superstar.
It’s just that somewhere after graduating high school, she had to choose. She could either go and study five more years at a theatre school or study to be an economist at Moscow State University — a respectable profession. Her parents probably convinced her that she would have no future in theatre.
“Who needs more actresses?”
They promised her that by studying supply and demand she would have “something real to fall back on.” It was also a good way to “build connections” (which is a parent’s code for “find a husband”).
I bet she even imagined a bright future for herself after graduation. But when she received her diploma and had to get a job, a bank was the obvious choice. And not just any bank — but the best in the country.
After all, didn’t she just spend four years of her life getting a degree? It had to be put to good use.
In a nutshell, that’s how dreams die.
Now Natasha can’t leave. She has a mortgage, a car, and a credit card — from her own bank. (By the way, do bank workers get special deals?) Somebody has to pay for all of that. She’s trapped.
She won’t admit to herself that she gave up on her dreams. And after working for two-three years in a place like this, with a bunch of losers who support her scarcity mindset, she’ll start thinking in a similar way.
She’ll believe that contracts are life-or-death binding arrangements, filing applications is what people should do for a living, and money is very much important.
In other words, she’ll become like the rest of them.
“Sergey Maximovich, can you hear me?”
I looked up. After eight months in London, I wasn’t used to people calling me by my patronym (my father’s name is Maxim).
“Yes, I am all ears,” I said.
“The bank has declined your request. You can fill out a new form in two months. Meanwhile, you’ll have to keep paying the same amount every month.”
“Ok,” I said, thinking of the word she used (have) and whether you can really be forced to do anything in 2020. I guess that’s why they call debt the modern-day slavery.
“Thank you for your visit. We wish you a pleasant day.”
I got up and left the bank building, thinking of how happy I was to have some Americanism in me after all.