Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How Do You Pay For That?

Over the past few days I have been subject to an unidentified (though not, I trust, serious) ailment that makes it much more agreeable to read in English than in foreign languages, to drink herb tea rather than coffee, and to recline on a padded surface than to sit on a wooden chair.
Whatever it is, it has not been so severe as to force me to stay home the whole time. In fact, I had to venture out in order to pay my share of the ski trip that Štěpanka and I are about to take.
In general, my experience of ski trips is as follows: I set the alarm for about 5:30 and try to be in the car within 45 minutes. If the ski location is less than 4-5 hours away, I get up at a more normal hour. Once I arrive, I buy a lift ticket and rent my equipment.
I grant that that's not exactly how Jesse and I went skiing last winter, but if we had had a car it would have been similar. The aspects that were new to me had little to do with the planning or how we got there.
There are, however, other ways of going skiing.
Since both Štěpanka and I are fond of skiing, and I suppose Michael is as well (insofar as a fifteen-year-old might be), we had spoken for a long time about eventually going. I envisioned something in the Krkenoš, since it is not so far away, but I was open to other possibilities.
Štěpanka, however, has a low opinion of Czech ski facilities, and if she is thinking of the lift equipment, I entirely agree. She came up with a package trip to Austria.
It has been many years since I was in Austria, and I have no doubt that the ski conditions are more alpine than they are here. While I tend to avoid any kind of tour or package, I decided it could at least be tried. I suspect it is somewhat more expensive than going individually, but I am certain skiing is more expensive in Austria than in the Czech Republic, and perhaps the lodgings will be more elegant than those I normally find (I hear there is a pool, which seems very extravagant).
But we had to get all sorts of details about me to the travel agent--for the border crossing, I assume, since Jesse had to provide details about me when he bought our bus tickets to Budapest. And somehow I had to pay for this.
I imagined, in my ignorance, that I would just pay Štěpanka for my share, and she could pay the travel agent. But that's not how these things are done. Czechs do nothing in cash if they can avoid it. Nor, as far as I can tell, do they often use checks or credit cards. At the restaurant and the grocery store, one sees them paying not with money but with mysterious coupons. One does pay the phone bill in cash, but by taking the bill to the post office and paying the bill plus a fee to the post office. (I have no idea why this is considered better than mailing a check, but I have gotten used to it.)
The ski trip payment, then, had to be done at a bank. I was to go to either KB or ČSOB and present them with some code numbers and my cash, and to be sure to bring my receipt on the trip.
I have never in my life paid for anything in this manner.
First I had to locate one of these banks rather than merely one of their machines, which are more common. Fortunately, while I suppose I could have handled the entire thing in Czech, the information clerk spoke some English, so this put us on a more level ground. (I dislike transacting complex things, or at least things I don't at all understand and might make some terrible error with, entirely in another language.) I explained that my friend had booked a trip and that I needed to pay my share via the bank.
The clerk came round to a little machine and pressed several buttons until it spat out a numbered ticket. I was to go to cashier 18 or 19.
The cashiers were not just behind a counter and some glass, they are sequestered in booths. At some point your number appears on a screen and you are allowed access to the correct booth. Even in the booth, the cashier is behind a lot of heavy-duty stuff. One wonders how many hold-ups have ever occurred in Prague banks.
The cashier proceeded to type all the codes into her computer, I paid her, and she gave me a receipt. I managed to lose my hat on the way out, but I hope I still have the receipt in my wallet.
Later this afternoon I will make my way out to Štěpanka's cottage. At some hideous hour of the morning, we will arise and go to Plzeň to catch a 4am bus.
I do not really expect to sleep on the bus tomorrow morning. Chances are better that I will manage to sleep on the bus tonight.
The skiing had better be excellent.

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Anonymous Amy said...

Wow. I will never again complain about the DMV. That's really interesting about the mysterious coupons and so on.
I really hope the skiing was great! As a total non (make that anti) morning person, I cringe at the time of your departure! Dave will be so envious to hear you were skiing, and in Austria yet.

February 14, 2007 5:41 AM  
Blogger Kristen said...

GAD! Sounds like a Soviet leftover to me! (In Russia you pay your bills at the state-run bank.) Enjoy the skiing!

February 14, 2007 8:35 AM  
Blogger Julia said...

So early, it is crazy! But the skiing should be fun.

Those mysterious tickets are meal vouchers that companies give to their employees as a benefit. Employees pay for half from their pretaxed salaries, and employers pay for the other half.

There are two voucher brands in this country, but most restaurants (and grocery stores too as long as you aren't buying alcohol or cigarettes) will take both - you can tell by the stickers on the door as you walk in if they support them.

You're supposed to use the tickets only at lunch time but I've seen restaurants accept them, grudgingly, later as well.

February 14, 2007 9:37 AM  

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