Friday, July 27, 2007

The Confisgated ATM Card Theory of Feelin' Poor

The underlying point of this series of posts is that past the point of "enough", feeling rich or poor is primarily subjective. My last two posts were about feeling rich, so I decided to write about times I have felt poor. I preface this first story by saying I am not poor. I was raised in a middle class household, and have never lacked for any basics, so the feeling was subjective and temporary.
About 10 years ago we took our two children on a long-planned trip to Europe. My husband was on sabbatical and working at home, not at another location, so we took the opportunity to literally think: where in the world would we like to go as a family? We zeroed in on Germany where my husband's parents were raised before they escaped prior to WWII. Some Jews avoid going to Germany but since the family had so much history there, we decided we wanted to show our children the places their grandparents talked about fondly, from their happy pre-Nazi childhoods.
We arrived after a night flight. I hadn't slept a wink, never do, so I was pretty groggy when we got to Munich. I knew that we could use our ATM to get Deutsch marks (this was before Euros) so while trying to ignore the sound of German blaring over the PA system and reminding myself it was 50 years later and not WWII anymore, I gingerly marched up to the ATM. I punched in my PIN #, but the transaction didn't go through. I repeated the procedure, but the second time it didn't work either. Then I remembered we had brought two different ATM cards and that I was punching in the PIN from the other account. I corrected myself on the third try and wham! The ATM confisgated my ATM card! I just stood and stared in disbelief. How dare they!!
There we were with our kids in tow, and not ten minutes after arriving in Germany our money had already been taken from us! I reacted somewhat hysterically, partly I realized later, for precisely that reason. We made a hasty visit to the local bank, and their snotty indifference to our undeserved plight was even more maddening.
Hmmmmm. A five-week family vacation ahead looming, and no ATM access to our cash.
In truth I don't recall how we solved this, since the replacement ATM card never arrived as promised. But until we devised other methods -which we did once I got a grip - I felt very poor. All the money sitting at home in our checking account did nothing for me, without the ATM card.
We take for granted how our assets cushion us. It was not the same as actually being poor, but it was a good lesson in humility.

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