Ah, what a sophisticated international community we inhabit. But sometimes international habits can cause great grief.
A reader in Rockville works for a company whose headquarters are in northern Bethesda. One of his jobs is to help the Big Boss tend the financial ranch.
Last week, my reader got a rather important assignment. Big Boss had made a substantial bank deposit on April 9, via an automated teller machine. But his statements for the months since didn't show a credit for the amount he deposited. Would his faithful employee be able to unscramble things?
My reader verified that the deposit had been aimed at the correct account and at the correct bank. He also verified that Big Boss had been reading the correct statement when he got frantic.
"Then it hit me. Ay caramba!" my reader says.
Big Boss hails from Latin America. In that culture, the standard way to write a date in numerals is day-month-year. Of course, in the land of the free and the home of the buck, we write it month-day-year.
What happened, my reader deduced, was that a bank employee took one look at Big Boss's deposit slip, which was marked 09/04/99, and credited the deposit on Sept. 4, rather than on April 9.
My reader is full of suggested solutions to this problem. Perhaps banks should agree on a universal numerical system, he thinks. Perhaps deposit slips should require that the full name of the current month be written in letters, not numbers. Perhaps military style ("12 October 1999") would avoid this glitch.
"I defer to the wisdom of Washington's much-admired Champion of the Everyperson," my reader concludes. That means me, in case you missed it.
Flattery will get my reader anywhere, as he surely knows. It'll also get him Bob Levey's impassioned vote:
None of the above.
The problem with this story is not just the Latin American method of rendering a date. The problem is that Big Boss made his deposit via an ATM.
Mr. Champion of the Everyperson never, ever does that, whether the deposit is big or small, whether it's cash or checks. Reason: Champ wants a second set of eyes on his transaction.
Champ knows that his brain is so addled by coffee and the jokes they tell at newspapers that he might miswrite his deposit slip. Any good teller will pick off an error in one second flat. Champ has been the grateful recipient of such rescues more than once.
In fact, just last week, I was standing in line at my bank, telling myself yet again that it was worth shooting 10 minutes of my lunch hour to get a real live deposit slip back from a real live teller. My transaction was nothing at all special: a straight deposit of a $100 check -- no cash back, no frills, no third-party endorsements, no fanfare.
As I neared the front of the line, one of the bank officers called out, "Any straight deposits?" She meant that she'd process them ahead of all other business. I decided to see how this worked, so I stepped out of line and waddled over to her.
The officer filled out a deposit ticket, which was on the back flap of a deposit envelope. Then she tore off the deposit ticket and handed it to me. Then she stuck my check and deposit slip into the envelope and dropped it into a slot.
I proceeded to get suspicious.
"How do I know that I'll get credit for this deposit?," I asked.
"The deposit ticket is your receipt. Besides, we empty the basket every hour," the officer said.
"Yes, but the deposit ticket you gave me isn't the same as what I get from the teller's window," I said.
"But it is the same," the officer said. "It doesn't read exactly the same. But it's the same when they post your deposit."
"You mean I can just come in here, fill out this form, tear off a copy of the deposit ticket and drop my check into the slot, and that'll be that?" I asked.
The officer said yes, that was all there was to it, as long as I didn't want cash back, or any other bells or whistles.
I told her that I just couldn't, and just wouldn't.
"I need that human-to-human exchange," I said. "I need to see a human adding up my deposit and checking my rotten arithmetic. I need a human to hand me that deposit ticket, hand to hand. Call me old-fashioned . . . "
"No," said the bank officer, "I understand. Really I do."
I hope Big Boss understands, too. It would be great if he could remember to do month-day-year. But if he can't, won't he be glad for the extra layer of protection that only a real teller can provide?
Percy Smith, of Upper Marlboro, says he just bought a new car, and has figured out how long it will last.
Two minutes longer than it takes to mail the final payment.