Melissa Kite

Bring back Nancy

A faceless machine is no substitute for my favourite bank teller

Bring back Nancy
The way we were: banking, 1960s style [H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images]
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The bank was having Transgender Visibility Day when I popped in to deposit some cash.The stressed-looking customers, meanwhile, seemed mostly like they were having Affluence Invisibility Day.

One woman was complaining bitterly that £4,000 had been transferred to the wrong place and the bank wouldn’t give it back. I put my hand on the cash in my purse and stroked it a little.

I’m amazed we are still allowed to keep cash. I’m sure they would have liked to have got rid of it by now. Thankfully, I had some so I could put it in my account to stave off overdraft text alerts because nothing else had gone through electronically, because of some malfunction in the system delaying things a few days. Compared with the customer who had lost her money for good, I felt I had got off lightly.

A pensioner with a cross face was sitting in a chair to the side of an empty queue for the two machines in the far wall that now count as service, both of which were occupied. She looked as though she were waiting for someone.

I stood on the first blob saying ‘keep your distance’ and the lady sitting down tutted. I looked at her and said: ‘Oh, are you in the queue?’

‘I am!’ she said, as though that were obvious. I apologised and moved back to the second blob a metre behind, and the seated lady harrumphed. I now saw that she was clutching an enormous stack of cheques to deposit.

When a machine became free, I waited for the lady to get up but she didn’t move, then when I didn’t move, she said impatiently: ‘Go on, you go. I don’t want that one.’ I looked at the two identical machines and I considered telling her they were the same. But I decided against it.

She had her favourite machine, perhaps, like I used to have my favourite teller.

She was called Nancy and she was American. I really liked Nancy. It made my banking transactions slightly more palatable to be able to walk up to the counter and get Nancy, always smiling, always patient. Nancy is gone now. They kept some other miserable-looking women to stand by the machines, but not Nancy. Or maybe Nancy took the view that she didn’t want any part in this new-look self-service branch, with its horrible shiny surfaces and its glass-fronted offices, where lounging employees of the bank can clearly be seen having leisurely luncheons and frothy coffees, while the customers struggle with the machines and only one assistant ever stands by to help.

I walked up to the machine and as I put my card in to begin, I could see that to the left, tucked away behind a partition in the furthest corner of the bank, a corner no one could possibly see into unless they were standing at the machines and happened to look leftwards into this hidden space, there was a big digital advertisement on a screen saying that it was Transgender Visibility Day.

An attractive woman, or should I say a person looking like they wanted to look like an attractive woman, smiled out of the picture. I wonder what she, or he, or they, or zie, or sie, or ey, or ve, or tey or e would have felt if whichever of the aforementioned pronouns they preferred could see just how visible this particular high street bank had made them, on this, their visibility day.

Because I assume the reason they have a visibility day is to be visible, not tucked round the corner behind a partition where only two customers can stand at a time, worrying about what’s on a screen showing how little money they’ve got, or how much they had until it digitally went missing. Not many look around corners like I do because I’m so awkward and nosy.

I felt sorry for the person who looked like they wanted to look like they were a woman, so far as I could see and having only this picture to go on, and I wondered whether I should write a letter of complaint to the bank demanding to know why they had hidden whichever pronoun they prefer, when the whole object of the exercise was to make them visible.

There is an awful lot of hypocrisy in this sort of thing, isn’t there? If you are going to say we are all deserving of the exact same level of visibility, with people of every possible gender orientation being allotted precisely the same prioritisation of perceptibility, so that all human beings are viewed in exactly the same way and by each other for exactly the same amount of time, then clearly you cannot do it with a poster in a corner.