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Shame and Money

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I didn’t mean to ask for English notes. I didn’t mean to call them ‘British’ either.

It’s just… I was so nervous I was asking for too much from the first moment I walked into the bank:

Hi; can you change my address? Yes, to Australia. No, I don’t live in Scotland anymore. No… I don’t have my card either. It expired, and it’s back in Sydney. I didn’t expect to be in the UK right now.

Oh, right. Well, yes — I imagine a new card would have been sent to me. But I didn’t receive it, because I couldn’t change my address. I did try. But I also need to change my phone number. Oh, and my email address. Basically all of my contact information. You can do that for me? Thank you *so* much!

And also… can I take out £200? Without a card?

James was amazing. He told me we could do all of that. He changed all of my details, walked me to the front of the queue (I was already embarrassed about that), asked the teller to take out £200 and gave her a slip of paper with my information. He signed for me. He vouched for me. And, as she was counting out the money, he turned to me and asked:

‘Are you going to be staying here? Are you sure you don’t want English notes?’

Usually, I scoff at English shops who refuse Scottish notes. Scottish notes are legal tender. Even if you haven’t seen them before, they clearly say ‘Bank of Scotland’ or ‘RBS’ on them. Just use your eyes and read. They are still British pounds. Don’t be stupid. Take the money. Scotland is still part of the UK (sigh). Don’t demand that we only use your money too.

But I send English notes to my siblings in Manchester. They live in a small town, and I don’t want to make life difficult for them. I don’t want them to have to fight for a cause they may not have chosen for themselves.

And — in all honesty, — James kind of read my mind. Do I want Scottish notes? Of course. Did they have the potential to make my life more difficult in the coming week? Of course.

I’m travelling in the UK unexpectedly. I didn’t mean to be here right now (hence, I’ve left all of my relevant debit cards/documents/travel cards at home). I’m travelling on one expired credit card (the new one is sitting at home in Sydney). The only remaining card I have is linked to my US account, but they’ve currently put a hold on it twice in the past week. Once for travelling without telling them (I live in Sydney. My whole life is travel). And once for an overdue balance for $1.26. Which I couldn’t pay on time because: a) I also left my computer at home, and b) the 4th of January very nearly didn’t exist for me. I lost that day to flying.

On Sunday, I’ll fly down to Bristol, take a bus to Bath, take a taxi out to Wellow: a small, beautiful, hamlet of a town my grandfather called home until he died last week. I don’t know what exactly I’ll be needing the cash for. But I do know I’ll be unlikely to be able to make a withdrawal again. Not without James. Not without being at a huge branch in a big city, as I am right now.

She’s counting out the money, and I’m thinking: do I need to fight for this cause, or do I need my life to be a lot less difficult right now?

James turned and asked through the glass: ‘Can you also give us English notes?’

Teller: Moment of disbelief. ‘… Really?!’

I was ashamed. I am ashamed. I have an English accent (I have to censor myself from calling it ‘British,’ like I explain to the rest of the world. Here it’s not British. Here, it’s offendingly English). I don’t want to come across like someone who voted ‘No’ in the referendum, who is afraid to take Scottish notes anywhere outside of Scotland. But the truth is harsh: I am choosing to make my life easier. I am choosing not to stand for this cause today.

It might seem silly. It’s only money. It can be explained away. It shouldn’t matter whether this teller is judging me, or can’t take me seriously anymore after asking for English notes. James had to go into the back and open up his box, because she was going to count out £200 in £10 English notes (‘It’s *all* I have here.’ read: This till is reserved for Scottish notes. We’re in Scotland, after all).

Maybe I’m projecting all of these reactions. What I do know:

  • James was amazingly kind to me, during the 20+ minutes we interacted. I felt taken care of, and not in a way I could ever accurately reflect on a Bank of Scotland customer survey.
  • I’ve always been a person to fight for Scotland’s autonomy and equality within Britain. I correct people when they don’t know that Scotland is an actual country. I tell them the difference between Scotland, England, the UK, Britain, and the British Isles*. But, today, I just wanted my future transactions to be unquestioned, unchallenged.
  • I already feel like I’ve failed myself because I don’t live here anymore. This has been pointed out to me in many different ways over the past few days. I don’t need anyone to point it out. I already feel it.
  • In some ways, coming home is harder than staying away. In many ways.
  • It’s just money. I have a lot of different currencies in my wallet, and they are not all political statements of identity or belonging.
  • I felt like the teller was disappointed in me. Because I’m a little disappointed in me.
  • It’s not just money. At least, it’s not just about the money. It’s also about the book I’m reading (Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and all of the things I’m thinking of. Which are, but not limited to, the following:
    • Identity & belonging
    • Questions of home
    • The ways intimacy evolve and disperse
    • Language, and how it betrays us
    • Where I am, where I want to be, where I have been
    • Self vs other. Local vs foreign.

All the questions. So many questions. In the end, I took the money.


*See below:

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M. is a Content Strategist and creative in Sydney, Australia

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