In the Deep South, things change slowly. Alongside the crucifixes that hang in folk's living rooms you're just as likely to see a framed picture of Huey P. "The Kingfish" Long. People even speak about him as if he's only left the room for a moment, and not long dead. We're still getting over the War of Northern Aggression. The South simply doesn't undergo a lot of change quickly.
That's why the ATM surprised me this morning.
I bank at a local bank. No Citibank or Chase Manhattan for me, thanx, I like to keep mine local. When I first started working, I realised I needed a bank to keep my tiny paychecks in before I spent them entire on speakers or fast food, so I opened an account at a little locally-owned S&L named Louisiana Savings. The people were super nice there, I got to meet all the officers after opening my account, and they even remembered my name when I went in. Even the tellers always had a friendly smile for me and a wave if they weren't directly helping me in the drive-in. I guess that's why they closed; they were too nice.
That experience marked me, though. I trust little local banks. Even now I keep a meager little account at a local bank, just enough balance to keep it open. It's enough that I can hold my head up proudly when someone asks and I can say in a loud, clear voice "Why yes, I DO have a checking account with my locally-owned bank." As long as the balance sheet isn't questioned I'm good.
So. I like my local, chain-free bank. And this morning, I had opportunity to visit mine: I had a deposit to make. And since I hate fighting main street traffic at noon or at five after work, especially in my truck, I went early this morning. Got all my little paraphernalia ready--deposit slip, envelope, my ATM card, had it all handy on the front seat. Drove up to the gaily coloured ATM kiosk, slipped my card in, and was greeted by a well-recorded, nicely modulated woman's voice who seemed quite ready and eager to guide me through the steps of making an ATM deposit.
With a Scottish accent.
Okay, kids. Let's review. This is the South. The DEEP South. You couldn't get much more southern unless you moved onto an oil-drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. In Louisiana schools they teach the two main languages: English and Cajun. I could cook a perfect rue before I could read. So when I heard this beautifully modulated electronic voice speaking to me in an accent as smoky as Scotch whiskey I had to pause and reflect.
Who in their right mind would use a voice like that in an ATM in the South? If I had inserted my card and the machine had said "Howdy ya'll, how's yah momma 'n them?" I'd have probably answered without even thinking. But no, I was hearing a voice from across the waters. Honestly? I doubt there's a dozen people in this town who could recognise a Scottish accent, much less point to Scotland on a map. And yet there I was, sitting in my truck listening to a fine bonnie lass explain to me the finer points of ATM safety in a voice that would be a lot more at home in a small woman standing on a rocky cliff in a plaid wool skirt, her curly red hair blowing across pale skin rather than standing in a pirogue wearing camouflage overalls and white gumboots fending off alligators with a paddle while her frere' set out nutria traps.
I'm not ashamed to say that it really gave me pause. I mean, the Scots? What do the Scots have to do with banking? The Scots invented whiskey, fighting everyone and molesting sheep. Didn't the Viennese invent banking? I mean, I'd understand if some enterprising student of history who grew up to open his own local bank would think it quite fun to have his ATM speak in a warm Italian accent. "Oh yes, thats-a good, now you be careful driving back. And get something to eat! Look at you, you're all skin and bones! Manga, manga!" And maybe one or two people in the entire state would get the joke, laugh a little at his cleverness and deposit a few more thousand lira in appreciation. I'd even understand if they had programmed it to sound like a little Jewish grandfather. "That's my good boy, saving your hard-earned money." Or perhaps offering gentle rebukes to depositors: "Oi! You're only depositing a hundred dollars? How are you going to get into medical school with so little money! Look at your brother there, he's got a nice Jewish wife and attends synagogue regularly and he deposits lots more than you, you meshugana!" But a Scot? Och laddie, I'm depositing money, not ordering a Glenlivet and a steaming dish of haggis.
Wow. I am so going to burn in Hell. I'm certainly not going to make it very far in the world of local banking.