This is an exercise in patience Hungarian style. I received a notice from the electric company stating that we have not paid our full bill and if we did not pay the 1,629 Huf by June 30th, they would shut off our electric by July 6th. Strange that there was the time lapse. Would it take this long finding the switch assigned to us to throw? Honestly, I was not sure which apartment the bill was for, but the envelope clearly had the remnants of a “Return Receipt Request”, yet I had not signed a thing. The note did say they have sent previous notices. I paid the bill and told our tenant Jeff he should perhaps pay it also, just in case.
Last night, I went for beers with a former student. I happened to show him this insane note when the conversation topic transitioned into a news article about how Hungarians are 1.6 billion HUF behind in their utility payments. Balazs turned the bill over, which clearly showed it to be assigned to the Feri Flat. I called Jeff our tenant to warn him it was indeed his responsibility.
This morning Jeff came to claim the notice showing he was a deliquescent as he attempted to pay the bill. We joked about how they may not take his money at the electric company office, while wanting him to go to the post office to fill out a blank check. Ha, ha!! He left.
A half hour later he calls again, his voice immediately raises alarms before the words spill from his tongue; they are laced with a special blend of humor and anxiety. “I was kicked out of the electric company office” he shares. I am incredulous at first, thinking this is an exercise in hyperbole. Then the story unfolds.
Jeff: I found a woman at the electric office customer service desk who spoke English. I told her I wanted to pay this bill and showed it to her. She said the letter should never have been sent; the computer generated it by mistake and it should be ignored.
It should have stopped there as would seem reasonable, but it did not. She asked me if I had a power of attorney to pay the bill since it was not in my name and I was not associated with the company. I inform her that I didn’t know I needed a power of attorney to pay a bill. I continue to share the fact that I have been paying the bills all along. She insisted that I did need a legal authority to pay the bill since the bill was not in my name; I was not associated with the company being billed. Therefore, I had no right to pay any company money owed on anyone else’s behalf. At this, I started to laugh out loud, which turned the tide of her demeanor like flipping a light switch (assuming the electric bill had been paid). “You are being rude by laughing at me” she quipped. The office was becoming more crowded by the minute like customers storming the Bastille waving their yellow payments checks over their head. I knew in my heart that some must have been there to pay a bill on someone else’s behalf. Oh how my sympathy pored out to them at that moment.
Trying to look seriously at the customer service lady, I apologetically mumbled “I am not laughing at you, but at the ridiculousness of the situation. See these?” at which point I pulled out previous receipts for bills paid at the post office. With greater command, she reiterated that I was NOT allowed to pay these bills without a legal power of attorney. When I started laughing, she became furious stating that if my behavior continued, she would have me removed by the guard. The mental movie of that statement alone forced the laughter from the depths of my diaphragm and it continued until the security guard had his arm entwined with mine as he escorted me out the door of the office building. As the unwanted escort was assisting my exit, the once helpful customer service rep was telling “You are being cheeky. I told you to stop laughing.”
Now, I have a grave fear for entering a post office to pay other bills or mail a letter. It is almost certain that my face will be on a WANTED poster sooner or later.