Paying Bills

Often wrong, but surprisingly efficient

Something you might not think about every day: the way we pay our bills. It’s not a fun thing to think about, so naturally we probably aren’t inclined to wonder how it’s done elsewhere. But it is a fascinating part of the living abroad experience. How do you pay the bills when there is no automatic bill pay, there are no direct deposits, and paper bills don’t come in the mail? How do you know how much to pay? When do you do it?

Armenia’s system seems as efficient as possible considering the level of development. It impresses me. The system is far from perfect, but it has its advantages.

Bills here are paid in person. You can go to any bank (there are lots) or even the post office to pay your bills. All of these locations are wired into a database. For example, they can take your gas code and look up your account. It shows how much you paid last time, how much you’ve used, and how much you owe. The database is updated near the middle of the month. You must pay your bills by the end of the month. Today I just paid my bills for the month of February.

I go to a nice bank in Vardenis to pay my bills. One of the girls there speaks English so it makes life a lot simpler. Sometimes when she’s busy or not there I have to do it in Armenian, which is easy enough since I bring the old receipts with me. But she likes to practice her English and it helps me too so I always go to the same bank. She looks up my bills, prints them, stamps them, signs them, I sign them, and then I take them to the cashier. I pay the cashier the total amount, usually after he teases me about not being married and offers several of the clerks’ marital statuses. Today he even got a “what is going on with your hair” comment in there.

It’s important to hang on to the receipts. Sometimes on a random night of the week there will be a knock on the door. When I peer through the peephole I see a larger than life gut of an old Armenian guy distorted through the glass. Sometimes if it’s near the end of the month and I haven’t paid, they want to know if I’ll pay. Or if there is a debt on the account or some kind of confusion they come knocking. These conversations always push the language limits, often leaving me feeling like a JV freshman who makes a stand-in start for the varsity – things happen a bit too fast for comfort and the whole event feels slightly out of control.

The cool and frustrating part about paying bills in Armenia is that you never know what is going to happen. I have walked into the bank and had an electricity bill of 0. When I informed the clerks that it must be incorrect, their response was, “Bonus!!” I’ve also gotten a call while I was out of town that my gas had been shut off because of a massive debt on my account. What? I pay every month. Turns out I had been paying for the apartment next door the last few months after the gas company switched our meters. Nice.

Recently the gas guy came to my house. He told me that there was a big debt on the account. He asked if I was going to pay. Of course! But I was shocked at the amount (for February). It was 26,000, which is 2,000 more than we get for all of the month’s utilities. Perhaps something was fishy with the meter. Or perhaps I truly used that much gas. Now I’m keeping a more watchful eye on the meter to see if my own readings line up with theirs. Still, if I take what I’ve paid on average for utilities this winter, it’s around 16,000, which is reasonable. It will be interesting to see what I pay for March. My guess is 8,000 (I am still heating my apartment now although not as much since the weather has warmed a bit).

Another cool thing is that you get to know the guys who collect. The water guy came to my house so many times that now he greets me by name on the street. Usually he also asks if I’ve paid yet, but still, it’s nice to say hi to Artur Jur (Water Arthur).

For Armenia I am a bit surprised such a system exists. It’s a bit more modern and efficient than I would expect. Even for its flaws, it still works relatively well. And apparently no one really expects it to be 100% correct. After the meter switching fiasco, my landlord’s only explanation for why the gas company would change our meters was, “Kevin, it’s Armenia!” So true.

Sidenote: Monday I’m heading to Poland. Shortly thereafter I have my COS (close of service) conference. Thus, the next update will probably be mid-April. Until then, enjoy Spring!

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4 Responses to “Paying Bills”

  1. Peter Says:

    Have a good trip brah!

    Until then, this video should keep you occupied.

    if you like that, watch this one too:

  2. icenugget Says:

    Amazing! Almost as good as Malibu…

  3. Peter Says:

    NOICE.

    Back alive I see?

  4. icenugget Says:

    Yes, somehow I arrived on Friday the 13th without incident. New post soon!

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