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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

OTP Hungarian Savings Bank & Me – My New Career Ends Almost As Soon as it Begins

Tales of a Teenage Spy - Chapter 41

Photo: Which Bank to Choose? You didn't have to ponder long or hard back in the communist era as to which was the best bank account to hold - there was only one choice - Országos Takarékpénztár, better known as OTP today. As this photo - from c 1991, at Kolosy tér shows - branches were not the bright, modern establishments that they are today. But before you rush to thank CEO-Chairman Sándor Csányi for the turnaround - just remember, it's all paid for by us, the clients, in interest margins and a string of monthly charges.

Tales of a Teenage Spy - The Live and Times of Gábor Rimner - Chapter 41

OTP Hungarian Savings Bank & Me – My New Career Ends Almost As Soon as it Begins

We know it as OTP today, but that's after a lot of rebranding since the end of communism. Back in the day, as the photo illustrates, it was generally marketed as the unwieldy Országos Takarékpénztár, the state-owned National Savings Bank. But even then we knew it informally by its acronym.

It was a bit incongruous starting my new job in the foreign exchange department on Christmas Eve, 1975 because of course, nobody was really doing any work.

Only a few very urgent issues were being dealt with: most people were chit-chatting about Christmas gifts, kids, what they were planning for meals and general babble.

But Andrea's aunt, who was working there, took me to two dozen or so offices, introducing me to most of my new colleagues. Then I tried to arrange my desk somewhere near a window, so my cigarette smoke would not disturb others nearby.

My immediate workmates were 3 veterans, each old enough to be my father, so of course, I spent some time getting to know them. They were friendly enough, in fact they welcomed me, hoping that I'd relieve them of some of the burden of correspondence with English-speaking clients. I remember one of their first questions was: “Can you type?”

I'd learned to type from 16-18, and was as fast as any secretary. I had to use the Olivetti electric typewriters at Elektroimpex, which made a tremendous racket, but were twice as fast as the mechanical ones. I loved them. My workmates were glad to hear this, so I'd made a good start.

But as it turned out, what happened next soon rendered my typing skills more or less irrelevant.

For it was then that the head of department – let's call him Béla - invited us to the large conference room, where a feast of sandwiches and wine was awaiting us.

After the customary welcome from and thanks for the year's work from the boss, we clinked glasses and began to mingle and make merry. After a few minutes, a particularly striking young woman entered the room, and, perhaps noticing she'd caught my attention, someone mentioned: “That's Éva.”

Well, as it happened to be her 'name day', and I definitely wanted to get acquainted, I decided on a spot of gentlemanly gallantry. Excusing myself from whoever, I popped out to a nearby florist's, bought a bunch of white roses, and had a red one placed in the centre, before the assistant carefully wrapped them in paper.

Back at the party, I stepped up to Éva, and introducing myself as the “new guy”, congratulated her on her name day, and graciously presented her with the bouquet.

I don't want to say she was bowled over, but my spot of gallantry certainly had the desired effect: I was duly classified a courteous gentleman.

Éva was my age, quite tall, with chestnut brown hair and fascinating, sparkling green eyes. I forget what she was wearing, or what we talked about. It didn't seem to matter. In a word, she was gorgeous.

Of course, she was duty bound to talk to me for at least a while, but that came easily enough until, as the party slowly broke up, we both took our leave, wishing everyone the compliments of the season and headed out. Naturally, being the gentleman that I was, I accompanied Éva to her home, which was near Mechwart Liget, in the second district.

I got a little kiss at the gate, and then hurried home myself. Christmas was, of course, a family occasion, and Andrea was waiting dutifully for my return, and the holiday celebrations. Any further adventures with Éva would have to wait.

Soon after Christmas, back at work, one of my colleagues wandered over and started chatting.

“You know, Gábor, don't you think you should perhaps have been more, how shall I say, discrete with Éva at the Christmas party.”

“Uh? What do you mean?” I replied, wondering what he was on about.

“Don't you know?” he asked, coming closer to keep his voice down. “She's, er, Béla's fancy bit on the side.”

I must have looked dumb.

“Ah, you didn't know,” he said, eyebrows raised to emphasise the gravity of the situation.“Well, you do now.”

Éva hadn't breathed a word about this. I took a deep breath and braced myself for the inevitable backlash.

It came soon enough. In early January, I was transferred to the OTP branch at Alagút utca.

Yet again my hankering for the female of the species had led to trouble. And in effect, I soon realised that while I still had a job, any chance of a career path at the bank had ended on day one, at least as long as Béla remained the boss.

However, the branch at Alagút utca was a prestige operation, and it had its advantages, not least, as it turned out, for the Americans. And it had been a while since I'd done anything for them. But I'll leave that for next time.

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