Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Why I will never be visiting a Chinese bank again...

There are many reasons why I will be glad to get back to the UK, and the incredibly stressful experience I had at the bank this afternoon illustrates one of them.

I had wanted to transfer my Chinese money to my British bank account. This morning I went to the bank with my American friend and was told I had to go to another branch to transfer money to the UK, so I waited for less than half an hour whilst my friend changed her money and closed her Chinese bank account.

I had been told to go to the other bank branch at two. I arrived at ten past, only to find that the section I needed wouldn't open until half past. Problems mounted up: I had too much money to transfer, I couldn't exchange or transfer any of my money into sterling unless I had a certificate, but the bank clerk, who I will call Ms Ignorer, wouldn't tell me what certificate I needed, and kept asking me why I hadn't brought a Chinese friend with me so she could explain to them. Er, lady, because the reason you have a well paid job is to help international customers?

This went on for almost an hour: I kept trying to ask what certificate I needed, but she would cut me off halfway through the question and tell me 'It's not my fault, I don't make the rules.' Very true, but actually bothering to explain the rules to me would've saved us both a lot of time.

All the staff seemed very confused about bank transfers to the UK, so I said I would just exchange my money, as I had a feeling that my hard earned cash would've ended up brightening someone else's day.

In the end I had to half shout repeatedly, 'Listen to me! Let me speak! What does the certificate need to say? Do I need it from the bank, from my employer?' which made me feel like the stereotypical obnoxious Westerner but I think if I hadn't I'd still be there now. It turns out that to change Chinese RMB into sterling I would've needed a certificate from my employer to say that the money I had was my saved wages and not money that I'd earnt by being, say, a gun running, drug dealing whore. Oh, and in any case I could only exchange or transfer $500 worth of sterling at a time.

Then she grabbed an unfortunate and kind Chinese man who had come up to the desk to transfer funds himself. She told me (after I'd been there for an hour and a half) that a Chinese person could transfer or exchange as much RMB into sterling as they pleased and needed no certificate. They guy agreed to help, and repeatedly I told Ms Ignorer that I wanted to exchange my money, not transfer it.

I sat and waited for ten minutes or more, and only when they brought the transfer form up to me to fill in my bank number did I realise that, yet again, she hadn't listened to a word I said. And she kept ignoring me as I tried to tell that I wanted to exchange my money not transfer it, until I grabbed the form, turned it over and said as loudly as I could without shouting 'I don't want this! I don't want this!' in Chinese, and refused to let her turn it back over.

My Chinese saviour then exchanged my money, which took all of five minutes. After I'd thanked him profusely, I asked Ms Ignorer which section I needed to go to to close my bank account. Again, I'd told her that I needed to do this repeatedly, but had she paid any attention? Of course not, she looked totally surprised and asked me why I wanted to do that. Well, probably because I'm leaving the country for good this week, which is, strangely enough, what I'd told her when she asked me why I wanted to change so much money.

Thankfully, closing my bank account was as painless as the currency exchange mainly because Ms Ignorer had nothing to do with it. If she had bothered to explain the rules to me, instead of taking the unfortunately prevalent Chinese attitude of 'I understand this, so obviously everyone else does too and therefore I will not even listen to what the other person is saying', it would've taken half an hour rather than two hours.

Given the attitude of Ms Ignorer, from opening late to acting outraged that she had to do her job of speaking English to an international customer, I strongly suspect that she is an example of the rampant nepotism that causes so much resentment here. And I should add that she spoke perfect, fluent English so she didn't even have the excuse of not understanding me.


  1. Oh, how frustrating. Glad you got your money out at last, but I would've been tempted to throttle that lady. Thank goodness a kind customer came to your aid.
    I hope your trip home to the UK goes well for you.

  2. How horrible! I would've been in tears after the first hour. On the surface, it seems like the Chinese want to be like westerners, but beneath the surface they're entrenched in their old ways (of horrid cusomer service).

    I, too, hope your trip home to the UK goes smoothly without any more glitches.