Being THAT American: The Bank
I brought traveller’s checks to China which, as I now know, was not the hottest idea. No one to blame but myself on that count.
I’ve been avoiding converting them all week, instead withdrawing money from my American account at ATMs. Chinese banks are intimidating. They do not have nice cues and straightforward directions as in America or other parts of the world.
They are, much like the Chinese visa office in Washington DC, a worse version of the DMV. It is a bureaucratic hades.
You take a number. You wait. And wait. People are impatient. The bells ring. Finally, you get called.
Today, I had my first breakdown moment in China. My first moment truly feeling lost, helpless, and angry. I acted like a stereotypical American, something I’m acutely aware of and feeling anguished about. When I went to convert my checks, I had signed something on some of them that shouldn’t have been signed. The teller kept trying to explain my mistake to me in Chinese, and I frantically started trying to explain…
How I thought that would be a good idea at the time, I don’t know. As I kept trying to explain, my tone became louder, slower, and aggravated. She started calling through the microphone in Chinese, obviously trying to find a patron at the bank who could explain the situation. A middle aged Chinese women came to translate, and repeated verbatium what I had already known. I tried to suppress my stress and explain to the woman my side of the story.
I was getting nowhere.
I shook my head, gave a quick xie xie ne (thank you) to both the teller and the woman, and rapidly excited the bank.
Now, in terms of culturally insensitive things I could have done, this wasn’t horrible. But this incident acted as a reminder. This is China. Things happen the way they happen. To paraphrase J. Maarten Troost, if you can’t speak the language, you are fairly useless.
So I have some money, and an experience on top of it. Hopefully I can handle it with a bit more grace the next time….