Don’t be stupid

My Japanese bank hates me.  I am sure of this.  Every time I go in there I get scolded or lectured on something.  You may wonder how I even know I am being scolded when my Japanese is so poor.  Well, they seem to have only one staff member in the bank who speaks even the slightest bit of English.  So, no matter what I come in there for or what floor I go to, inevitably they go fetch him to help me.   He would appear to be a manager rather than a regular teller, so each time they bring him over, I am pretty sure he is also being interrupted from some other far more important task.  And he, with his rather fluent English, invariably lectures me.  Often, this is because I’ve done something stupid.

My us bank probably hates me too, only in a much more general, Matrix-style “humans are only here to fuel our operation” sort of way.  They would never scold or lecture me.  They would much prefer that I do stupid things repeatedly so that they can assess “stupidity” fees.  Oh, you wrote a check for $60 when you only had $50 in your account?  Hey, that’s ok!  $39 please.

it took me 4 tries to finally get an account set up at this Japanese bank.  The first time, I was brought there by my head teacher, who had very good luck getting an account set up there when the last American teacher had arrived.  However, they were in no mood to bend the rules this time and refused to issue me an account without my Alien Registration Card.  I waited a couple of weeks, and then had to go there to change some traveler’s checks, so I thought I would try again.  No dice.  A week later, I finally got my Alien card.  Not wanting to pile another task onto my head teacher’s plate, and feeling like I’m a grown up and should be self-sufficient, I marched back in there alone and cocky, as if my Lonely Planet Japanese phrasebook was the equivalent of a PhD in Asian languages.  They fetched my friend the English speaker, who gently told me how difficult the form would be and asked that I please come back when I have a Japanese co-worker to translate for me.  I was also asked to please make an appointment next time, as that would be more “convenient.”  I immediately felt very obnoxious and moronic.  Who was I to drop in on them like that with my 5 words of Japanese and insist that they figure out how to help me?  Selfish, overbearing Westerner!  My head teacher (who ultimately had to go back with me after all), said that I should not feel that way – after all, I am a customer – but it was hard not to feel like some sort of ignorant bull in a china shop with my large stature, unfamiliarity with their cultural norms, and complete inability to understand anything said to me.

This week, I was dreading going back to the bank.  I had to go there for two reasons.  One, to try to figure out how to wire money to my US bank account, and two, to ask them to fix something stupid that I did.  Back on that day that I finally got my account set up at this bank, they had my ATM card mailed to my apartment.  At the time I knew this was probably unwise, as I am gone most of the day, but I had just spent an hour there and was in no mood to bring up something that might require new forms and procedures.   Why be any more annoying to them than I already had been?  I felt I was lucky at that point to have been graced with a place to store my money for me and charge me fees.  Naturally, the card was delivered at a time when I was not there, and being an active ATM card, they would not leave it without a signature – so a notice from the post office was left instead.

I had heard a story of someone who had inadvertently thrown away a post office notice, not knowing what it was, and had a package returned to the sender all the way in the states.  Feeling very smart and smug because I “knew better” than that, I identified the notice easily and made plans to go to the post office and pick up my card on my next day off.  What I did not know, however, is what the dates on the notice meant.  I assumed they were the window during which the post office would attempt re-delivery, much like in the states.  I learned of my error on a bewildering visit to the local post office, during which I could not fathom why I was not bestowed with a parcel, and kept staring at them blankly until the clerk finally gave up explaining to me in Japanese and shoved the notice back into my hands while pointing at the phone number.   As it turns out, those dates were the time frame in which I had to either call them or come get the parcel or it would be returned to the sender.

So now I had to go back to the bank and ask them to resend it.  Why?  Because I was too illiterate to read the post office notice, and too hard-headed to ask anyone to translate it for me.  Stupid.   Of COURSE I was lectured about this.  “Perhaps next time, if you get a notice you should ask your coworker to read it for you.”  Yes.  Thank you.  I know that now, actually.

I didn’t actually say this to him…instead I just put on my friendliest smile and nodded.  We all know it was my fault, so why bother being defensive about it.   So then I was given a page-long form for my wire-transfer request, along with a copy of the instructions written in English.  This I had to take with me, fill out, and bring back.  And when I returned, I tried (as I do nearly every time) to accomplish what I needed to do with the regular, Japanese speaking teller.  But, inevitably, there was a point where she came to something she could not explain to me by pointing at the form and gesturing.  So, the English speaker was summoned.  And he began explaining to me more or less, that I could not do a wire transfer. Pardon?  Not because I had done anything idiotic like screw up on the form.  Not because I had missed any procedures.  He was basically telling me I shouldn’t do it because it was not cost effective.  To transfer $500, it was going to cost me about $100 in fees between the sending and receiving banks.


I left the bank feeling unsuccessful, and mildly confused, until it eventually sank in:  He was telling me not to do something that would have made his bank money, because financially it was not good for me.   I feel like a little kid whose Dad just took away his candy bar to avoid spoiling dinner.  Apparently my bank doesn’t hate me, they just want what’s best for me.

And, more importantly, for me not to do stupid things.


3 responses to “Don’t be stupid

  1. You’re having one hell of an adventure!

  2. Did he suggest a better way to do the transfer? We deal with this sometimes at work — there are a lot of really overpriced ways to move money internationally but not a lot of reasonable ones. I wonder what he suggested?

    • Well, he didn’t give me any recommendations, but I’ve since begun using the post office bank to do it. I still pay about $40 per transfer, but I haven’t found any other way to do it. I thought Paypal would have been brilliant, except they don’t allow you to connect a Japanese bank account. I get the feeling that most countries don’t really want their money to leave.

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