Archive for the ‘culture shock’ Category


None Can Recommend – Joys of Banking

May 6, 2018

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

Banking is one of the guaranteed areas of culture shock when you live abroad.

Let’s talk banking in the U.A.E.

What was strange:

1. The bank required a letter from one’s employer certifying employment and listing the salary figure.

2. There was no such thing as a joint account.

3. One could and was actually encouraged to write post-dated checks.

4. We had a credit card with the bank and they drove us crazy with constant calls to verify our transactions. If they didn’t reach us to confirm the transaction, they suspended the account, but only after letting the transaction go through. They did this over $.99 iTunes transactions.

5.Even better was when we were using our debit card in a store and the store received a “not authorized” response, so that we had to pay in cash or do without, yet the bank showed the transaction as authorized and withheld that amount from our account until the transaction expired 8 weeks later, or longer.

6. There was a limit on how much we could withdraw per day, no matter how high our balance was.

In America:

1. The bank doesn’t need to know where you work and does not ask how much you make. If they do ask, they take your word for it. You can open an account with a government issued ID and proof of mailing address (and money, of course).

2. Joint accounts are common and easy to establish.

3. Post-dated checks are illegal.

4. I never had to speak on the phone to my credit card company. They never suspended my account, either.

5. Rarely are debit transactions falsely rejected.

6. You can purchase whatever your balance allows. ATMs have withdrawal limits.

The checks DaddyBird received always led to interesting and inconsistent bank transactions. Since we did not have a joint account, depositing a check written to his name was a challenge. The first one, we took to the bank it was drawn on and were able to cash it. The next time we tried that, they refused. A few times we were able to deposit checks into my account, but I had to go with him to do this. The corker was the time that the check was made out in just his first name. Our bank wouldn’t let us deposit it because the account was in my name only and they suggested that we go to the bank it was drawn on. We did and they cashed it, even though it just said “Paul” and they didn’t even ask for ID.

Frequently, people posted a message on Twitter saying they wanted to change banks and asking for a recommendation. I have never seen a response actually recommending a bank. Most responses are “don’t go with XYZ, they are terrible.”

Some of these frustrations may come from the lack of protection for the bank against fraud.  I have no expertise in finance law, but judging from the amount of bank paranoia over every transaction, here is no FDIC or similar protections there. They spent a great deal of time and effort straining at gnats. I was constantly getting calls from the bank or having to call the bank. I have never talked to a single institution that much before or since.

The result was very bad customer service and the impression that the money belongs to the bank, not the customer.

Let’s talk banking in China.

1. The bank sent employees to my place of employment to set up the account. It was a bit of fiasco with lots of paperwork, repeatedly signing my name, and entering my pass code multiple times. I had to provide my passport, expert card, and a copy of my employment contract.

2. Again, there is no such thing as a joint account.

3. There are no checks.

4. My debit card works at stores and ATMs without a problem. The account has never been blocked or suspended. We don’t have a credit card.

5. ATMs have limits, but I haven’t encountered a daily debit transaction limit.

6. Transferring money out of the country or changing to another currency is a huge pain in the butt.

I recently had two of these pain in the butt experiences. I needed to pay the registration amount for a professional conference by bank transfer. I went to the bank, thinking I had all the paperwork I needed. The employees did not speak much English, but we managed to communicate what type of transaction was needed. A man at a kiosk near the entrance took my paperwork and typed up the form that was needed. He typed the information into the computer and printed it out on a triplicate form. Apparently, his computer and software do not connect to the software used elsewhere in the bank. So, then I took the typed up triplicate form to the teller who shuffled a lot of papers, making me sign 4-5 of them.
THEN my passport wasn’t correct. I had a new passport, as the one I entered the country and set up the bank account with had expired. She needed to see the old one, which I had not brought with me. Never mind that the new one has a notation printed in it indicating the number of the old passport. So, I had to take all my paperwork, go away, and come back the next day.

One day 2, I started over with the guy at the kiosk showing him my triplicate form from the day before. Once I got to the teller, she started with the paper shuffling again, more signatures, and my old passport does the trick. I leave the bank thinking that it is all finally done. Ha! Later that evening, I get a call from the bank. They need the mailing address of the recipient. The SNAIL MAIL address. I asked if she could take it over the phone. No. I had to come back a third time. The necessary mailing address was on the invoice that I had presented to them, but the kiosk guy had not typed it into the triplicate form.

SO, day 3, back to the bank again. I get the kiosk guy to type the form up again and insist that he include the mailing address. (Remember he is typing this up on a computer, but the information is not stored or communicated to the teller, except via the printed triplicate form.) Also, I do not speak Chinese and the bank teller does not understand much English, so I can’t say “remember me? I was here yesterday and you need the mailing address.” So, I hope that she will recognize the transaction and get that I am just there to fill in the missing info. Otherwise, I may be paying this thing twice. Luckily, I see that she has figured it out and pulled out the original triplicate form. I sign a bunch of papers, yet again. Transaction finally finished. Only required leaving work early three days in a row to walk to the bank and jump through the hoops.

Before our Christmas trip to Prague, we had a similar experience. Daddybird wanted to have enough euros with us in case we had any problem checking into the hotel like we did in India. Unfortunately we waited until the week we were leaving to do this bank transaction.

Daddybird went to the bank to attempt to change yuan into euros. He was told he would need a copy of his employment contract and passport, unless he wanted just 500 euros. So, he got the 500 euros.

I went with him the next day (day 2) with my passport and employment contract to do a larger amount. The clerk shuffles my paperwork around and then finally says he needs my tax form (proving that I have paid China taxes on said money. I pay China taxes on every yuan I get before I get it.) SO, I ask why he didn’t tell my husband that the day before? No answer.

Day 3, back to the bank with contract, passport, and tax form (which I had trouble finding). We go through all the paper shuffling and paper signing routine. Then the clerk explains that we now have 2000 euros in our bank account, but he cannot give us the cash. We can come back tomorrow to get the cash. I manage not to have a stroke or explode. However, we CANNOT come back the next day because we are getting on a plane in about 8 hours. The clerk explains that there is a regulation against making the currency exchange and receiving the cash from the same bank on the same day. Wouldn’t want to deprive China of MY money, ya know. The only solution he can offer is that we go to another branch of the same bank and see if we can withdraw the cash. Which we do, but only after I give the clerk a piece of my mind about good customer service and that not telling us everything we needed to know up front the first time and requiring us to come in 3+ times to get our own money was not good customer service.

Lesson learned. I now know to take all possible documentation with me, even things I might not need.



September 25, 2016

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

Witnessed this morning, Shanghai, China –

A little girl entered the restaurant, looked around, said “Momma!” and immediately began to cry and call out “Momma! Momma!” when she didn’t see Momma. The waitress tried to help her, but this just increased the volume of the crying. Daddy enters to save the day. He calms his daughter and picks her up. THEN he says, “would you like me to show you how to find Momma?” He takes her to the part of the restaurant where Momma and little brother are. It doesn’t end there, though. He carries his daughter back to the restaurant entrance pointing out things to her along the way. He takes her out the door. Then they re-enter and walk the path to Momma again. I am so impressed at the skills he is teaching her instead of just pacifying her and satisfying her need for Momma.

Travel back with me to 2014 on the beach of Fujairah, U.A.E. –

There is (was) a park along the beach in Fujairah where families go in the evening. I would say “to get away from the heat,” but there is no such thing as getting away from the heat. We were sitting in the park enjoying a cup of tea. There was a young family nearby. Father, mother and four young children. The mother spoke to her young daughter who did not immediately respond. The mother reached over, grabbed a handful of her daughter’s hair and pulled her close. I had to take a deep breath to keep my head from exploding. I wish I could have interceded for this little girl, but when you are in a country where a disagreement with a citizen can end in jail and deportation, it just is not an option. I did, however, think about my students. Maybe this was why they were so uncooperative and noncompliant. They might be used to being forced to comply instead of being taught to respect their parents or elders.

Big conclusions cannot be drawn from these two stories. It is not fair to paint entire cultures by two individual observations. But this morning I could say, “wow, what a good idea,” and two years ago I thought “wow, what bad family dynamics.”

I do not have a relevant picture to go with this, so here is a totally irrelevant one. The internet needs more cat pictures.

cat bathing in Chinese garden






Old Abu Dhabi Documentary

March 31, 2012

Posted by Kanga.

Oil Discovery and Distribution of Wealth in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (1968)

This is a 52 minute film about Abu Dhabi in 1968, prior to the formation of the United Arab Emirates in 1972. It is a bit blunt about some things. It definitely shows the drastic changes that oil discovery and production caused. The best part is seeing so much footage of Sheikh Zayed in a variety of settings. It is a little melodramatic with some forebodings about the future, but it turned out that Sheikh Zayed was a very wise man.


Cultural Experiences – Both Planned and Unexpected

August 28, 2011

Posted by Kanga.

Our friends from Malta ventured out from Dubai to Fujairah for dinner with us last week. Our planned cultural experience was to go to the Ramadan Food Market to buy the components of our meal and bring it home to enjoy.

We brought home flat bread, fatoush (green salad), tamarind and some kind of berry juices, sausages in bread wraps, tabouleh (chopped parsley salad), hummos, kushari, samosas, pakora, chicken biriani, and probably more, but I can’t remember it all. It was a fun food adventure.

We supplied root beer, the only soda we had on hand. This was a new experience for our Maltese friends, who say that it smells exactly like a surgical spirit solution commonly used back home. [Our friend also confessed to having a pyromaniac phase around the age of eight when he sprayed this surgical spirit (mostly alcohol) on the ground and lit it for fun.] So, root beer, which is right up there with baseball and apple pie on the scale of American-ness is not very appealing to people in the Eastern hemisphere. This might explain why it is rare to find it in grocery stores. Now we’ll have to look for this surgical spirit to do a smell test and see for ourselves.

I had a similar experience when I first tasted Jagermeister (German herbal liqueur). I swear it tastes just like the cough syrup we had when I was little. Just tastes like medicine to me.

Our friends had brought us a treat from Malta – a pudding, which I tried the next morning. Before I tell you what it is like, I must explore the word “pudding.” In America, this word has just one definition. A pudding is a creamy, milk based dessert, like custard. (There are also bread and rice puddings, but again these are desserts.) In Europe and abroad, pudding can mean just about anything – sweet or savory. Christmas pudding is actually a cake. Blood pudding is actually a sausage. So, when someone says “pudding” we are not sure what to expect.

This pudding turned out to be what we would call a fruit cake. It is dense, dark, a bit chocolaty with tasty fruit bits in it.  I’ve tried it cold, warmed up, topped with a little ice cream, and warmed up with butter. Quite good.


Long Time No See

April 15, 2011

Posted by Kanga.
simple pull tab on a coke can

Those of you reading this post in America will understand what I mean by “long time no see” with regard to this simple soda can pull tab. These were considered a litter problem and outlawed a long time ago, decades in fact. American soda cans have to have openings designed to not detach.

After marveling at this blast from the past for a while, I pulled it off.

only half of the tab pulled of the coke can

High quality workmanship. Nice.

Here’s another thing I haven’t seen in a while – “Made in USA”

text from bottom of a Corelle plate stating Made in USA

We ate last night at a new restaurant in our neighborhood, Rara Avis. I recognized the plate as being Corelleware immediately because they are distinctive. I was surprised to find it at this small, inexpensive restaurant. This type of restaurant usually serves on cheap plastic (Melmac style) plates.


Neither a Conqueror Be

November 12, 2010

Posted by Kanga.

At work this week we had an all staff meeting that was actually very enjoyable and enlightening. Here’s how it went. Everyone sat at small tables, four people per table. Each group was given a pack of cards, a sheet of instructions, a blank sheet for score keeping and a pencil. The instructions described a simplified form of Hearts or Spades. We were to pair up across the table and were given a few minutes to practice and make sure we understood the rules of the game. We were not allowed to speak or write to each other during the game. We could make gestures, but no other form of communication. The instruction sheets were then collected from us (big hint here). Then, we played for real until the horn was sounded. The partners who had the winning score then got up and moved to the next table. We played again. As you might have guessed from the big hint earlier, the instructions varied from table to table. We played a total of three sets each time with the winners moving on to another table.

My partner and I didn’t win the first round (actually we tied, so we had to do a quick tie breaker) so we stayed at our table and welcomed new players. We launched right into the game and our newcomers were confused by who was winning each round. My partner and I enforced our set of rules and simply communicated by pointing to the winning card, whether is was a high card or trump. Our new players picked it up quickly, but we still beat them (home court advantage). This, however, meant that we had to move on the next table, where we met our original competitors. I was deeply into the symbolism of this, so I considered the new table to be a new country and my old competitors to be “expats” who had learned the rules of this new country and I expected them to teach it to me. Not so! We reverted to the original set of rules, never mind that we were at a different table.

After the final set, we discussed the experience. There were quite a few tables where the newcomers had acted like conquerors and insisted on their rules. There were some “host” players who were very confused and just surrendered to the newcomers. Others negotiated the rules and came up with a new way altogether.

I thought it was interesting that our reunion with our original competitors involved no assimilation to the new culture at all. We were like expats hanging out with other expats on a compound or base sticking with our home country rules.

I am pleased that I didn’t turn out to be a conqueror and that while in my home country I stuck to the rules and encouraged the newcomers to assimilate. I preserved my cultural heritage, so to speak.


Proper Use of the Fork

June 29, 2010

Posted by Kanga.

I have a vague childhood memory of someone calling Americans uncouth because of the way we use utensils. We tend to use one hand and a fork, primarily. Spoons are used only for liquids and knives only for spreading butter or cutting meat. In this person’s perception, the “continental style” of using a knife and fork simultaneously was much more civilized.

Now that I’ve had a chance to watch this continental style in action, I am amazed by the illogic of it. People hold their fork upside down and use the knife to push food onto the back of the fork. They put a great deal of effort into this process. The fork is a multitasking tool. It can spear food, scoop food, cut food and rake food. Yet, I don’t see any of these uses, only the pressing of food onto the back of it, the most inefficient use conceivable. There is more sense in using one’s fingers or chopsticks.

So much for the superiority of the continental style.