Why is it so diffuclt to say – I don’t know how to do it?

A few days ago, I asked the school’s manager if she can take my wife to a bank and help her to open a bank account.

The manager called the bank and the bank staff told her that foreigners can’t open bank accounts.

Knowing how difficult it is to open a bank account, I gave her the names of the banks in which I have my accounts opened, and which cooperate with foreigners.

She called them and get the same answer.

It meant only one – I need to go to the bank myself.

The next day we went to Ever Bright bank, and we were lucky enough to encounter a staff member who could speak English.

We explained that my wife will begin to work soon, and that she needs a bank account to receive paychecks.

We also asked them to activate SMS notification service, which costs 2 RMB per months (30 cents), because they wouldn’t activate it otherwise, and after 30 minutes and a dozen of signed papers, we went out from the bank with a bank account for my wife.

The very same day, when we arrived home, we decide to connect a bank account with the apps for payments. (In China, only old people use cash and bank cards; all other transactions are made by phone. Even baggers have their QR code, which you can scan and send them money to their WeChat or AliPay account).

We entered her name, passport number, the country of origin, and the phone number and tapped the “next” button, but we got a notification that no phone number is connected to the bank account.

After checking the phone number, we could only confirm that it was correct.

The next day, I asked my manager to call the bank and to check what do we need to do in order to connect the apps with the bank accounts.

It turned out that the online shopping service wasn’t activated for that account which meant that we needed to pay another visit to the bank.

A few days later, we finally got the time to go to the bank. The staff member who speaks English, greeted us with a smile.

I introduced her to our problem, and she transferred it to a staff member behind the counter.

Again, we gave my wife’s passport, and the newly opened bank card, but after a while, the lady behind the counter told us that foreigners cann’t use these services.

After that, I took my phone from the pocket and showed them fully functional WeChat Pay and AliPay apps, which are two most popular services.

“When did you activate them?” they asked.

“Three years ago, when I came to China.”

Their answer was that you could’ve done it back then, but now you can’t.

Although the rules in China are constantly changing, just as in any other country in transition, it didn’t make any sense to suspend a money spending service to foreigners; anywhere in the world, you are welcomed to spend your money.

We thanked them and went out. The next step was to visit another branch of the same bank.

We did it the next day. We went to a neighbouring city of Wenzhou, which is much bigger than Rui’an. Again, we were lucky enough to run into a staff member who could speak English.

We presented our problem. He asked several questions and soon enough our problem was solved after we signed a couple of more papers.

During these three years in China, I experienced a lot of similar situations in which people will tell you that something can’t be done, especially if you’re a foreigner, instead of saying:

I don’t know how to do it, ask someone else, maybe they know.

I understand that the three of us are perhaps the only foreigners in the neighborhood, and that we are perhaps the only foreigners who entered that bank.

I understand that bureaucracy is much more complex when dealing with foreigners than with locals.

I understand what it might be possible that they have never done it before and that it makes them uneasy to try to deal with foreigners.

I understand that I might look like a Russian gang member who wishes to launder money through his wife’s account although both of us have working visas which are extremely difficult to obtain.

But, I don’t understand why is it so difficult to say – I don’t know how to do it.

This is not strictly related to China. Anywhere in the world, people will tell you that something is impossible instead of admitting that they don’t know something.

Next time someone asks you to do something you don’t know how to do, think twice before giving an answer. 

Your answer might make somebody’s life easier.