Let me explain.
The other day, The New York Times ran a story, “Four Mao Too Many” (h/t Shanghaiist), which essentially consisted of a very literary rant about the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of Chinese banks. I am certain most readers finished the article convinced that Chinese banks (and maybe China in general) are somehow a breed apart. I completed the article and immediately thought of the following two personal banking bureaucracy stories, neither of which have boo to do with China:
1. When I was an undergrad studying in Tours, France, I lived occasional wire to wire from my parents. Literally. It had been days since my money had run out and tired of borrowing from friends, I was eagerly looking forward to going to my French bank to take out freshly wired funds. I arrived at my bank at 11:30, knowing it closed for lunch at noon. There was no surfeit of tellers when I got there (that’s a literary way of saying there was only one) and I got at the end of long line. Maybe a minute or so after I got there, the haughty bank manager (haughty is a literary way of describing just about everyone in France) proclaimed that he would be shutting the door because nobody would be working past noon. I continued to wait as the line slowly wound down and then at 12:01, it was finally my turn. But as soon as I got to the teller, the teller put up the “fermé.” No f—ing way, I thought, and probably said. I was hungry and broke and my money was in this bank and I needed it for lunch. I wasn’t going to leave and I made that quite clear. The teller and I fought, loudly and then the manager came out. He told me that the bank closes at noon, he had announced that the bank closed at noon and I would need to return at 1:30 for my money. I told him that I needed the money for food and that I would not leave. I told him a heap of other things as well, but as part of my policy of not writing anything I would not want my kids to see, I won’t go into that. To make a long story short, after at least 15 minutes, the manager brought back the teller (of course he would never have deigned to have done it himself) and I got all of my money and moved my funds to a new bank.
2. A friend had multiple accounts at his bank and no longer needed one of them. He told the bank he wanted to close it, but they told him to leave it open for a few more months just in case an errant check came in on it. My friend said there were no errant checks and he did not want to pay the $10 a month fee for it being below the minimum balance. The bank assured him that they would waive the fee. Then they didn’t and they pulled the money from another one of his other accounts to pay the monthly below minimum balance fee. While all this was going on, my friend sought to borrow about $100,000 from this same bank to buy two luxury cars from Germany for re-sale in the United States. The bank approved the loan in writing, but when my friend got mad about the bank not waiving the monthly service fee and pulled ALL of his accounts from the bank, the bank claimed his loan had been denied and refused to fund it. My friend ended up having to sue the bank and the bank settled.
The New York Times then came out with an article on an alleged fight between Stephan Marbury and a Chinese basketball fan. That article, entitled, “Differing Accounts of Another Basketball Brouhaha in China,” also seems to imply that this sort of brawl is a Chinese thing. Trust me, it isn’t. My old law firm did the legal work for around a dozen NBA players and they were constantly getting challenged to fight or even sued for fights in which they did not participate. I saw this with my own eyes. One night I was out with a couple of them at a really nice restaurant bar in Seattle and someone came up to one of them and totally out of the blue, said something like “you think you are so tough….let’s fight.” The NBA player calming refused. Another time I was at a birthday party for one of them on a local cruise ship and someone who was not allowed on the boat shot at it. This kind of thing is commonplace for pro basketball players, apparently in China as well.
When something particularly violent or horrible happens in China I sometimes get an email or a comment from a reader (which I do not post) ranting about how this is further proof of “what the Chinese are like.” To me, the only thing that is proven is that out of 1.5 billion people you are bound to have violent sociopaths. In any country. In any culture.
Sometimes we need to just step back and say that it’s just a bank or just a basketball game or just a violent sociopath. Not everything is an indictment of an entire nation.
Do you agree?