A Question of Communication
Communication can be very difficult in Thailand, but when that involves official institutions like the banking sector, you can find yourself in a nightmare scenario. The main problem, as far as I can see, is that people are terrified of making a mistake and thereby losing Face.
Fear of Losing Face
However, Thais’ reluctance to admit that they don’t know something, often leads them to assert that they do know, even, or even especially, when they don’t. This often results in annoyance and frustration on behalf of both parties, and rash, silly mistakes can follow swiftly.
Here is an example from my own banking experience a couple of years ago.
My wife and I already had a bank account each at our local Krungthai Bank, and were well-known there by the staff, but we also wanted a joint account. The assistant helping us insisted that it was a legal requirement that I, as a foreigner, have my passport and Thai address verified by the police before she could continue. I pointed out that we already had accounts in that branch, and that she had served us many times before. However, it made no difference to her.
She had spoken. She had made her decision and it was final. I asked to speak to her supervisor, but ‘it was his day off’, she said.
This made me angry. Thais seem to revere authority figures, and hate causing a scene. Presumably, this assistant was expecting that I would not question her judgement, but she didn’t know me very well. She was obviously lying about the manager. There had to be someone there who was in charge, and it clearly not her as she hadn’t claimed the role.
“Let’s get out of here and go to The Bangkok Bank next door!” I said, feeling escalating frustration, but in a normal voice, although it was decibels above the hushed tones usually used in a bank. My wife looked horrified, and was probably wishing that she hadn’t come with me.
I withdrew all my money except the minimum to keep the account open, and went to The Bangkok Bank next door.
A New Account
Needless to say, they had no problems with opening a new account, and I walked out 20 minutes later with a brand new bank book.
Today, I wanted to open another account with the Bangkok Bank – a high-interest account for the money I need to secure my visa every year.
“Not possible, sir. Only one account for one person”, said the assistant.
I told her to empty my account so that I could go to another bank. The bank manager overheard, and was there in a flash before the assistant could dig herself in any deeper.
He opened the investment account for me in twenty minutes. He is a very nice man, and I am glad to have met him. I am certain that if we have any other banking communication issues, he will be there to help.
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