January 11, 2013 by anelim
German banking has baffled me for a while now. Mostly this is my own fault for putting off opening a bank account for three of the ten months I have here – and for not knowing enough German to manage this. But I also encountered some unexpected hassle…
In December, I finally looked up all the necessary German phrases, took a deep breath (in German) and made an appearance in a local banking branch. I went to the same bank that my landlord uses – I figured that if I were to make rent transfers every month, this would be convenient, plus, I had virtually no other criteria by which to choose a bank for my short stay in the country. It is a nice and quiet branch and the staff are great. A very helpful lady who always does the rent transactions for me said that the best account would be a online account. It would be free, I was to fill in everything online, print it off, and mail it to the bank. Easier said than done! I went to my office and waded through 16 A4 pages of banking info in German (instead of writing up research!) which took a whole afternoon. The documents were rather complicated (and my legal German extremely poor) so I had to distract a German member of staff to help me make sure I signed in all the right places and didn’t tick any wrong boxes. And in the end I had to conduct an office survey about whether I had to go to the post office and buy a stamp. The self-post envelope was almost too small for the printed documents, and the place for the stamp said “Stick a stamp if you have one handy” which seemed like an awfully ambiguous thing to say! Will they deliver it more slowly, or at all, if I don’t have a stamp handy? And how big a stamp? In the end, a German professor assured me that this was just a way to allow senders to take on the expence if they wished, and no one would do that for a bank – so I needn’t worry about buying stamps. On 12 December I send my unstamped envelope… and on 9 January I still hadn’t received anything in the post (or on email). So yesterday I went to the bank again. Trying not to be cross turned out to be a good thing because it distracted me from the realisation that I didn’t speak German and I managed to converse quite freely, using sign language, theatrical facial expressions, and wrong grammatical constructions. This created the impression that in the past month my German had improved somewhat, which probably isn’t the case, because I spent most of that month in the near non-German speaking abroad (sorry, this sounds odd in English, it’s a pun on a Russian expression). So, anyway, being a bit cross turned out a useful trick.
There my shiny empty account was, sitting emptily online, I could see it on the perplexed bank manager’s computer. She had to make a number of phone calls and in the end managed to cancel my old card and issue some new documents on the spot which was very kind of her. The bank account had been opened on 18 December, and my documents had been lost in the post – or maybe even stolen from my post box. By the way, this also meant I had lost some money this month, because another salary had had to go into a foreign bank account – with currency conversion. I was also so tired of this that while walking out of the bank, I was very clumsy and just couldn’t fit the documents into my bag as if they had grown huge sticky corners, and dropped my large umbrella on the floor three consecutive times! But I was glad the issue had been clarified, so I walked home, enjoying banking clarity under the gentle rain.
This morning, armed with coffee and patience, I ventured into trying German online banking for the first time. But, while trying to log myself in, I almost destroyed my PIN by tearing it off the PIN-letter… who knew that “mit leichtem Rubbeln” (rubbing lightly?) was an important piece of information! The last digit was a bit torn so I had to guess it…Phew! But this wasn’t all. Then it turned out that there is also a TAN which I were to find in another letter. Luckily, it only took me one wrong typing attempt to realise this. I still don’t know what TAN stands for (I should google it, really – some other time). I’m not sure coffee was a good idea, my heart was racing by this point already. Good job I didn’t have to call anyone on the phone! And then I had to read very very fast, because the website, of course, was made for German speakers, and it had a nasty automatic log out in 10 minutes 00 seconds which was blinking before my eyes all the time.
Funny fact 1: PIN in German is feminine. Funny fact 2: I am really even less efficient than I thought, when it comes to banking. I might have to work longer hours today to compensate for this morning spent on banking!