Sunday, March 14, 2010

When a Korean ATM eats your card for dinner...

For the most part, the language barrier has not posed too much inconvenience in living in Korea. Most feelings or sentiments can be conveyed with a basic understand of the language, and a lot of body language and gestures. But what if the person you're trying to communicate with is not in front of you? Then it gets a little harder--and a little more interesting.

That was the case on Friday evening when an attempt was made to use a foreign debit card to get money from home. Some Korean banks have the option to withdraw money from your home account using your western debit card. Kookmin Bank, or KB Bank, is one of these. However, when my coworker attempted to use her card in the ATM, the machine reset itself and didn't return her card. Panic! It would be another two days before the bank was open again, and she really wanted to get some money then. How would we get the card back?

Luckily for us, the ATMs are equipped with phones, and pressing a button will connect you with the call center. The thing is, my spoken Korean isn't quite up to par with my reading and writing skills, so explaining the situation to the call center guy was going to be a little tricky. In my best understanding of how to convey the problem, I stated that I was a foreigner who spoke only a little Korean, and that the ATM machine had "eaten" my friend's check card. In Korean, that would amount to something sort of like this: "현금 지급기 내 친구의 체크 카드를 먹었다." There came a pause on the other end of the line as the assistant thought over what I had said before replying. But he was able to understand what I had said, and asked for my location and the error code number on the ATM screen. He then put me on hold for a bit before I talked to another gentleman who spoke a little more English, who was able to tell me that "help would arrive in 15 minutes, so I should stay there." Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, the ADT security car pulled up, and a very nice security agent was able to retrieve the card from the rear of the ATM. He bowed many times, with big smiles, before hurrying off to his next task. Crisis adverted!

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