Saturday, January 12, 2008

Your money is no good here--really.

Usually, I feel settled here in Korea and comfortable.   But every now and then, something happens to remind me that I'm an foreigner--that I don't really fit in here and never will.

Today was a lazy Saturday.  It was cold and a little rainy.  The perfect day to spend at a movie.  My theater of choice was showing a few new movies (and a movie that had been released in America over two years ago).

I checked my wallet and saw that I only had W4,000 (about $3.75).  I didn't think it was a problem since I knew the theater took credit cards.  Most of my money is in America right now

I walked up to the counter to order a ticket to The Jacket.  This is the movie that was released long ago in America and I already saw.  But, it was also the one with the most convenient time, and I liked the way they said the name on the commercials: Duh Ja-keh-t!!!

I gave them my point card (they have a frequent customer program that has given me many a free movie admissions during the week) and then my credit card.  The clerk swiped the card and got a horrified look on his face.  Handed it back to me and said, "No."

I frowned.  I've used this card at the theatre many times before and I know I'm way under my credit limit.  I gave it to him again and said, "Its okay."

He tried again and I saw the screen that popped up.  In Korea, credit cards often have point reward programs and discounts attached to them.  In western chain restaurants in Korea (Bennigans, TGIF, Pizza Hut) for example, there are usually two prices: a regular price, and then a discounted price for those with a special brand of credit card.  The theater has something like this.

This had happened a few weeks ago.  I had told the clerk (in my best Konglish pronunciation): "No po-ee-nt-uh (no point)."  She had understood and did the transaction without a problem.  However, this guy was not understanding.

He called a manager over and she took my card and went to the back room.  Meanwhile, the eyes of the customers were upon me.  I was holding up the line, I was a foreigner, and there was some sort of glitch with my card; they couldn't keep their eyes off me.

The clerk emerged from the back room, not to help me, but rather to open up a new line.  The manager had my card still and so I was left waiting.  Five minutes later, the manager emerged and whispered into the ear of another clerk.  The clerk walked over to me and said, "Sorry, your card no good."

"But I use this card here all the time."

"But no.  Sorry.  Cashy?"

"No cashy.  Why?

"We only domestic cah-duh (cards)."

"Since when."

"We changey, now only domestic cah-duh."

I bit my lip in frustration and she ushered me away (the line was beginning to pick up).  So, to my shame, I declared, "This is bull shit," and stomped off.

I stormed away, deciding to go to the other theater, that was often busier, another fifteen minutes away, and I didn't have a point card with.

In my anger, I imagined myself protesting their new "domestic card only" policy by writing an angry letter to VISA, or by never visiting the theater again.  I imagined myself cutting up my customer card and mailing them the pieces, along with a letter (translated into Korean).

I got to the other theatre only to find my movie of choice wasn't playing there.  So, I settled for another and paid with my credit card and received no static.  It was wonderful.

I haven't decided what I'm going to do next time I want to watch a movie here in Korea.  Maybe I'll get a Korean credit card so it won't be in issue.  Maybe I'll just start carrying around a wad of cash.

Sometimes, I get weary of being a foreigner.

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