Shakedown in America

Now that my Movabletype is back up and running, I can finally start posting with some regularity again.

As you may have already guessed, the main theme of my posts are simply the experiences, learning and how mentality and ideas evolve over time for someone who lives in different countries and is exposed to extremely different cultures.

Today is another post about re-adjusting to America and how it seems to me everyday seems like a shakedown of all my hard earned cash. But let me back up a bit…

In Vietnam, many foreigners become extremely angry if they think they are being overcharged a dollar or two when buying some trinket (especially the ones that live there). If you read my previous posts from my Saigon days, I was the same way. Sometimes I wished I was back in America where the “price is the price.”…… but how wrong I was and I’m learning this lesson the hard way in the form of a sort of “culture shock.”

1. Insurance

I needed car insurance. I learned from the agent that due to the way the percentages break down I could actually get both renters insurance and car insurance for around $900. This being so because car insurance in SF is hugely expensive due to the amount of accidents. So I asked quite a few times,,,, “so the total price is $900 RIGHT?”

Well, the insurance company shares your information with the entire world and I haven’t stopped receiving offers for ever type of insurance form the mundane: earthquake, fire, act of God etc. All of course come with exceptions which when the fine print is read probably do not cover anything at all.

Now, receiving offers is one thing, but the other day I received an invoice for $140 for fire insurance I did not ask for. An invoice means a bill and a bill means that if it’s not paid then my credit rating will suffer and the collectors could come after me. So now I have to call my agent and ask her “What the hell is this bull shit????” Given my experiences these last few months, there is probably a 50-50 chance they won’t make it easy to retract this bill.

2. Bank of America still sucks.

When I opened my Bank of America account, I was curious to learn that I could not withdraw cash from my deposited checks for a total of one month. The reason given was that I had to “form a relationship with my account.” I asked him if this meant I had to take my account out to dinner, call it once in a while and speak gently to it. This “forming a relationship” is the banks way of guarding against fraudulent checks which is understandable. But what pissed me off is that right after denying me my own money and almost in the same breath they looked at the computer and with a feigned expression of surprised he said “Oh, congratulations!!,,, you are eligible for a $7,500 credit limit with our Bank of America Credit Card!!!!”

Now stop the damn bus right there. The bank is not able to allow me to withdraw my own money but will give me $7,500 worth of credit with an extremely high interest rate??? Isn’t it the same damn thing except the money in the account is my own and the money on the credit card is the banks? If they are willing to extend that kind of credit, they should do the same with my own damn money!

And they don’t stop there…. They really push their credit card as I think the tellers get a commission for getting customers to accept the card. The next FOUR times I went, they tried to push their crappy card on me and it was hard for them to take NO for an answer.
The other service they push on you which was actually reported in the paper is for their “Identity protection service” which means extra income for them. When you call to activate your bank card, there is an automatic voice trying to sell this service. The say push no. 1 for yes, but do not give you an option to select no. So I pushed nothing and after a few seconds the voice came back and said, “We URGE you to take advantage of this “IMPORTANT” service! Dont’ let the CRIMINALS take everything you’ve worked so hard to get.” Then the voice goes silent again with no option to select no. Now to me, this is horrible and rightly so, the newspaper reported it.

3. The price is not the price

Why is it that the prices (especially for electronics) which are given in their advertisements never the actual price you pay? The advertisements will say something like a T.V. for $300 but when you get to the store, the actual price at the counter is $450!!! The reason being is that there are all sorts of “rebates,” which means they take your money and you have to mail receipts, parts of the box, birth certificate, dental records, and so on into them and then they will give you your money back. What this is is downright thievery.

4. SF shakedown

In SF it is truly a shakedown. You can’t walk one city block without being asked by some drug addict for some change. These people collect enough change so they can get high on crack, then run out into the street and shout profanities at everyone. So here, everyday is a “shakedown” in the more literal sense.

So, going back to my Vietnam example, yes sometimes they will often try to overcharge foreigners by a dollar or so but in America they are much more sophisticated and are not simply overcharging but downright stealing.

5. Lies

I bought a rather expensive piece of jewelery a month ago. I was told by the sales people that there was 12 months no interest, financing on the ring. To me, this means you have 12 months to pay with no charges (financing, interest whatever you want to call it) NO EXTRA CHARGES! Well, last week I got a bill with a financing charge of $55! I called them and they told me that I had to have a 10% down payment and should I opt for this plan I would have to pay $200 a month minimum.

Why is this the exact opposite of what the sales people said in the store? I guess it’s ok now to lie outright to make the sale.

Who can I blame for this? Capitalism? Baby-boomer, Gen-x’er greed? Bush?

Coming back to America, somehow I simply cannot shake the feeling that society has lost any depth and it’s become a culture of people whose sole purpose is to buy things. “I buy things, therefore I am,” seems to be the current state of mentality, especially here in California.
We now have the Christmas season coming up and for some reason it doesn’t seem as special as when I was a kid. When I was in grammer school Christmas ment being with family, Christmas pagents, snow sledding, and had a very heavy religious affiliation. Now it just seems that it’s reason for being is to BUY STUFF. This may come as a shock, but in Vietnam, Christmas is still much more affiliated with religion as much of the population is Catholic. Now I’m not so much in favor of religion either, but given religion vs. consumerism during Christmas, I’ll have to go with religion simply due to the meaning attached with the event. Weather it’s the Catholic religion, Kaawanza, winter solstice, I don’t care… I just enjoyed it when the season meant more than simply buying a bunch of crap.

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! \(^.^)/