Recently, I had difficulty dealing with red tape when I tried to open a new bank account. The process lasted more than 40 minutes, after I had waited for another 30 minutes for my turn.
Despite her lack of English, the bank assistant tried to be polite and courteous, which made the delay tolerable. I attributed the lengthy process to the difficulties I faced in completing the necessary forms due to my lack of competency in Chinese along with the inability of the bank assistnat to speak English.
While I was waiting for the assistant, I found myself flashing back to my previous experiences in dealing with Chinese public services and wondered about the reasons why it took so long to do something simple.
I asked myself: “Did being accustomed to fast service while I was living in Canada make me critical of a little delay in the Chinese public services? Am I the only foreigner to complain about the delay?”
To answer those questions, I took a few moments to reflect on my life in China. I realized that after China opened its doors to the world, a huge number of foreign experts flooded to enjoy its historic glory and rejoice in its mesmerizing scenery while sharing their knowledge with their Chinese counterparts and students.
Language skill matters
Through my years of teaching in China, I was fortunate enough to encounter numerous foreigners with whom I discussed the issue of bureaucracy and insufficient tools of communications in many public services in China. They concurred that they had a hard time in accomplishing their daily tasks while dealing with public services such as banks, post services, hospitals, public transport, supermarkets and department stores.
They elaborated that they faced obstacles in communicating their needs due to lack of staff members who possess functional knowledge of their native languages such as English, French, German and Italian. Some expats said they learned Chinese to facilitate their lives in China. However, the majority emphasized that it is very important for Chinese public services to ensure having staff members who can communicate with foreigners in their native languages.
Foreigners also wish that Chinese public services would reduce the number of forms needed and make them available in various languages. They stressed that most public services in their native countries attempt to accommodate the needs of their customers regardless of their nationalities by serving them in the language they are accustomed to.
To be fair, I noticed an improvement over the years. However, I hope that my article encourages the management of public services to reflect upon the necessary measures that need to be taken to improve their services to their customers, including expats.
The author is a Canadian teacher in China.