Black Man in a Bank

Comic Sans

As much as I complain about my wife sometimes, I really do appreciate her for her patience with me, not just for my many issues and personal failings, but just for the mere fact that I’m a foreigner, and sometimes being a foreigner can suck in South Korea. I can only imagine how it is being married to one.

I’ve been living in South Korea for over ten years now. I’ve been a customer of the same Korean bank for over ten years as well. It can be a bit difficult for foreigners to get credit cards in Korean banks, especially since many foreigners don’t stay in Korea for long, but with my long record and my stable job, the bank at the time didn’t think twice to sign me up. This was a few years ago. I thought I had a great relationship with them.

My wife and I went to the bank to apply for a small loan. This was not unreasonable since most married couples do have loans and like most metropolitan cities, the whole thing runs on debt. We intended to borrow money under both of our names, with me being the breadwinner and my wife as a Korean national, being a sort of guarantor that we won’t take off on our debts. I didn’t have too much hope since I expect most banking institutions in the country would probably still be a bit cautious regarding lending to foreigners, even if they intend to stay in the country. I earn more than the average Korean, but I’m not rich by any metric. Being a foreigner might still be a bit too big a hurdle to pass for them to give me a loan.

What my wife and I got instead was the proverbial black-man-getting-denied-a-loan treatment. (No, I’m not black.) Despite being a loyal customer for years, the clerk, who was a senior consultant at the Euljiro, Seoul branch of KB Bank, didn’t even bother to look at my records. He didn’t even ask for my ID, which I figured was the least they could do to make sure that I was indeed a foreigner staying in the country legally. I was a loyal customer and the clerk simply assumed that I was “just a teacher” who probably couldn’t pay back my loans. (He did suggest this. He didn’t even ask me for my job!)What upset me more is that they did this to my wife, it’s almost like she was the foreigner. I could take the slings of racisms just fine, but I get more upset if my wife gets it by proxy. Maybe it would’ve been better if I wasn’t there. It definitely would’ve been better if she was married to a Korean. They would have at least looked at his taxes and banking records.

Yeah, maybe the bank just has a policy against loans with foreigners or couples with foreign spouses contributing the majority to their household income. Who knows? But if they do, I get it. I truly do. But couldn’t they at least hide their biases a bit? At least give me some dignity and pretend they’re looking at my records and consider me as a proper customer. Heck, I spend money, pay taxes, and contribute to the economy just as much as the next guy. And if you ask some of the disgruntled people I work with, I’m spending and contributing way too much compared to them.

And no, it’s not all banks here. We went to another bank and they were much more accommodating to us. It’s just that the person we talked to first at the bank I’ve been a customer with for so many years decided to be an asshole. Maybe he wasn’t intending to be a bigot asshole, but he sure acted like one.

So yeah, despite the Pyeongchang hype, Korea can sometimes still be ugly to foreigners. It’s getting better, and incidents like this happen to me less often. But when it does happen, it still stings like a motherfucker.

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