die Bank, oder “Ich bin eine Hausfrau”

One of our first big tasks in the past week was opening a German bank account. We need this so that Matt can get paid, so that we can pay for things, and so that we could apply for our residence cards and Matt’s work permit. The first two reasons might seem obvious, but it’s worth noting that in Germany everyone pays for things either in cash or through direct bank transfers. From what I understand, personal checks don’t exist, and most places don’t accept credit cards.

We decided to go with Deutsche Bank because they have some kind of reciprocal agreement with Bank of America (which couldn’t hurt) and they were the most likely to have an employee that could speak English. At the counter, I stumbled through an initial explanation of why we were there, and the teller directed us to wait in…the cafe? Yes, there was a cafe there. She promised us that someone would be over to help us in “zehn minuten” *holds up fingers*. *Note: We’ve been in there since then and she’s used to us by now – I think she thinks that we are sweet, but quite dumb. I guess there are worse things she could think. We ordered coffee while we waited, and I tried to pay, but was told it was free for customers. Um, okay. As we were led to a back conference room by a slightly sweating banker who spoke broken English, I wondered what the catch was going to be.

“In university, my nickname Biggie Smalls. I still sign SMS ‘Biggie.’ This was just one of many tidbits shared by our banker as we spent nearly an hour setting up our account. It wouldn’t normally take that long, but he was very friendly and wanted to practice his English. I realized that his perspiration from first meeting us was due to his anxiety about speaking English. “I have big dreams. There is more to see and I want to see it,” he told us by way of explaining his nickname. *Note: I’m not sure that he knows who Biggie actually was.

He was Turkish and had a lot to say about different languages and personal identity. He had never heard of my middle name before (Jillian), and shot me a skeptical look and a smile every time he read or typed it, as though it couldn’t possibly be right. We also stopped to discuss the listed ‘profession’ in my account – Hausfrau. He did translate it correctly (housewife), but we talked about how it can have negative connotations in America. We went through the other choices, and since I’m not actually, you know, doing anything right now, it actually ended up being the most accurate choice.

Other things to know:

  • We’ll be charged 5 euros/month for our bank account. ‘Outrage!’ you may cry, throwing your beer to the ground in disgust. However, I think this is normal and maybe even a good fee for a German bank. It’s withdrawn quarterly, 15 euros at a time.
  • It would have been more difficult (and maybe not possible) to set up the joint bank account if we weren’t married, but we still didn’t have to show our marriage license. We’ve found people to be very trusting here.
  • He ran a credit check (SCHUFA) on each of us before officially opening the account. It turns out that we hadn’t incurred a lot of incriminating debt in the four days we’d been in the country. Score!

New vocab:

dispo (overdraft)

spiechen (to scan)

unterschrift (signature)

SCHUFA (German credit rating system)

Bankkonto (bank account)


5 responses to “die Bank, oder “Ich bin eine Hausfrau”

  1. I can really relate to all of this in setting up new accounts abroad. Happily, as with your experience, they’ve all be relatively pain-free as there always seems to be a happy, banker eager to use their English. I have also felt the small sting of filling out a million forms with “housewife” or “unemployed”. Cheers!

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