At lunchtime today it took me 25 minutes to pay my phone bill and buy some more credit for my electricity smartcard. There were only three people ahead of me in the line. However, by the standards of Chinese banking transactions, that was pretty damn swift. It's not uncommon for people to contrive to take 20 minutes or so over a single deposit or withdrawal.
One little bit of business Chinese customers can use to slow things up even more is a thing I call the triple-bag technique.
It's most common amongst the ladies. Almost all Chinese women carry their money in a small purse. And they keep this purse in a larger handbag or clutch-purse, or sometimes in some kind of holdall or shopping bag or backpack. But here's the thing - as an extra protection against possible snatch-purses, they always seem to use an intermediate-sized bag as well: the purse is inside a larger purse which is inside the handbag. And all of them are secured with zippers and/or clasps.
And a Chinese lady would never think of getting her purse out before she's been told how much she has to pay. Oh no. At the supermarket checkout or the cosmetics counter or the restaurant or your neighbourhood convenience store, she will wait until she's asked for the money.... and only then open the handbag, rummage for the intermediate purse, open the intermediate purse, remove the purse-purse, open the purse-purse, remove the money, count the money, count it again, and then grudgingly - and in ultra-slow-motion - hand it over. And then, of course, the whole thing in reverse once she gets her change. And she couldn't possibly move away from the counter until the process is completed.
The amount of dithering that goes on at cash registers in this country is just astounding. Really. Until the introduction of smartcards and ticket-vending machines on the Beijing subway a couple of years ago, it was not uncommon to see women taking a full minute or so to purchase a 2rmb single-journey subway ticket. Waiting in line at the ticket-window could take a very long time indeed.
I hadn't thought Chinese men were quite so bad as this. They do typically have a man-purse, in which they keep their wallet (why it's not cool to keep your wallet in your trouser-pocket, I really can't fathom), but...... I don't think I'd seen a man triple-bagging before. But TWO of the three guys ahead of me in the line today were. Oh god.