This morning I received my first call from an expat “money manager” since moving to Beijing.
This is one of the great curses of being an American overseas. In fact, it afflicts all expatriates, but American’s get special treatment due to America’s distinction as the only developed country that taxes its citizens’ global income regardless of where they live.
One of the great joys of living in Asia is that telemarketing and door-to-door marketing are generally much less of a daily curse than they are in the US. Of course, unstable governments and lethal diseases are more of a curse, but on-balance its a good trade-off. When I lived in San Francisco barely a day when by when I wasn’t shooing some noble cause off of my doorstep. Widows, orphans, whales, trees, politicians and Jesus all got the door slammed in their face more than once. Jesus got it repeatedly, but only because the Jehova’s Witnesses seem to lack basic learning skills.
Similarly, you couldn’t sit down for a meal or a Night Court rerun without the phone ringing and an automated voice that sounded like a sexed up version of the nasal computer from Star Trek explaining why my friends would abandon me and my pets would die if I didn’t get an MBNA Visa card.
This kind of telemarketing didn’t happen in Singapore, where annoying people at home is prohibited by law (as is being nude inside your house while visible to people outside, a law that would have destroyed the very social fabric of my old SF neighborhood, the Castro, where I had a succession of nude-neighbors). In nine years I may have had two people to my front door and one phone call to my home.
What did happen, however, was endless phone calls to my work number from people representing impressively named “financial consultancies” pitching tax-sheltered, offshore investments based in the Isle of Man, Vanuatu, Lesotho, or some such other godforsaken tax haven. They followed a predictable pattern:
“Hello, I’m Rick Ramrod from First Global Financial Counselors AG. Is this a good time to talk?”
“Er, well, I’m just…”
“Mr. Moss. William. Can I call you William? Are you aware that, as an American, Uncle Sam will hunt you down ruthlessly anywhere on this planet and bleed you bone-dry despite your pathetic attempts cling to some meager fraction of your dismal earnings. Is that how you want to live? Is it?”
“Look, Mr. Ramrod, I…”
“Bill –can I call you Bill?”
“I prefer Wi…”
“Smashing. Bill, would you have a half-hour to meet with me to discuss tax-sheltered investments? I’m flying into Singapore from Bangkok next Tuesday. I only do this once every eighteen months, when the moon is full and the weaselbane blooms by night. It’s meet me or suffer a lifetime of privation ground beneath the heel of the tax police.”
“I really don’t…”
“Splendid! How is 4:30?”
And so on. After a while you get good at deflecting them. It’s not that tax-sheltered investments are a bad idea for expatriate Americans. In fact, they’re a pretty good idea. I’m sure if I had some money, I’d use them. But there are less-seedy ways to come by them than at the behest of a salesman from a Bangkok boiler-room.
Since moving to Beijing I had been blessedly free of the overtures of the investment weasels. But it seems I have been discovered. Somehow my name-card has floated into the right pair of oily hands, or I’ve ended up on The List of Beijing expats. So my little pocket of bliss is ended. Because more calls are certainly coming. If there is one thing you can be sure about telemarketers, it’s that they are like roaches. For the one you see, there thousands more hidden in the cupboard, eating your Nilla Wafers and shitting in the Nescafe.