Do Consumers Need to Accept Mei Ban Fa (沒辦法)?

Pretty much nothing gets my back up like being told "mei ban fa (沒辦法)." If you translate mei ban fa, you'll come up with something like "this problem cannot be solved." Spend some time in Taiwan and see how mei ban fa (沒辦法) is used. Eventually, you'll discover mei ban fa  (沒辦法) is something closer to:

a. I don't feel like helping you
b. I won't help you because if I take initiative, I could get in trouble
c. Get lost, because you can't win this pissing contest

I've been mei ban fa-ed three times in the last 20 hours, two times when I went to pick up pizza at Pizza Hut last night and a third at Costco this morning. In all three cases, the individuals doing the mei ban fa-ing worked in customer service. Before I give a rundown, I'll offer a few suggestions for those out there facing a mei ban fa (沒辦法) of their own. First, explain to the customer non-service rep. there is no such thing as a problem too impossible to solve. Then offer to help them come up with a solution. If that doesn't do the trick, ask to speak to a manager. Remember that you could be getting screwed when being mei ban fa-ed.

My mei ban fa (沒辦法) grief began when I ordered Mexican and American double salami pizzas last night. The bill came to NT$720 (US$23), so I pulled out my wallet to pay. While doing so, I asked about my points (I have a VIP card, which I paid for, so I can get free side dishes from time to time). "The card is under my wife's name," I told the guy at the cash register, just like I have every time for the past couple of years. "Here's her phone number." 

"Ah. Ms. Cheng," the guy at the till smiled, after keying in the information. "Do you have your card on you?" 

"I don't think I have it anymore," I answered. "No worries. You can see her name on the screen. I normally just give the phone number," I said, starting to feel a bit weird. I hadn't paid yet for the pizza. My wallet was out though; the order had been placed. Who in their right mind would jeopardize a sale with this kind of pettiness?

"I'm sorry sir," said the clerk. "If you don't give me your VIP card, mei ban fa (沒辦法)!" he declared, like he had just uttered something decisive. 

"There's no such thing as mei ban fa [沒辦法]," I explained. "By the way, I can't accept this kind of service, so get it sorted. This street has lots of pizza places."

"Uh, okay. No, I mean mei ban fa."

A couple minutes later, the assistant manager, Mr. Hsieh, appeared. After filling him in, I said: "I want to complain about this clerk. He's providing poor customer service and wasting my time. I don't agree with this kind of attitude." 

"I'm so sorry about that," said the assistant manager, reviewing the computer screen and not listening at all to me. Then, still not listening, he picked up the phone and called my wife. 

"Give me that," I said, taking the phone. Then to my wife, "The pizza place is being silly. I'll be home in a while." All of this was over a few points on a VIP card. I mean I was ready to pay. What on earth was their problem? 

"Sir, sorry. You can place your order, but you can't accrue any points on your VIP card," said the assistant manager.

"Okay. Okay. Let me speak to your manager," I said. I knew it had crossed the line of "it's not worth it," but the pissing contest was now on. I pulled out my iPhone and hit the film button on the camera function.

I don't know if the manager was more reasonable or it was the camera. Or, it could have very well been that she's the only one with license to authorize anything, even when it's just a few crummy points on a VIP pizza card. "Do you know what these guys are putting me through?" I asked her. "My VIP card is recorded in your system. I have cash in my hand."

Here's the answer she gave me, before giving me some points and side order of bacon bread: "There has been a lot of pizza card fraud recently."

I'm not going to get too much into the Costco mei ban fa (沒辦法) tale because this is giving me a headache. I will say the nonsense was about the same. My time was wasted. I was offered silly excuses. Then I received the external drive that I had purchased earlier -- the external drive that already belonged to me.

I have worked in lots of customer service jobs. I tended bar in university. I have also worked the front desk at The Holiday Inn. When customers had a problem, I simply asked them what it was. Then I tried to make them feel less unhappy. I didn't bother to bother the manager. As a bartender, I usually refixed the drink if they didn't like it, adding more soda, an extra olive or lime, or what have. Sometimes I gave the customer a second drink for free. It never occurred to me to be stubborn or give them flak. At the hotel, I just upgraded their room. When that didn't work, I gave a discount. I didn't say things couldn't be done and problems couldn't get solved because that would have been disingenuous. 


Valerie said...

The problem might be more related to the fact that you're a laowai and they don't want to deal with you.

Patrick Cowsill said...

First of all, I was speaking Chinese. Second, after a minute or two, they know they have to deal with me. I think one problem is that they don't own the place and don't care about their jobs. I think the main problem is there are just too many people who accept it when someone tells them "mei ban fa," especially when there are many easy solutions.

Terry J. Benzie said...

沒辦法 really gets to be as well. I think that it's a combination of the reasons you listed, with the primary one being clerks that really could care less.

I got the it in Subway last week for wanting to order a set meal with a 12-inch sandwich. The store owner happened to be in the backroom and heard and came out and apologized to me, took my order and spoke to the clerks.

COSTCO tried to 沒辦法 me for a coupon last year until I went to customer service who handled the situation (and sold me a TV) in a satisfactory manner.

blobOfNeurons said...

"There has been a lot of pizza card fraud recently."

That is ludicrous. And yet, still completely probable.

Anonymous said...

This is something I've been talking with my wife about lately. There is an astonishingly low amount of customer service in Taiwan.

They can't be bothered to go out of their way or provide just a bit extra service for a customer. And it doesn't depend what color or race the customer is.

I'm not sure if it's wages, poor management or just apathy, but it's rather frustrating once any situation requires that extra bit of service.

James said...

As you know, I had a Meiyou banfa-ish incident yesterday evening.

A friend of mine who is always complaining about foreigners, er, complaining insists that in many cases the incidents cited are no different from anywhere else.

In some cases this may be true and we just forget how equally crap people/things can be in our countries of birth. In this case, however, this line of reasoning is palpable bollocks.

I've spent only three days in the U.S. so I'm hardly an authority but this kind of attitude from service industry employees seems unthinkable there to me.

Unfortunately, standards seem to have slipped back in Blighty but you still wouldn't get this almost universal apathy and inability to the think outside the box. It's the reason many foreigners have a tough time getting decent staff here.

They generally have to be rigorously trained (or perhaps untrained) to understand about quality service. At Burger Stop, for example, the guv'nr Dave has told us of his frustration finding decent staff and he appears to be a very easygoing chap.

There seems to be a body of expats that bitches about expats 'bitching'. But you wouldn't accept this shit in the States, so it's not double standards, or looking through red-white-and-blue tinted specs to demand a bit more here.

Inevitably many of the anti-whinge whingers (isn't it ironic how some of these seem to do nothing but just what they claim to abhor - I guess it's OK when it's about fellow foreigners) will retreat into that most spurious of arguments 'If you don't like it, you know what you can do'.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"And it doesn't depend what color or race the customer is."

I agree. And I think it is all of what you have said: apathy, poor wages and poor training (management). They've been allowed to get away with sucking at what they do. Furthermore, they do not take pride in what they are doing.

"A friend of mine who is always complaining about foreigners, er, complaining insists that in many cases the incidents cited are no different from anywhere else."

Your friend who is always complaining wouldn't get my point. I'm not looking to make comparisons here, but rather what we can do if we get mei ban fa-ed. Isn't your friend simply making excuses? If we always make excuses, how will we solve problems?

In making excuses such as "well it's the same everywhere," James, I think your friend isn't really listening to you.

Anonymous said...

At the HK airport on Sunday, my EVA Air flight was abruptly cancelled when the plane never arrived from Taiwan. As the crowd complained, two people were filming the hapless local staff who were trying to sort things out (not very well, I might add.)

Later on, I talked to one of the staff who told me Taipei had not warned them at all and left them high and dry. Can you imagine having to face a crowd of people filming you?

Well, you sure will be more polite when you deal with them. I think overall its a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, one more thing about the airport incident. I waded into that morass and complained too. (To be a complete dick, I did it all in Mandarin to the poor Hong Kong staff who wanted desperately to use English.)

Some Taiwanese woman thanked me, saying they would only listen to foreigners. I thought, strange EVA Air must be 90% Taiwan customer but they think foreigners can get stuff done.

I did also demand my meal voucher after getting my new flight on China Air set up. Two Taiwanese guys came over and did the same, telling me they wouldn't have tried that unless they saw me do it.

Now, I think the problem is two-fold:

1) too much respect for authority, maybe.

2) they use the excuse, too, so they accept when the card is played on them.

I have never become more demanding then after dealing with seriously demanding customers. If I could pull a "mei ban fa" on them once in a while, I might have to accept it when done to me.

This is also why you have to LOVE McDonalds, even if you hate the food. They brought a lot of good service training to Taiwan. Many years ago, my Taiwanese friends were shocked when I demanded a fresh burger from McDonald's when I was not satisfied. This stuff is infectious.

Michael Turton said...

Passivity in the face of authority. And politeness. And low self-esteem (who am I to get this service). And anyone from an institution can give orders and get them accepted by the general public. Lots of deference to hierarchies here, even when they don't exist people imagine themselves in them. Lots of interesting stuff going on.

Jeff said...

Just the experience I've ever had. May 09, 2009, I was showing my reserved ticket from Megabus to the lady who checked tickets on the bus. Once she saw mine, "it's void, you have to buy a ticket" was what she said without further explanation, then she kept checking others'. Suddenly, she spoke out loud, "this is not my company's, Get Out!!..." It's not my first time to hear this. It happened as well when one man show their clerk his ticket on my way to DC. "Not my company, Get Out!!" It's pretty rude. It's really not necessary to do that to passengers as there're lots of buses parking on the same street, which might get confused sometimes. Back to the topic, I was trying to explain that the ticket was purchased before the day their company (Eastern Travel) still collaborates with Megabus. She just said we've already had no collabotation, either you buy a ticket or get out. OK, that's it. No more Chinatown bus to me anymore every since then. It's only 10 bucks for compensation fee, but they might lose customers (at least me) this way. It seems "Mei Ban Fa" is more acceptable than "Get Out" to me, both sock though.

Anonymous said...

“Mei Ban Fa “(無辦法) in Japanese is “Mu Seki Nin” (無責任), not accepting the responsibility. In prewar period, all young kids at elementary school were educated and trained to accept their responsibilities more so were all soldiers at the battle field; it is their duties. It is the attitude of the whole society; it is also the moral standard of the society.
“Mei Ban Fa” landed on Formosa together with those Chinese conquerors from Mainland after WWII for the first time and stayed ever since. When one cannot do it, or refuse to help it, or even trying to give the other guy a hard time; one simply says “Mei Ban Fa” and raise both hands. The moment one says “Mei Ban Fa,” the one is automatically released from one’s disposability. “Mei Ban Fa” is Chinese philosophy and culture; it is also only way to survive in this new and complicated society by some people.
”阿Q “survived with his “Mei Ban Fa” philosophy; yet so many Japanese soldier committed suicide instead of surrendering to the enemy during the war by accepting their responsibilities.
Anger comes with unable to control either yourself or other people. You have a choice to fight the “Mei Ban Fa” culture or accept it as is by saying “you Mei Ban Fa? me Mei Ban Fa too“in return and then smile to each other.

James said...

Not sure I get you ChoSan. Are you saying that, in committing suicide, the Japanese "accepted their responsibilities"?


“you Mei Ban Fa? me Mei Ban Fa too“in return and then smile to each other.

Not sure how this solves anything. You still end up not getting what you want and the person is none the wiser about using some inititaive or, as you put it, taking responsibility.

Anonymous said...

Pizza card fraud is rife and costs society millions of dollars. You had absolutely no right to try to cheat them out of an order of tator tots. Shame on you.

R. Statham said...

Isn't this the same as someone saying "I'm sorry, I can't help you" in the US? I get this all the time, and it feels just as frustrating and insincere as 沒辦法.

James said...


You really get that kind of response in place like Pizza Hut in the US? I'm surprised.

I can imagine it certain sectors, like the banks (who seem to be crap and incompetent everywhere) but I had nothing but amazingly polite and helpful service for the few days I was in the States. It was the thing that impressed me most.

Mind you, I wasn't trying to use my wife's points card ...

blobOfNeurons said...

Well not a pizza place but what do you think about this http://consumerist.com/2010/12/restaurant-wont-let-pregnant-woman-eat-from-kids-menu.html ? 沒辦法 can happen anywhere there is strict management.

Anonymous said...

It is a surprise to learn that the pizza in Taiwan costs as much as those in the States. US$23 is just about my one month salary working for Taiwan Power Company as an engineer when I left the island almost half a century ago. Is the cost of living in Taiwan really so close to those in the States nowadays?

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Isn't this the same as someone saying "I'm sorry, I can't help you" in the US?"

Let me reiterate: I wanted to discuss what people can do when mei ban fa-ed in Taiwan. I can't see how drawing comparisons to poor customer service practices elsewhere is helpful or relevant to solving this problem in Taiwan. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think I made any such comparisons in my post. In fact, I think drawing comparisons to poor customer service in other countries is nothing more than an exercise in excuse-making and solves nothing.

Chosan, interesting point. I think someone living under the cloud of martial law in Taiwan (1949-87) would want to remain as anonymous as possible. Sticking your neck out or making your presence known when you're living in fear, when you can get in trouble for anything, would probably lead to a high degree of anxiety. I don't know much about Japan and what's going on there now. But Japanese people probably would not be able to comprehend the mei ban fa concept. Customer service in that country is second to none.

BTW, it depends on where you live in the US, I think, if you want to say the cost of living in Taiwan has caught up with the West. If you're talking about your stomping grounds, namely California, I'd say no. But I remember living in Ohio. My friend bought a house, with two bathrooms, four bedrooms, three floors and a back and front yard for US$75,000 in 2004. In Taiwan, this would be, well, impossible.

Anonymous said...

{Not sure I get you ChoSan. Are you saying that, in committing suicide, the Japanese "accepted their responsibilities"?}

Hi James,
Thanks for comments.
I am sure when you have completed reading 阿Q正傳 by 魯迅 and 台湾人と日本精神 by 蔡焜燦 then you may understand a little better what I was saying.
Have a good day.

James said...

And I hope that when you have "completed" patronising me, you can answer my question rather than deflecting it with obfuscation.

You don't know me. You certainly don't know what I've read.


Anonymous said...

Hi James,
Hope English is not your first language or it is rather shame to make that kind of spelling error.

James said...

Heehee. Au contraire, dear boy. The shame is all yours. I am a native English speaker in the narrowest sense of the term.

I shouldn't blame you as insularity is par for the course in two of the countries (I take it) you have lived in, as - for that matter - it is in my own sceptred isle of origin.

Still, it's ironic you question whether I am a native when, if you were one, you may have had a better chance of figuring out why the word you're referring to is not misspelt. My valedictory would have given the game away to most as well.

Quite what this ad hominem evasion has to do with anything is anyone's guess.

Sorry if it offended you but my question was a genuine one and was not designed to provoke or be rude. I really didn't get your point and you either cannot or will not explain it, preferring instead to disparage me as some kind of culturo-historical illiterate.

* I posted most of this a couple of hours ago but it appears to have disappeared. Odd.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, not intended but had left a dirty spot on you Blog.
Please accept my sincere apology.

FOARP said...

Have to say I've always found Taiwanese service to be very good. James is too kind - British service is universally bad and has been as long as I can remember, but being a crazed British nationalist I put this down to our strong democratic traditions.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Sorry, not intended but had left a dirty spot on you Blog.
Please accept my sincere apology.

All comments are welcome here, Chosan, so you have nothing to apologize for. I don't censor and appreciate people dropping by and joining in the discussion. You and James are actually on the same side; it's nothing that can't be settled over a beer. Merry Christmas to the both of you, and my other readers too.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"* I posted most of this a couple of hours ago but it appears to have disappeared. Odd."

It is odd, because I don't censor comments. You know that. Thanks for taking time to add to the discussion too.

Kaminoge said...

"Customer service in that country (meaning Japan) is second to none."

I've experienced quite a few Mei Ban Fa-like moments in Japan (as well as here in Taiwan). The difference is that in Japan, it's usually done a lot more politely, as in "申し訳ありません" - "I'm terribly sorry, but..."

Anonymous said...

All..bad customer service, pass the buck, "ain't my problem" (sort of the the English equivalent of mei ban fa) has been on the rise....Taiwan has been an increasing problem to us for the last 25 years or so in this respect, but generally if you confront the person, or go over their head as you did , its resolvable, ... In America, with the rise of "progressive" thinking, the no blood no foul attitudte to life and management, it is more of a hassle getting resolution for crappy service and treatment...
Happy New Years to all of you

Anonymous said...

I've continued to use too many Chinese phrases considering the number of Chinese speakers around me now (1), but 沒辦法 is not one of them. Obnoxious. 沒問題 is so much nicer. (And might I add that we haven't found a way of expressing that in Italian yet. Disappointing.)

Terry J. Benzie said...

I was 沒辦法ed to death at the Post Office Bank this past weekend - it's a long story but the gist was that I was unhappy when I left to find the contact details for their headquarters. Less than 48-hours later I had an email from them requesting further details and a few hours after that I had the first of two telephone calls from the manager of another branch who offered to help me.

The manager who called me agreed that 沒辦法 was not satisfactory and he stated that he would bring it up with his staff that they should offer explanations instead of simply using such phrases. Now, he may have simply been telling me what I wanted to hear but I like to think that this kind of thing will eventually change.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Now, he may have simply been telling me what I wanted to hear but I like to think that this kind of thing will eventually change."

Good. If people constantly accept 沒辦法 as a resolution, it'll have to change.

BTW, was your 沒辦法 a) laziness b) a power trip c) a customer service agent hating his/her job d) other?

Haaklong Nguyệt said...

It's clear that costumer service is non-existent in the Republic of China, in Hanoi I can walk around with my wife's V.I.P. cards and never have this issue.