Washington Mutual goes to Moscow

How many languages does your ATM speak?

By Andrew Leonard
April 28, 2006 3:26AM (UTC)
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I'm the kind of guy who generally doesn't blink an eye when the user interface to my ATM is upgraded. There's always room for improvement in software, and I like to think I'm a person who can adapt quickly to change. But I will admit to being taken aback this morning, when, before I made a withdrawal, the ATM at my local Washington Mutual branch offered me a choice of four different languages to choose from. This globalization stuff is getting complicated.

OK -- English and Spanish, nothing to be surprised about there. And Chinese is increasingly common, particularly here in the San Francisco Bay Area. But the fourth choice was Russian, and that is just a tad flabbergasting. Are there really that many Russian immigrants in the United States banking with Washington Mutual?


The Cyrillic offerings don't appear to be a local thing, like Wells Fargo offering Hmong. Judging by press coverage late last year, the new rollout is a national initiative. But why? Why Russian? Why not Hindi or Japanese or French?

My calls to Washington Mutual's press relations people have not been returned, which can only mean they are covering up some dark and dirty secret. Could the Russian mafiya be involved?

And what would Lenin think? Because, when you can communicate with your automated teller machine in Berkeley, Calif., in the language of Moscow, capitalism has truly triumphed, once and for all.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works Russia