Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A line of people


”A line of men/women” is a popular concept in shops and restaurants around China.

What happens is that you enter your shop/restaurant and are greeted by 15 (+) people (standing in a neat line) shouting something like "welcome to our shop/restaurant!” in choirs.

I personally don’t know what the whole deal with the line of such a large amount of people is supposed to represent, but I can only guess that it has to be related to showing that this shop/restaurant surely has a lot of waiters/shop assistants available to look after You. Although… those times when I have entered shops/restaurants and walked passed the ‘line of people’ I have felt completely uncomfortable and unnatural, as I’ve felt that everybody are observing me quite closely (the worse situation is those times when you walk into a ‘line of people restaurant’ during early lunch hours and you’re the first one there. Talk about starring contest). Maybe this feeling is different if you are a Chinese business man, however, and enjoy walking through a throng of pretty waitress women closely observing you? (and some of them, I believe, are not even waitresses, but simply pretty hostesses). Because there has to be some point of it all, right?

Anyways, I thought this concept was limited to restaurants/shops only, so imagine my surprise when I went to the gym the other day. As usual, I took the elevator to the third floor, and when the doors opened and I walked out I was greeted by a loud ‘WELCOME TO OUR GYM!’ I literally flinched, as I wasn’t expecting 10 (+) male and female trainers (and receptionists I am sure?! How can they afford to have 10 trainers standing on a line all night during peak hours? Aren’t they supposed to actually…. Train people?!) to be standing there firing off their best smiles to me. “Uhhhhh…. Not the gym TOO?!” Was the first thought that came to my mind as I made my way to the changing rooms.

But the ‘line of people’ I believe, is a concept that is going to stay in China for a while. Many restaurant staff, shop assistants, yeah, well even the guards in our complex meet a few times/day, stand on a line and shout/sing cheerful songs in order to ‘get into the mood’ (?) for the working day ahead. I’ve also seen a few shops/restaurants having their staff doing some tai qi –like morning exercises, something that I actually find really good! I wouldn’t mind having a compulsory 20 minutes of morning-must-do-exercise every day at work before I sat down in front of my computer… although then I am trying to imagine all the ‘important’ people working at Ikea in Sweden standing in a line and doing their morning exercise every single day and that image goes down the drain.

21 comments:

Emmy said...

At some construction sites you will see the workers doing morning exercises, it helps loosen everyone up so they don't have accidents. 50+ construction workers stretching, now that is a site to see!

Kate said...

As always your comments are so funny! I would be totally undone by having such a welcome to the gym! I would really rather that no one notice me when I go there, you know?

mantse said...

if you get back to an old movie (actually not so old), The Last Emperor, you may know the old Chinese Noble like such, large amount of slaves follow them. Echo to your blog before, it's about "face". make customer feel pestiage and honoured....(even i don't think i like starring by others during my dinner)

the most important things is, there are hugh amount of receptionists welcome you at the reception, however, when you sit down and tery to find any waiter, you may ask, where are them now??

The Casual Observer said...

Wow. How is the economy over there? In the US, we have pretty high unemployment; it's hard to imagine that an employer would be utilizing large numbers of employees in this manner.

Lydia said...

I line of people shouting at me would probably make me turn in my tracks!
It is indeed a different culture you're living in. But interesting and amusing :)

胡崧 said...

I guess you have not learned enough about the Chinese culture. Discipline and collective thinking are two values that are deeply embedded in every Chinese.Standing in lines and respectfully welcoming every customer is just one of many ways to demonstrate professionalism and high-quality services. After all, the first impression is everything and any smart businessmen in China will do everything to show that you are a valuable customer to them.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Emmy -Sounds like a sight!! :) but it's actually a quite good idea. It should be compulsory at more places I reckon.

Kate -I know exactly what u mean. The complete opposite over here though... U are SUPPOSED to be notices/recognized. If I haven't been to the gym for 3 days straight the trainers call me and ask me where I have been and when I am coming next...

mantse -yeah good point. During my initial time in China I used to make the mistake of ordering food from the host showing me to my table.. massive confusion.

Casual observer -considering how low the wages are here in China it is def possible to employ a large number of staff, only to greet customers. I don't even wanna guess what they get paid, but it cannot be much.

Also, over here workplaces are often suffering from being over-staffed. Eg at restaurants: one person takes your order, one carries out the food on a tray, another one lifts the food from the tray to your table, one serves tea... and then when u wanna pay you go to a different person. Slows down efficiency a lot!!

Lydia -interesting at most days.. over the top at some... :/

胡崧 -there is an endless amount of stuff to learn when it comes to China, Chinese people and Chinese culture.. I have learned a lot, but am still learning every day -and now you just taught me something new! Thanks for that!

Chen1 said...

300 strong high school kids doing morning exercises together with music was a common scene at my school years. And I believe it still is. So I won't feel surprised if some employers bear this in their memories and use this as a mean to promote team spirit.

This is kind of dumb even in Chinese eyes, but some people like it. No, not the customers, but the employers. It gives them a sense of authority and they feel that they are in control. Also, they believe it's a good way for the employees to realize they are in a team. This often happens in small serves-oriented businesses. I mean no disrespect, but many people at this level of the business food chain
really are not smart.

Anonymous said...

hey
i thought writing ur blog in chinese might be a good way to boost ur chinese level up...

Cindy said...

What a fun and interesting blog. I love your writing.

-Cindy
www.lacheapskate.blogspot.com

Don Tai said...

The lineup of workers in uniform is very common in Japan. It took a lot for me to get used to this. When they first open up for business in the morning, all staff would line up on both sides of the aisle to greet the first customers, as a sign of respect and to welcome you.

Frankly I'm surprised this practice is starting in China. Just to get workers to line up together would be an accomplishment. It sounds very odd and not in keeping with shopping culture in China. Maybe the influence of Japanese retailers in China? Though there's a lot of lining up and marching in school, maybe this is where it came from.

Exercises in unison in the morning is also popular/mandatory in Japan, where they call it "taiso". This is pretty common in China.

Brad F. said...

You run into that sort of the thing occasionally in the US, at restaurants. Also, in some Starbucks (in multiple countries) I've had the whole staff greet me as I came in.

I don't really like it.

simon said...

nope, definitely not all restaurants in china will do the welcome chorus thingee. even in shanghai, if u go into those noodle restaurants/stalls by the streets, they won't even look at you unless u actually start placing yr order, or even look like u want to order something from them.

Alex W said...

Wow, you're a prolific writer! really funny posts too. I think the whole line phenomenon can be explained by something much more easy to understand than the nebulus concept known as "Chinese culture." It's called a nearly infinite labor supply, very low wages, and a sustained effort to maintain social harmony (keeping people busy and employed).
Also, I wrote something recently on my blog about being shocked by my visit to the gym. In case anyone is interested... here it is

Madpepper said...

Far East countries have this sort of welcoming culture. I think their intention is good, just did it a bit extreme way though. When I visited my mum last Christmas in South Korea, I often see there is a welcome girl with mic in any major department store....but in the car park entrance at that cold weather???? Good lord.... a bit harsh really.
On the other hand, people who work in retailing industry tend to be quite laid back in UK anyway. Don’t even bother say thank you when they receive payment from their customers. Some people may argue with me here. ‘Yes love there is.......in the receipts’ haha…
Thus, I thought that somewhere in middle should be ideal.
‘中庸才是道’

Phoenixkidd said...

IN Japan back in 1999, I got the biggest kick, when a line of people when they opened their optometrist store in Namba, stood in a line on the sidewalk and bowed simultaneously in four different directions to the tune of some cheer leader, asking the businesses and potential walkers to "welcome them into business"
it was so hillarious!

Yang said...

When I went back to China last year I came across some of these formations.

On my first night back we had to get extra towels from a supermarket and it was nearing closing time. As the announcement came over the PA I began to notice all the staff were walking towards the front entrance (they were all lined up in the aisles before). As we walked out we were greeted goodbyes from each one of them and not wanting to be rude I think I nodded my head at all of them in recognition of their "hospitality" haha.

Another time I was wasting time wandering around the mall and saw two lines of employees outside the shop being scolded by their supervisor in front of them ... in plain sight of customers. Another employee was facing the "lines" as well with her head down (must've been a big booboo). Certainly doesn't help build team morale does it?

I suppose having so many employees helps to keep unemployment levels low (despite the low wages) and it keeps the government happy. And it gives something (honest) for people to do as opposed to loitering or turning to crime. My own naivety perhaps ...

Jonna Wibelius said...

Yang -wow, that's quite over the top!!!

Brad F. said...

Jonna, this story just reminded me of something else. Don't businesses in Japan have a policy where workers do morning exercises together? I was reminded of that scene in Heroes, where Hiro Nakamura popped up on the roof of his office building and his coworkers were doing their exercises.

Quentin said...

don't think too much about the line, they are just training.

kanmuri said...

They do the same in Japan but only in traditional Japanese inns and host clubs. They sometimes do it in other places if someone important visits.