Sunday, May 24, 2009

Almost missing out on a discount

pay attention to details when shopping...

I paid a visit to Watson yesterday, and decided to buy myself a body scrub. Like always, I paid little attention to which one I chose, and went up to the counter to pay. Once it was my turn the shop assistant behind the counter grabbed the body scrub from my basket and looked at her colleague who also looked at the scrub.

-Isn’t that the scrub that we have a special promotion on right now? Said the colleague in Chinese to the shop assistant. You buy one and you get one free?

-Yeah it is, said the girl holding the scrub in the hand. But I mean.. she’s a laowai, how would she know?

-Oh, so you’re not going to tell her?

-Well….? The shop assistant shrugged her shoulders, so I decided it was time to step in.

-Buy one get one for free you said? Well then I should go and get myself another one immediately!

Oh the long faces of the girls behind the counter.

-She understands!!! Said the colleague. The shop assistant holding the scrub in her hand said nothing, just stared at me, wide-eyed.

When I came back, waving my additional, free scrub to her she still looked kind of shocked. Almost as if she wasn’t expecting me to come back with the right thing.

-I don’t want to miss out on free gifts! I said.

The colleague giggled, while the shop assistant who put it in my bag said nothing.

Now, it was ‘just’ a body scrub this time, but oh my oh my….! I am SO HAPPY that I understand Chinese. Think of all the things you might miss out on ‘just because you’re a laowai’ and because you don’t understand the language otherwise?

It’s actually funny, because not all Watsons are like the one I visited yesterday. I remember when I first came to Shanghai, and visited a Watson to get some paper napkins (you always have to carry around your own paper over here… as public toilets are non-paper-equipped). I grabbed a big pack of napkins and walked over to the counter to pay, when a shop assistant came running after me with another large package, trying to get me to take that one too.

I was clueless and confused, I had no idea what she was telling me (in Chinese of course, which I by then didn’t understand one iota of!) and got annoyed when she kept handing me an additional package of napkins.

-No no, it’s OK! I just want to buy one! I said. But just like my Chinese was zero, her English was zero, and as a result we just stood there, pushing a large package of paper napkins at each other.

It took another shop assistants assistance before the situation was resolved. She spoke a little bit of English and came up to me, dragged me back to where I had grabbed the paper napkins from, pointed at a promotion sign that had some Chinese character that I didn’t understand and said:

-Buy one. One free.


Big, relief-sigh from me, and the two shop assistants. And I thanked the persistent lady running after me with the free package of napkins at least 4 times.

But it’s obviously not always that you’re this ‘lucky.’ And then it’s quite nice to know your Chinese. At least I never get bored of 'shocking' people here. 


Emmy said...

I can't believe they were standing there saying they weren't going to tell you! So crazy! That would be so fun to shock people like that.

Carl said...

Great stories, Jonna! Sure shows the power of knowing the language. You make some very good points. It would have been fun if you had not let the clerks know you understood them, say 'oh wait... forgot something' in something other than Chinese, and ran back to the shelf to get another one. Might have found them saying some more interesting things when you got back to the counter. :D

******************** Shanghai MiFeng said...

That is great Jonna , knowing the Language and having fun with it like that . You know the little I know and the many character's
( about two hundred ) that I know , I myself have a lot of fun at Chinese Restaurant's writing on the check or on a Napkin for the waitress's to see . Same in Chinatown , love their Eyes open up as wide as possible in shock .

Thanks as alway's for your great Stories , very helpful and entertaining to read .

Reluctant and Recluse said...

Hehehehe... i remember having a similar situation with a snooty french sommelier in Paris, and my french then (much less now) was no where near your Chinese.

I also have had situations where Chinese sales ladies have handed me things which were supposed to be free - and its always the older women :|

Finally, you are not feeling sorry for yourself in China, that's good to see.

Brad Farless said...

Very entertaining story!

There are Watsons stores in Singapore as well. I've never had a bad experience here, as far as I know anyways, but mostly because the accepted business language in Singapore is English. People always speak English at shops. I did go to a counter one time with my wife and the lady shooed us away because we forgot to get a free item that came with a purchase. She wouldn't ring us up until we had it. Very refreshing. I wouldn't even expect that level of courtesy in my home country.

Anonymous said...

Heh. You can play it both ways now. You can pretend to be the ignorant laowai, or you can rub their face's in it when it suits!

I can only imagine how much your world has grown!


flyingfish said...

Good for you, Jonna!

But here's what I don't get. I mean, Mandarin is not exactly an obscure language. We're not talking, like, some random dialect spoken only in a couple of villages up in the Andes or somewhere. LOTS of people speak Chinese. LOTS and LOTS. Not even counting the 1.4 billion who speak it as a mother tongue. So what gives?

Stories like this one make me so glad I live in Beijing! Sure, the place is swamped with laowai, and plenty of people would argue that it's not "the real China" (as if there were one real China), but at least people here expect you to speak Chinese.

Just today when I was examining a carton of milk at a grocery store that caters to Western tastes a shop assistant came up to me and explained, in rather poor English, "That's milk." Very little escapes me, so I actually had picked up on that already. But that's the kind of thing that doesn't often happen here anymore -- I mean, someone assuming you can't speak Chinese and are also, by the way, a total idiot.

Nowadays people sometimes speak to you in English because they want to show off their language skills, but even that seems to happen less than it used to.

I really hope that this kind of change comes to the rest of China as well, and comes soon. You'd have less chance to dazzle obnoxious shop assistants as you did on this occasion, but, on the other hand, perhaps it would be easier to feel at home.

Tram Almasi said...

Hi Jonna, nice Blog with humorous stories! well, I was in china last year and I experienced the same thing while shopping in Beijing. Luckily, i was walking around with a guy who leaves and study in Beijing, so he is fluent in chinese. But upon arrival in Shopping areas he pretended not to understand the language, but when they were about to fix us, he was started talking chinese. It was a shock for them.Your Story reminds me of China. Thanx Jonna!

Shopgirls Shanghai said...

awww that is so cute ^_^

I love watsons by the way. I miss shopping there, you can find so many cool unnecessary stuff there

Little Tiger said...

I once went into a Chinese convenience store here in Ireland to buy some ice tea (I miss it so much). After I got my ice tea I noticed a free Chinese newspaper on the floor. So I bent down and while I was having a quick look I heard the cashier shout (in chinese): 'Hahaha Laowais read Chinese newspapers now!'. I immediately stood up, turned around and looked him in the eye. Judging by the look on his face, he knew that I had understood.
So when I went up to pay he was like (in Chinese again): 'Are you Chinese??!?!' to which I was like 'eh no???'. In the end, he was very apologetic and embarrassed. I was sure to remind him though that HE was technically the laowai, so why he was going around calling other people laowai was ridiculous!.
Good thing is I always get a discount when I go in there 'just because you speak Chinese.' :)

NavlGazr said...

A funny story JW. I still find it funny how many of us Laowai (I orefer WaiGuoRen myself) have lived in China for years and still don't know more than the "How much" or "thank-you" type phrases. Someone In Canada would expect whoever walked into a shop to speak competent english, no matter what race they were. I guess that is changing though (as previously commented). Keep on 学中文!

mantse said...

thanks for this story which give me an example to tell my friends which work in Danmark....

"May miss discount if you do not know Danish!!" i must tell her about this.

Shopgirls Shanghai said...

little tiger: you are talking with a man from the middle kingdom. Don't you know that everything should be concentraded on the middle kingdom, everyone else are laowais, outsiders.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Emmy -I know... and yes, I love shocking people! :)

Carl -hehe, I know I could have done some more with the situation, but I normally cannot help myself! I'm so eager to reveal that I understand. :)

Shanghai Mifeng -yeah, it's fun when u get a positive response from people. Then all the hard work u put in in order to learn the language feels worth it!

Reluctant and relcluse -sorry for myself in China? Never! :) It's just getting better and better :) Also... being in France and not speaking French is quite awful. I've been there myself. I was refused a glas of tap water just because I couldn't say it in French... 'je ne sais pais' (or something like that -like I said, not a master of that language) was the only response I got when I pointed at the tap and asked for 'water, water!'

Brad -me neither! And that's something I really enjoy about this place. It's not like back home.. at all.

Adrian -yeah, and yours too I am sure?! I love to shock people...

Flyingfish -i know exactly what u mean, and I what you wrote is something I have thought about many times.. I mean, here I am in Suzhou, together with thousands of other laowais... and quite a few can speak Chinese. Still, people almost fall of their chairs when you reveal your language skills... 'How can you speak Chinese, it's so hard!!!' Yeah, sure it's hard. But it's not impossible (and it's not rocket science...!) I believe there are many languages that are as hard, if not harder, to learn...

Your experience in the grocery store (with the milk package) is such a classic situation. I can tell of many similar situations. Actually, I don't know if it's only me who have experienced this, but quite often when I'm at a public spot, like a bus, at the gym, or in a store or somewhere, I notice that the Chinese people around me start speaking English?! Is it only me or does this happens quite a lot? It's almost as if they want to show you that they (too!) can speak English, in case I am feeling lost?!

Tram -that's a classic situation, I bet your friend was enjoying himself! Glad u like the blog :)

Shopgirl -I also love Watson.. I can spend hours there just browsning... Soon u can too! :)

Tiger -hahaha, I love that overseas Chinese refer to locals as 'laowais'.... they really believe they are the centre of the universe, don't they?! Your newspaper situation is quite funny, especially the fact that they asked you if you were Chinese?! Haha! Well at least now u r gettin a discount.

Navl -yeah, there are a lot of laowais here who can barely say 'pijiu' (THE number one word amongst laowais over here...) and who have no interest to learn either. They are happy pointing and gesturing everytime they want something. Quite amazing if u think about it.. I cannot imagining me living in France for 5 years and not speaking French.(I bet the French people would kick me out, haha!)

Mantse -yeah do so indeed! Although not that many discounts in Denmark I bet...

Anonymous said...

And here's why I'm enrolling in chinese language school. I want those specials!!

WoAi said...

I'm a bit surprised. Usually they will tell you about the promotion because it's not their money. I mean if you don't get a free one, they don't benefit in any way.

It's kind of odd though. It's happened to me loads of times. I go to pay and they tell me I can get something for free. The idea of promotion is to persuade you to buy so if you're already paying it means you don't care about the freebie.

Chocolatesa said...

Lolll!!! I would have LOVED to see their faces!!!! Priceless!!

Najwa Pervin said...

Oh yeah ! I tuly wish I could see their faces !