Shopping Experiences in China
This blog is aimed mainly at the newer arrivals who are about to go shopping in China for the first time. Whether you choose to frequent the big chain department stores or the thousands of 'hole in the wall' stores in any city, here are some important things I've learned.
1. Shopping dialogues in textbooks aren't very helpful
When I was reading shopping dialogue in Chinese textbooks, the conversation would go something like this:
Shopkeeper: ninhao, wo keyi bang ni ma? (Hello, can I help you?)
Customer: ninhao qing gei wo...(hello, please give me..)
Shopkeeper: gei ni xiexie (give you/here are are, thank you)
Customer: xie xie, zaijian (thank you, goodbye)
In real life however, the conversation is more like this...
Shopkeeper: Yao shenma? (what do you want?)
Customer: zhege (this one)
The customer then might raise a few fingers to indicate how many he/she wants. Few other words are exchanged during the transaction. In the textbooks, the shop/stallkeepers are always friendly and alert and never sleeping or watching TV, as I've seen in many shops in Guangzhou.
2. Most shops may assume you're a clueless tourist
Unless the shopkeepers know me very well, they may assume I've just arrived in China and don't know any numbers. Even for a very small transaction, they will tell me the price and then grab the calculator to punch in the number. Even now, I still get people who do that for something that costs just 1-2RMB when it would be quicker and easier just to stick a couple of fingers in the air. That's almost as annoying as...
3. Plastic bags
I don't know if I'm the only one in China who's bothered by this but the frequent overuse of plastic bags for even the smallest items makes me frustrated at times. Even if I buy a small bun that can easily fit in my hand, the first thing they do after showing me the price on a calculator is grab a plastic bag. I would rather be polite and say hello but instead I spend far too much energy waving my arms about and emphatically refusing a bag. Some look at me in shock, clearly not used to having this service refused, before giving me a nervous smile and sending me on my way.
4. Queue? What queue?
There are a few small stores along my street specialising in selling dumplings, buns and different types of meat cakes. I've found that instead of queueing patiently, the best way to get served is to stand in a scrum around the stand, wave my money and shout my order as loudly as I can. It can even be fun trying to outshout my competitors and put my money down first - it makes my food taste that much sweeter. The servers won't always complete your transaction before going on to the next one either, as they tend to juggle many orders at once. It's not a bad or negative experience as such, it's just part of the culture and something I'm now used to.
So my advice to counter all this: Shop in big stores like Justco, Costco or Park n Shop wherever possible. The service is better, the queues are more organised and the prices are fixed. However, there are also good smaller stores out there who offer good, friendly service and charge fair prices. They do exist, you just have to look around and find them.
Thanks About adb2014 for this really insightful article. I am an Overseas Chinese who moved to China 8 months ago. I can relate to most of what you shared in this article, although it is nice living here since coming here. In bigger department stores like Jusco or Carrefour, they don't automatically give you a plastic bag with your groceries & charge if you specifically request for one.
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