Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Culture Shock: Customer's Conscience

Shopping in Beijing was different from home, most noticeably the aggressiveness of the vendors. Of course, the people who approach you are the ones trying to make a profit off you … usually dishonest. But for somebody used to Sweden, a country where eye contact with strangers is avoided and small talk nigh unthinkable (unless one of the strangers has a dog), it’s incredibly taxing to have every shopkeeper hawking their wares at you in an insistent and ear-splitting way … and even more stressful to imagine the bargaining situation that might ensue.

Bargaining, of course, is a big thing in China. The locals and shopkeepers are used to it and expect it. Nevertheless, I find bargaining incredibly stressful. Aside from having to interact on close terms with someone, in a language I can’t truly speak, the mere prospect of making another person feel disappointed and upset really bothers me - no matter if that person is loud, relentlessly annoying, and obviously trying to score a big one off me.

inside a chinese department store, where learning to push prices is key

There’s a particular type who’s just the worst, though. It’s usually a woman, who’s calm, kind, and helpful, makes friendly conversation, and seems really nice. If you’re curious about her wares, she’ll help you try them on, show you different ones, spend significant chunks of time just catering to you (but of course, as soon as another customer appears, she’ll use all her skills to split her doting between both of you special, pretty girls). Anyhow, my natural reaction when someone’s being nice to me usually isn’t trying to mercilessly force down the price they’ve set. And when someone’s given me such good service, I feel awful if I finally decide I don’t want to buy anything after all.

Of course, they know this, too. Guilt-tripping is a powerful marketing ploy.

When I go off to live in China, I’m going to remember that the seller is always making a profit - anything implying otherwise is just an attempt to make that profit even bigger. Like any person, I hope to be well liked by others, but it’s so important to realize that you don’t owe anything to somebody you just met - no matter how nice they’re being.


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