Greetings dear readers! Today is a national holiday, so just like one would in the US on a holiday, I joined the masses and went shopping. I started my day off at 9:30 this morning at Carrefour, France’s answer to Walmart here in China. Do you think a holiday would keep people from working here today? Not at all!
I had so much confidence on my way to Carrefour as it was the first time I had navigated my way there on my own. Once at Carrefour, I was also able to quickly navigate through the store and find what I needed, even picking up a new pot on sale for 29 RMB instead of 69 RMB. I proceeded to the check-out again feeling pretty smug and proud that I was in a line with only two people in front of me. Riding on that confidence, the woman in front of me saw that I only had a basket and since she had a whole shopping cart, she let me go in front of her. Then suddenly things turned sour. The man in front of me got in a big argument with the check-out lady. I’m not sure what the deal was, but she was reaming him out for probably not having the right price label on the bag of eggs (from the bulk food section) he was trying to buy. The man was there with a small child in his cart and it looked like she was demanding him to get the correct price and he was yelling back to her that he wasn’t about to leave his son in the cart there nor drag him halfway through the store to get the correct price. Then the argument started to escalate when the man’s wife arrived and then the sales lady started yelling at her as well. So it was under these pretenses that the check-out lady started scanning my items. Right away, the pot I was trying to buy was priced at 69 RMB instead of the sales price of 29 RMB. I tried to explain to the woman that the pot was actually 29 RMB (I am proud to say that we have learned the numbers in the last week). Well, clearly she had the upper hand and she barked at me and put my pot aside and made me pay for the bag I wanted to purchase (and forgetting to ring up the rest of my groceries). I fumbled for my iPhone where I have an app that lists some survival Chinese terms. I found the word for “today” and “yesterday”. I kept yelling out “Yesterday 69. Today 29!!!” pointing at the words for yesterday and today on my phone. Meanwhile the line behind me was suddenly ten people deep (although I will give my fellow-Chinese shoppers credit- they didn’t seem the least bit irate or annoyed). At that point, another sales lady came over and I tried to explain to her as well. No luck. Those of you who know me well know how quickly my stress level escalates in, um, a stressful situation such as this (you Steph, getting stressed and panicking? Nooooo!). My voice started getting high and I was on the brink of tears. I was writing out “SALES. PROMOTION” with my shaky hand on a piece of paper (I don’t know what good that would have done. It’s not like they understood my previous short explanation of “yesterday 69. Today 29” in Chinese so why would they suddenly recognize in English “SALES. PROMOTION”?). Finally I called my Chinese god-send who is our friend Tien. I fumbled for Tien’s number and thankfully she picked up. When she answered I went into the litany of problems with the mean sales lady and by the way, would she please explain to the sales, check-out lady that I am not making up the fact that the pot is 29 RMB and NOT 69 RMB? Tien explained the situation and the other sales lady then made someone from downstairs verify the price. At that point I should have left the store and given up on the stupid pot, but I was hellbent on having that pot for only 29 RMB and wanted to be vindicated. I am glad to say that a third sales store employee then showed up shortly after that with a new pot and with the correct sales price of 29 RMB. The second employee told me that it was29 RMB and added a “Sorry!!”. The first sales lady wouldn’t look at me, but the second sales lady ran around and carefully placed the pot in my bag very apologetically. I did feel a little bit vindicated and told them thank you. I should very well have not bothered with the pot, but I am glad that I didn’t back down and that future shoppers will get their pot without any problem for the sales price of 29 RMB. What a true lesson in language and shopping etiquette!
Originally published: October 1, 2010