This is my first trip to China and before coming here I didn’t know what to expect from this experience. In my first blog I asked myself what would have been my biggest challenges during this trip, and now I can finally answer this question: my biggest challenges here in China are dealing with the (a) spoken and written language barrier, (b) shopping and negotiation, (c) and untrustworthiness. Surprisingly the food, which was one of my main concerns at the beginning of the trip, didn’t create any issues and was absolutely delicious!
Spoken and written language barrier. I knew from the beginning that the language would have been a communication barrier here in China, but I was not expecting such a high degree of misunderstanding with the locals. Even the simplest daily tasks, as for instance calling a taxi or asking for a restaurant recommendation, is extremely difficult. I speak four different languages and I’m usually able to communicate with almost everybody all around the world. Nevertheless, in China, this is not feasible. Our alphabet is extremely difficult for them and as a result, requesting information becomes extremely complicated and often the outcome is characterized by a degree of misunderstanding. Although primitive and approximately, gesture is for me the most effective mean of communication with the Chinese population.
Shopping and negotiation. Going to the Silk Market was one of my least favorite things here in Beijing. The sellers in the building are extremely pushy and try to grab your purse or your arm if you do not stop, look, negotiate and obviously buy something from their stand. This chaotic environment is somehow funny and interesting for the first ten minutes, but then is gets very annoying. They don’t even let you walk close to their stall that they start calling your nationality and yelling famous brands as “Gucci”, “Prada”, and “Rolex”. Negotiation is mandatory and is perceived as a game. Every time you ask for a price, they would at first try asking for a ridiculous amount of money. For instance, I wanted a silk scarf and they started with 900 RMB. After I told them that 900RMB was way to high, they started offering lower and lower prices – down to 50RMB. Such a behavior irritates me, because a person that is willing to make a profit of 850RMB on an item that does not even worth 30RMB, it’s a thief. Negotiation happens everywhere in China: in restaurant, street food, and gift shops. Here is a hint: if they have a calculator on the table next to the selling items, there is most likely negotiation involved.
Untrustworthiness. China is exhausting because one has to constantly keep an attitude of skepticism and thoughtfulness about everything. I’m not only talking about high-technology products, shoes, cloths, purses, pearls but also other offerings as for instance taxi (some are legal and some are not), alcohol (very often they re-bottle it) and food (there are some kind of fake sausages and eggs). What is a fake item and how to identify it? Some argue that the government should get more involved in order to stop these practices. However, I also recognize the complexity of the issue, and probably the government, while being motivate to respond to the companies that have been harmed from these practices, is also aware that the industry is a tremendous employer and wants to maintain internal stability (jobs, roads,…).