Thursday, December 08, 2005

Facing Consistency

As I might have moaned about before, consistency is a large problem here in Beijing. You can go to a restaurant twice, order the same dish and end up with two completely different tasting meals. Or, as we often experience, use the coffee machine at the Cafe in the Xin Song Dormitory and end up without coffee/milk/chocolate powder or a combination of the three, despite the fact that the machine is full of all of them! Fortunately the boss of the cafe both understands foreigners and gives us credit that we might know when something is amiss. This cannot be said for his lackeys. Once, we ordered a latte from the machine and ended up with a cup of hot milk.
"I don't think this coffee is quite right, it's not strong enough"
"There's nothing wrong, it's just that you haven't become accustomed to Chinese style coffee." says lackey No.2 "You see, you are used to Western style food, but here we only do Chinese style." "Oh really?!" This kind of reaction was a face saving measure, as we had questioned the quality of his product, he felt obliged to defend it - and himself too as he had sold the product.
"What's the matter?" Interjected his boss
"There's something wrong with the coffee, but your shop assistant claims that there's something wrong with our tastebuds."
"Well that's just his opinion, let's have a look." Being a rational man, the boss opened up the machine and found that the coffee hopper's outlet pipe had been shut off and had not deposited any coffee in the mix at all, and so made us a new cup. Said boss to lackey no.2 "Look it was closed. There was no coffee at all." "Oh." Says lackey, and turns to us "Man Zou" (trans: walk slowly - but here means take care and is the farewell given to anyone leaving a restaurant) with a very patronising tone. He could not admit that he had made a mistake in front of his boss or foreigners, as he felt that he would have lost too much face.

Saving and gaining face really penetrates society to such a minute level here. Pride and face are incredibly important, and interfere with even the most minute transactions as you have witnessed here. Just imagine how it is with something serious.

The coffee machine wasn't dispensing milk this morning, but what should we have expected?


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