I have a pretty good network figured out here for where to get certain items, especially when it comes to food. The internet is my cheapest source for butter, and cheese (while the city is a more expensive secondary source). I get my junk food at the big supermarket, because they have the best selection of things I like. Meat at the market, and veggies/fruit at the market, or a street vender.
I must admit, my Chinese is terrible. I can hardly say 10 words aside from numbers, and goofy things I learned to say. Having a girlfriend who speaks Chinese has made me lazy, and not driven me to learn more. I should probably change this, but currently it is the truth. However, there are a few things with which I like to have independence. Buying stuff is one of these independence moments. I have a translator on my phone, I talk with my hands, and I use my limited vocabulary to get what I want. Sometimes it works great, and sometimes it is painfully painful.
Now, before you continue, I want everyone to understand exactly what I am going to say. I in no way, shape, or form expect anyone here to speak English. “Hello,” is more English than I require in a transaction. What I do expect from people is a willingness to communicate.
Ok, back to my painful pineapple story. There is a woman near my house who sells pineapples, peaches, strawberries, and other fruits I don’t really care about. I like to buy a kilogram of strawberries, and a couple pineapples every couple/few days. When Xiu Xiu is with me, everything goes smoothly, and the woman is accommodating. Without her the transaction is another beast all together.
I gave it 3 solo tries to get it right. She had about 15 pineapples on her cart, and I wanted two. I held up a pineapple with one hand, two fingers on the other hand, and said (in Chinese), “Two of them.” She took one, peeled it, and gave me the bag. I said again, “Two,” along with two fingers held up. She once again said the price for one pineapple, gave me the bag, and wouldn’t sell me the second one. It happened like this on two other occasions as well.
When I go to the other market, a half a kilometre further from home, there is a fruit vendor there who is absolutely wonderful. She listens to what I say (even though the way I say it isn’t perfect), and she understands me. If she doesn’t understand my words, she looks at my hand motions, and if she doesn’t understand my hand motions, she is happy to try to figure it out. I have never left her stand without what I wanted. Sometimes I will ask for items by how many pieces I want, and sometimes (like with strawberries) I will ask based on the amount I want to spend, but she always knows what I want.
Long story short, I communicated the same with both of these vendors. One of them was happy to listen to my painful Chinese, and communicate back with me. One of them dismissed everything I said as, “I can’t understand you, so I’m not going to listen.” She leaves a sour taste with me each time I deal with her. Her friendliness is on vacation, and her communication skills are dismal on a good day. The friendly vendor charges $0.20 more per pineapple, and I have to go further to get it, but I am happy to do so because I know I can practice my language a little, and have a good experience. She is happy to communicate with me. Communication is important, and it doesn’t rely only on language.