Friday, December 16, 2005

Shopping Absurdities

I've just finished the book "Big Fish" by Daniel Wallace -- you know, the one they based a recent movie on, which starred the currently-ubiquitous Ewan MacGregor? Anyway, my favorite joke in there goes like this: Man sits down in cafe. Waiter asks, "What will you have, sir?" Man says "I'd like coffee without cream, please." Waiter returns after a few minutes, says, "Sorry, sir, we're all out of cream. Would you like your coffee without milk?" I like this one because it feels similar to situations I've encountered living in Korea. In Korea, this joke would go "I'm sorry sir, we don't have cream, so no coffee for you." That or, "We don't serve coffee without cream. Goodbye."

Like last week, I found a store for new brand of clothes that I like, which is tough here in Korea, where everything is generally festooned with lace or ruffles or sparkles or puffed sleeves. Ick. Anyway, this brand, Uniqlo (don't ask me re: the name) reminds me of an early Gap. I actually found a pair of boot-cut indigo wash jeans for about $35 that don't have man-made crinkles somewhere or extra buttons on the back pockets. I'm telling you, that's hitting the jackpot here.

So I find the jeans and a pair of stripey socks and take them to the counter. The sweet girl with extra eyeshadow and a slight lisp behind the counter tells me that, sorry, honored customer, but one can only buy three pairs of socks. They're not bound together, but she says there's a sign up (didn't see it). I clarify: so it's not that I get a better price if I buy three, it's that I MAY NOT buy one pair. Yes, indeed; why am I not surprised? Didn't buy the dumb socks.

I could go on. The customer is not yet king in Korea. Often to get what you want you must persist and be what would be considered "difficult" in the U.S. It's frustrating because if you're not in a mood to be a squeaky wheel, no one will bend the rules for you. You get the feeling there are no fixed rules, and indeed, often if you ask two people about something you get two different answers. Example:

A Korean friend was interested in two silk pillow covers for sale on a table marked "between 15,000 and 30,000" (about $15 and $30, respectively). She talked at length with the salesgirl there, decided on a particular two pillow covers, at which point the girl said, "oh, honored customer those are $60 each." My friend, being thrifty and Korean, argued, but they are on a table marked with an upper price of $30, how can you price them at $60 apiece? That's not right, etc. So you know what the salesgirl did? She let her buy them at $30 apiece! Now 1) this was not a street market, it was Korea's equivalent of Nordstrom, a department store; 2) these were pure silk dupioni pillow covers, 3) they were already on sale at half-price, and 4) they were marked $60 apiece. Dude, in the U.S., that salesgirl is SO fired.

In a way, it is refreshing, because salespeople here have mostly not clued in to the Money is God mindset, so no, they won't do anything to make a buck. Koreans are more interested in avoiding and quickly resolving confrontation. But that means that often, you have to be willing to look like you're going to start one. The lesson is, yeah, if I had been willing to make a stink, maybe I could have gotten the dumb socks. It can be exhausting. Soemtimes I just want fixed rules and prices. It can feel like living on shifting sand.

And I'll just end with this: why did I just see an ad on Korean TV for a baby doll that farts? Is there really a consumer demand for this here? Are toddler girls all over Korea throwing tantrums screaming "I hate it: she wets, she cries, but SHE DOESN"T FART!" Okay, I'm done.


Blogger The Irreverent One said...

If monkey got that Farting baby doll, she just might name it "Mommy"! I am still the same sister you know and love! Hee hee.

12/16/2005 11:07 PM  
Blogger The Irreverent One said...

p.s.- I am very proud of you for meeting your once-a-week post quota! Yay Honorable Older sister!

12/16/2005 11:09 PM  
Blogger soulless said...

Dear Honorable Customer,
Does deliver there? I wouldn't bother leaving the house if I had to deal with that kind of shopping experience. I do hope a trip to the grocery store isn't so complicated. I'm just thinking of the cashier at Kroger stopping at every item in the basket to discuss the price. I might have to clobber somebody!

12/20/2005 1:22 PM  
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