If my feet are considered to be of a non-Chinese size, my husband outranks me by a few notches. Last Friday evening, we went looking for a pair of waterproof, not too casual shoes that he can wear to the office on rainy days.
We began our search in one of the fascinating “department” stores, which can be better described as many stores within a single department. This one specialises in sporting and hiking clothes and shoes. There are about a hundred different vendors, spread across two storeys, each selling specific brands or items, ranging from shoes to sporting equipment, hiking/skiing gear to gym clothing.
We were able to narrow our search down to those selling waterproof footwear, probably about 15 stores all together. And then the fun began…almost exclusively in Mandarin. [Ed. Translated here for the reader’s benefit!]
We need shoes, a BIG pair of shoes. Oh, so sorry, we still haven’t worked out exactly what size our feet are (as measured in China) –
we use a European or UK size in South Africa and here they use something else – American? [Ed. I just re-read the labels more carefully and discovered that actually SA and the US use the same “small number” size and it’s the Europeans that use this large “what on earth does it measure?” – number.] What’s the biggest pair you have?
Everyone looks at M’s feet, much shaking of heads, méiyǒu 没有, don’t have. Strike 1, strike 2…
Then we try a new tack. We like this pair. What’s the biggest size you have? Yes, I know they might be too small, but let’s try them anyway.
With much muttering and looks of disbelief the shop assistant wanders off somewhere, to look for big shoes. She brings back a pair of shoes – size 43.
Oh dear, it’s too small.
Smirk on face of shop assistant – “I told you so, and now you’ve wasted my time having to fetch them out of the storeroom.”
Oh, look, there’s a label in the running shoes that M is wearing – and its got a
UK CM, a European AND an American size – OK, so we need size 45. Do you have a size 45 in this style? In any style? méiyǒu 没有, don’t have.
Strike 3. Move on to stores 4, 5 and 6. Much simpler now…
Do you have any shoes in size 45? Oh, only in the psycho neon green with orange laces? Or the ugly brown with yellow reflectors? [I can see just picture those with his navy suit…]
Strike n. Store (n+1).
Somewhere in the preceding (n+1) stores I looked up the word for waterproof in the dictionary on my mobile phone, so by now I am actually asking: Do you have any waterproof shoes in size 45?
Strike n squared.
Last store before we hit the exit – there are two possible options: right colour and don’t look like they need to be on the slopes of Mount Everest to feel at home.
Do you have either of these in size 45? Oh, you can look them up on your computer without having to head for the storeroom – why didn’t anyone else around here think of that?
yǒu 有, have, qǐng děngyīxià 请等一下， please wait a moment…
Happy shop assistant re-appears with shoes that actually fit. We’re still a bit hesitant because even though this pair is the right size and the right colour and isn’t pining for a glacier, the label says water-resistant, not waterproof.
Look of panic appears on shop assistant’s face – I really thought I had a sale here, and now these damn lǎowài are going to back out of the deal. shìde shìde, 是的是的, they are waterproof – look – read the Chinese label on the back of the box.
(yeah, right! As if I can read all that…). OK, we’ll take them, it’s not as if we have a whole lot of options to choose from….
Then begins the interesting point-of-sale routine common to many of these “department” stores.
The senior shop assistant fills out a complicated sales invoice (3 layers deep) in a book and hands the 3 copies to the junior shop assistant. You then leave your goods that you are trying to purchase and head off in the wake of the assistant to the central cash-point, which may or may not accept foreign credit cards. If they don’t accept foreign credit cards, then you have to pay in cash or enquire about the whereabouts of the nearest ATM, and make a detour to draw the required wads of cash – the largest denomination here is 100 RMB. You pay your money in an acceptable and appropriate form, and then the central cashier keeps the top copy and the remaining copies are carried back to the store, where they are handed back to the senior shop assistant, who then holds onto the second copy for her records and gives you the third one, reuniting it, and you, with the goods of which you are now the proud (hopefully) owner.
One pair of size 45 “Made in Vietnam” shoes later, we emerged triumphantly from yet another successful purchasing mission!