The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Bad #5

5. All I want is a sandwich

Last weekend I went to Subway to get a sandwich. I had a good book I wanted to finish, and was very excited to just chill out, eat a good sandwich, and read. I placed my order, and the guy behind the counter started putting it together. I asked for double meat and he nodded. Then he said, “Which meat?”

I was confused. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, which meat do you want doubled?”

“Er. . .all of them. That’s what ‘double meat’ means.”

“You want all of them doubled?”

“Do you mean the ‘double meat’ offer only includes one meat?”


“No, it doesn’t.”

“Yes, it does. It’s only for one meat.”

Sigh. I saw where this was going. If you’ve been in China long enough you can see exactly where certain situations will end up, and arguments with store employees qualify for the predictive situation category. I said, “I went to a Subway a few days ago and that wasn’t the case.”

“No, it’s that way everywhere.”

Bearing in mind, of course, that I’d just told him I’d had a completely different experience not long before. I’ve heard this argument a thousand times in a thousand different situations. Someone will patiently assure you that the way their store does it is that way everywhere, even though it’s clearly and obviously not. “No, it’s that way nowhere. ‘Double meat’ is for all of the meat on the sandwich.”

Another guy behind the counter jumped in to assure me that, no, it only meant one meat. I was pretty angry, and not just about the meat. Mostly I was angry because in China, you CAN’T argue with employees. It doesn’t happen. Or rather, you can, but you won’t win. Most people in China argue for the sake of letting off steam, not getting their way. This is because most stores still function on the old state-owned enterprise model wherein customer satisfaction doesn’t matter in the slightest. You come in, you buy your stuff, you consume your stuff, you leave. That’s how it works. The employees have no personal stake in you enjoying your visit, and for the most part could care less. And let’s face it: if you’d grown up in a place where for your whole life you’d been dictated to by parents (your own and others’), teachers, politicians, and others, you probably wouldn’t care too much about one white guy’s sandwich, either. I know I wouldn’t. And the look you get from the people you’re arguing with makes that abundantly clear. It’s the same look each time, a triple whammy of fatigue, confusion, and just straight “who cares?”


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