Using English as a weapon…

Zhongguancun shops.

Zhongguancun shops.

When we first got to China, we were told that we should use our Chinese as much as possible so we could improve.  We were all proud we knew Chinese while other foreigners didn’t and we all loved the look of surprise on peoples’ faces when we spoke to them in Chinese.  We broke a stereotype that many Chinese people had of us and it felt good.  This past week though, I’ve discovered that not speaking Chinese can be very helpful when trying to get certain things done…

At the Silk Market last weekend, we decided to use English to talk to shop keepers in order to get them to lower their guard and think we were stupid foreigners.  Once they offered a price for something, we would switch to Chinese in order to negotiate hopefully confusing them in the process.  It had mixed results but it was fun so we decided to try it again yesterday in Zhongguancun.

As we walked into Zhongguancun, we were stopped at the front door by someone who was either a salesman or a security guard (he looked official in some way but I couldn’t tell what his job was).  He said something to me in Chinese, and, instead of asking him what he was saying, I pretended like I was completely clueless to all of it.  He just waved us in dismissing us completely.

Amused by what had just happened, we decided to go to a booth where an employee promised us last week that we could buy headphones from her for 100 kuai.  We approached her booth and, knowing she didn’t recognize us, we started asking about the headphones in English.  The last time we talked to her, her initial price was 180 kuai.  This time she told us the same exact headphones were 280 kuai.  This was a big price increase so the minute we heard 280 we switched to Chinese and told her, rather aggressively, that she promised us something cheaper.

We got the headphones for 100 kuai but it was fun to see how she treated us when she thought we were stupid foreigners and afterwards when she thought we knew what we were doing.  She was much friendlier and less dismissive when she realized we could understand her.  I plan on using Chinese while I’m here but it is fun to know we have the ability to change somebody’s view of us with just a few words.