Here in España, there exists a godsend we Americanos call “Chino Stores”. They’re one-stop-shops run by Chinese expats, and they have just about everything you could possibly need. Imagine a Walmart condensed to a hundredth its original size with less selection and significantly less organization: seemingly no rhyme or reason to the arrangement of the products. For example, you can find bras right next to the kitchenware, and home decor in the next aisle over. Probably next to the dog toys. Regardless, I’m eternally grateful for Chino stores and their provision of cheap EVERYTHING.
A bulletin board (un corcho) has been on my list of “things to buy” for weeks. On my way to the market tonight, I stumbled upon a new Chino store in our neighborhood: not-so-creatively named “Tienda de Regalos” (Gift Shop). I meandered in, dodged a couple stacks of floppy hats and a giant teddy bear, and immediately saw a shelf FULL of corchos (bulletin boards.) ¡Que suerte tengo! What luck! I snatched up a medium-sized one and headed towards the smiling Chinese cashier.
Suddenly it occurred to me that I only had a few euro coins and my debit card with me. “¿Aceptas tarjeta?” I asked. No, he did not take credit cards. ¡Joder! I checked my coin purse and I had exactly €3.10 in change. The bulletin board cost €3.90. “No pasa nada,” he said. No prob, I could just return another day to pay the remaining 80 cents. What a guy!
So as I’m presenting him with my insufficient payment, he makes a correct assumption when he asks “No eres de aquí, eh? (You’re not from here, huh?)” So I tell him no: I’m from los Estados Unidos (the United States).
El Chino: ¿Eh….dónde? (Where?)
Me: Los Estaaados Uniiiiidos. The United States.
El Chino: ¿Ehhh, no sé...? (Ummm…I dunno)
Me: Ameeeerica. Muuuchos estaaaados. (Maaaa-ny staaaates.)
El Chino: A ver…a ver.…(let’s see…)
Me: País muuuy grande! (Very big country!) California! Hollywood! New York! Miami!
El Chino: Pues no sé...(well, I don’t know…)
Me: Vale, da igual. No pasa nada. Muchas gracias señor, regresará el miércoles para darte los 80 céntimos. (Okay, whatever. Don’t worry about it. Thanks a lot, sir, I’ll return on Wednesday to give you the 80 cents.)
Alright, so I’m more than 99% sure that this man knows exactly where the United States is. He could probably even point out New York and California. And I don’t think that’s an ethnocentric assumption.
What this kind Chinese man and I were dealing with tonight was a classic case of language barrier-induced misunderstanding. Our native languages, English and Chinese, are ultra-different. The Spanish he has learned is probably very tailored to running his store, and it isn’t unlikely that, in this neck of the woods, I was the first American he has done business with. For whatever reason, our conversation was just not clicking for him (which happens to me all the time, I can totally relate!) and it led to a pretty comical misunderstanding.
I will return to this particular Tienda de Regalos on Wednesday (because tomorrow is an arbitrary holiday here, invented just this year, wooooot!) to give this man the 80 cents I owe him. I may just pick up the rest of the items on my list of “things to buy” as well.