I don’t know why I’m telling this story, and also I don’t know whether I should categorize it under cross cultural issues or daily life in my blog. But something about it just struck me and I decided to write about it.
Today I was in the store with Song Ying and she was helping me shop for groceries. I’m out of olive oil in my kitchen and I wanted to buy some. We were shopping at Metro, a large German brand store that has a lot of western food. It’s something like a Costco or Sam’s Club for food and household supplies. But unlike Sam’s, the Italian food is imported from Italy, the Spanish food is imported from Spain, etc. [Metro is the place where I purchased my Italian "ham" last Christmas without knowing what it was made of.] In the aisle where we found ourselves, there were about ten different types of olive oil from Spain and Italy, all in native language labels, as well as a few that had English language.
One Spanish brand was 85 RMB per 1000 ml, and it was on the shelf next to an Italian brand that was 95 RMB per 1000 ml. Song Ying remarks, "Zhege bie zhege gen gui [This one is a lot more expensive]." Song Ying is really good at pinching a penny, but sometimes less really is less. There are other factors like taste, nutrition, adulterated ingredients. I proceed to show her the English words on the labels indicating that one was first pressed and cold pressed, whereas the other was neither first pressed nor cold pressed. Then I say, "Zhege bie zhege gen hao [This one is a lot better]." Then she smiles and says, "Qian ye hao [Money is also good]!" We both laughed. As we did, I thought about a conversation I once had with my mother comparing the price of peppers. Red and yellow peppers are a lot more expensive than green ones, but my mother pointed out that they also have a lot more vitamins and that you have to also balance nutritional value when you purchase food. Sometimes the more expensive food is the healther. Especially in China!
Just then, I found a different olive oil that was the cheapest of all: the Metro store brand. It didn’t say it was first pressed, and it didn’t say it was cold pressed. But it did say it was "Extra Virgin," and it was 79 RMB per 1000 ml. Both smiling of us smiling, we put it in the cart.
Later, I was looking at my favorite drink, which I did not buy. An imported bottled mineral water. Song Ying says, "Ni xihuan zhege [You like this]." I reply, "Wo ye xihuan quian [I also like money]!" Laughing, we walked by that as well.
I guess this says more about my own values than anything cross cultural, and it maybe says more about daily life as a housewife. On the other hand, in a cross cultural sense, it also goes to show that people everywhere think about the same things, face the same challenges, sometimes answer the challenges slightly different ways and for slightly different reasons, sometimes reasons that aren’t so different after all.
Here’s a P.S., which one could tie into another conversation SY and I had a few months ago which I wrote about on my blog (when she told me that Americans are fat because they have enough money for food, and that the reason Chinese are not fat is because they don’t have much money for food). The other day, I pulled out a sample of some Italian salami, which is very expensive here. I pulled off one piece for me and one piece for her. Handing it to her to taste, I said that this was really good, but it was expensive. She replies (in Chinese of course): "Hao chi duo gui" (delicious food is all expensive).