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Say It Right Series

Generosity or Pride (a story in the historical present)

Posted by bodawei April 21, 2010 in the Group General Discussion.

Tags: social anthropology, markets

Today I am buying carrots when I observe an extraordinary act.  I have raised this before on ChinesePod (not buying carrots) but I have so far not documented this phenomenon.  Here is the first of my logs on extraordinary acts of generosity, or something. J

Case 1 

I am passing by the market on the way home, picking up a few things for the pumpkin soup.  I want three carrots and stop by a farmer's make-shift stall on the edge of the main market.  (The full-timers are inside, still asleep at 2 pm.  The farmers on the other hand have covered their goods for sale and disappeared to eat noodles and play cards.  They probably won't reappear until 3.)  But I see a vendor is here, playing with his toddler. 

Eh, 老板,胡萝卜多少钱? (I always start with an Australianism but it is lost on those I speak to.  They possibly think I say 喂, 喂你好的喂, or think I have a weird way of speaking, or most likely don't care either way.)


[I pick up three good size carrots and he weighs them.] 


The deal done, transaction finished apart from putting the carrots in a bag he picks up a fourth carrot the same size as the others and drops it in the bag. 

Now why does he do that?  Weird.  I should emphasise I have never seen this man before - he is not a mate, I am not a regular customer.  He is not otherwise friendly, there is no other conversation.  Just puts another carrot in the bag, lifting his costs by 33 1/3 %.  That's right, he has just given away his profit margin.  Or has he?  In the West supermarkets operate on about an 8% retail margin - I don't really have a feel for it here in China, but it is a very competitive market so I cannot imagine anything above 10% or 15% would be sustainable. 

If this was an isolated event I would think nothing of it.  The man is crazy, or has some obscure ulterior motive I am not interested in.  But this happens ALL THE TIME.  Okay, I won't bombard you with cases, but one I remember was quite amusing.  The new oranges were out, extremely tasty and way expensive but I couldn't help myself.  Again I was on the edge of the market; a farming couple are loudly proclaiming their wares and the price is way above the odds.  I am interested but I offer half, and there follows a lot of hefty bargaining with the 老婆 in particular yelling the prices in my ear.  Eventually we meet in the middle (my wife has long since gone - she hates such scenes); we reluctantly agree.  Then, hot and flustered, grumbling all the time, the guy puts a couple of extra oranges in the bag! 

Is it generosity?  Pride?  (Are they saying ‘we are farmers but we are not so mean that we wouldn't throw in some extras'?)  Stupid?  What do poddies think?  

[I would like to thank all of the people who provided material for my stories.  Thanks to poddies for contributing in various ways.  Special indebtedness to Barbabardwan for pointing out that three carrots are not likely to weigh half a kilo, even large carrots.]  


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