Great service or too much?

By Peter Krasnopolsky Source:Global Times Published: 2016-4-21 14:13:01

The service culture in China is very different from that in the West. One aspect that is often missing is the "middle ground" between lousy service and an obtrusive one.

I expect good service, but without anybody breathing down my neck. I am quite capable of pouring my own drink once the bottle is on the table, and I am equally able to pull my own paper towel after I wash my hands. For many Chinese customers, high-quality service implies a demonstration of such acts.

One establishment which is praised for high-quality service in China is a famous hotpot restaurant chain. Patrons can get their shoes polished while waiting for a table, and it is often mentioned how the staff goes out of its way to satisfy customers. It is said that a manager once drove a customer to the airport.

I am all for service staff coming to the rescue, but my recent dinner at a local branch opened up a whole new perspective.

As usual, spicy Sichuan-style hot pot melted through me, and before the meal was over, I found myself in the bathroom. We were dining with people who weren't particularly interesting, so I used the time to check my messages and skim WeChat Moments.

I didn't think I took that long, but suddenly, I heard a knock on the stall door. The voice behind the door asked, "Ni you zhi ma?" (Do you have paper?)

I had never actually experienced something like that, but I have seen, read and heard references to such situations in comedy films, gags, and jokes.

So, it was possible that somebody came to the restroom unprepared or in a rush and was at the moment in dire need of toilet paper. I have a habit of always carrying a pack of tissue to the bathroom, so it was my chance to get in touch with my inner "good Samaritan." I readily replied, "You. Ni yao ma?" (I have. Do you want some?) from behind the locked door.

The response was not quite what I expected. What I heard was, "Jiu kan kan ni xu bu xuyao." (Just wondering if you needed some).

That's what I call too much service. I thought then that it's no surprise that the chain didn't take off well in North America despite its huge success at home. Despite our expectations for service, we value our independence.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.

Posted in: Twocents-Opinion

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