Feb 3, 2010

The cheese and the cashier

After work I stopped by a large grocery store here in Beijing to pick up some shrimp for dinner. After I got the shrimp, I swung by the dairy section to grab some butter and milk. I noticed there was some imported Dutch Edam cheese, around $6 for 8 ounces. It wasn't crazy expensive, I thought, so I threw some in my shopping cart. I can eat that whole piece in one sitting, so it won't go to waste.



At the supermarket checkout, everything was pretty typical. The cashier, a Chinese woman in her late forties, swiped my half dozen items one-by-one, tossing them into a large plastic shopping bag. When she was finished and about to tell me the total, the cashier looked at her computer screen and did a double take.

Suddenly, she became totally distracted and completely forgot about me. Something very bizarre and noteworthy had just happened. She noticed on her computer screen that one of my items was absurdly expensive (six dollars!), and she didn't remember scanning anything that could have been so pricey. No fancy booze, no lobsters, no electronic gadgets.

So the cashier reached over to the side and fished through the plastic bag with her fingers. After a big of rummaging, she finally pulled out my wedge of Edam cheese, shrink-wrapped in plastic. She yanked it out with a dramatic flourish and raised it over her head.

Waving my cheese in the air with one hand, the cashier craned her head backwards to shout at the cashier in the next lane, also a forty-something Chinese lady, "Hey! Guess how much this thing is!"

The other cashier just shrugged back at her. She wasn't interested. My cashier still wanted to share her discovery. My cashier yelled back at her coworker, "This costs 40 yuan! Can you believe that!" (Note: 40 yuan is around $5.80.)

Oblivious to me, my cashier continued to finger and press on my Edam cheese for a few more seconds. I resisted the temptation to grab it back before it got smushed to death. Before I could lose my temper, though, the cashier tossed it back into the bag and got back to work.

As I was paying, the cashier went on — still — talking to herself as though I didn't exist. "Wow. That's expensive. I'm not sure exactly what this is. Never seen it before," she said under her breath, addressed to no one in particular.

I was finally able to pay, and I gave her a friendly smile before going on my way. I'm pretty sure that the story of the Rich Laowai and his Fat Cat Edam Cheese is going to be this cashier's main topic of conversation for the next week, if not the entire month.

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