It’s turning cold here, so today I headed to the local superstore (an international chain called Carrefour) to buy a winter quilt to replace our thin summer blanket. I picked the appropriate size for our bed, and then attempted to buy a cover for the comforter, but the store doesn’t sell any covers in that size. They weren’t out of stock; they simply don’t sell them. They recommended I buy the cover elsewhere. I decided to take a chance that our existing comforter cover would fit this new winter comforter, and I lugged the cumbersome plastic package home.
It’s a solid 20-minute walk home along the West Lake, which is lovely but crowded. On my way home, a policeman stopped me. I thought he was going to ask to see my receipt, or to tell me I wasn’t allowed to walk with a comforter in the scenic area—hey, it’s China; anything is possible—but, no: he wanted to ask a question. “How much did that comforter cost?” He gestured to the package slung awkwardly over my sweaty shoulder. “Um,” I started, barely able to stifle my surprised laughter, “A little over 400 kuai [around $60].” “Huh,” he grunted, thinking. “Wow.” (This, I surmise, was his reaction because the price was neither very expensive nor a great bargain.) I went on my way, literally shaking my head and chuckling to myself. Hangzhou police: keeping the peace, one expat interrogation at a time.
When I got home, ayi and I tried to make our existing cover fit the new comforter, but, alas, the measurements were slightly off (ours is 200×230 centimeters; the new comforter was 220×240 centimeters…why they manufacture these two incredibly similar sizes is beyond me). So I hoofed it back to Carrefour, receipt in hand, to exchange the new comforter for a slightly smaller one.
The customer service desk has all its regulations (including specific information about returning shoes and electronics) posted in English, but no one there speaks a word of it. I took a deep breath and explained, in my best (very broken) Chinese, that I wanted to return the item and get a different one. They were not pleased. Three customer service representatives crowded around, confused, goading me: “Why do you want to return this? This is very good quality.” I explained that their store did not stock a cover for it, and I wanted a smaller one. They weren’t happy, but they proceeded with my return.
The woman at the computer asked me to show her my 100 kuai [around $15] coupon that I had used when I bought the comforter, and though I swore up and down that I absolutely did not use a coupon (the truth), she didn’t believe me. She called her manager over, and he took my receipt and disappeared for 10 minutes. During that time, a personal shopper took me to the comforter aisle and told me I wasn’t allowed to return my item until I bought a new one. She helped me pick one out (an arduous hide-and-seek when each of 100 comforters is very slightly different, and many are mismarked: wrong size, wrong loft, wrong material, etc.). She was extremely helpful, and we found a suitable alternative. I paid and returned to the customer service desk. The manager was busily entering my credit card number onto a paper form, and he told me, “We can do the return, but not right now. It will take 20 days. The machine isn’t working right now, but we have your number and will enter it soon, and you will get your money back.” I made sure I understood, using terribly basic words: “You tell me I only must wait. Then you give me money. Credit card. Twenty days. Yes? I only wait. Do nothing. Just wait. Yes?” They nodded in unison. I left, triumphant, lugging my new purchase home. No one stopped me this time.
Tonight I was working on some trip planning for our winter trip, and around 9:15PM my phone rang with an unknown number. I picked it up, praying as I always do that the caller spoke English. No luck. It was Carrefour, and after a few awkward back-and-forths I realized the woman was saying to me, “You need to come to the store to give us your credit card so we can process the return.” “What?!” I fake-yelled, trying not to wake up Owen. “I already gave you the card. They said it was okay!” She was calm. “No, we need to see your card.” “Fine, I will come tomorrow,” I sighed deeply. Innocently, she asked, “What, is now not a convenient time?” (Reader, did I already mention that it was 9:15PM?) “No, it is not a convenient time. I have a baby.” Woman: “Oh, a baby. So you will come tomorrow. Are you sure you can’t come right now?” Me: “I will come tomorrow.”
And so tomorrow I will make that 40-minute round-trip trek for the 3rd time in 2 days, and I will tell myself, over and over, that it is worth it for the warm