In a recent return trip from China, Guangzhou, back to Australia, Sydney, I was able to notice a stark cultural difference between eastern and western hospitality.
In Sydney, I was confronted on several occasions with western hospitality. On one such occasion, when I came to the local supermarket to buy groceries, I was reminded once again – thanks to manners – how much of a personal experience shopping has become in western society.
The Example Of Australian Manners
In the Sydney supermarket, I took my grocery items to the cashier. The cashier was a 16 year old kid. I engaged in some banter with the cashier.
Then I told him, “Hang on a minute. I just have to go back and get something.”
He said, “No worries. You can go to aisle five, on the right hand side towards the top.”
He was very polite as he gave directions.
When I came back to the cashier, I said, “We are going to have to do a bit of magic because I think the items will cost $20 AUD. I want to pay some of the money off with my card, and the rest with cash.”
He said, “That is no problem. Tap away when you are ready.”
He was being so polite and friendly.
The people queued behind me queued patiently.
Finally, I paid with cash and card.
The items were already bagged.
He handed me the receipt, asking, “Would you like a receipt with that?”
I said, “That is okay, thanks.”
He added, “You have a good night.”
I said, “You too, have a good night.”
In the whole exchange with the cashier, we had some banter, he was friendly, he guided me, and when he said those final considerate words, we looked each other in the eyes and smiled.
The cashier also grabbed one plastic bag and handed it to me.
I grabbed my plastic bags full of groceries and walked off back home.
The Example Of Chinese Customer Service
I think, Australia really teaches people manners when it comes to customer service.
I then thought back to what would happen in China if I were in a convenience store buying food and I tried to talk to the cashier?
I deduced, the cashier would either smirk at me, or likely ignore me – because they seem to be very uninterested with their job.
In China, there is some courtesy in hospitality jobs, but there is no friendliness. It is almost robotic.
You go there. You stand there.
The Chinese cashiers scan your grocery items.
The older cashier ladies talk to other colleagues in the store, ignoring you while they are being friendly with their colleagues.
You also pay an extra fee for a plastic bag.
Finally, in China, the cashier snatches the money out of your hand.
After you have paid for the transaction, they shift you off to another table so you can put all the groceries into a plastic bag yourself.
There is no customer service at all in China.
The Foreignness Of Civility In China
Sometimes, when I engage Chinese cashiers, they do smile, they do open up, and they are friendly, but they just do not have that culture of friendliness and polite customer service ingrained in them that Australian people do.
Coming back to Australia, it comes as second nature to me that I would step into a convenience store, and the cashier and I would both engage in frenzied cantor, politeness, and be civil with each other.
It is a mark of being Australian.
When I take that Australian identity to China, and engage with Chinese cashiers in the same way, it feels like an attempt to close a screeching metal door grinding along cement.
I guess courtesy and civility is foreign to most people in China.
The Culture Shock Of Western Hospitality
I guess in China, the richer class know how to be civil, but the children of the richer class will not work in a supermarket, like they would do in Australia.
The poorer class who do come to the big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen to work in low-paid jobs do bring their countryside manners with them, and the company that employs them usually would not train them in hospitality culture.
Businesses in China almost always prioritize sales over hospitality.
I imagine that for some Chinese people that have never been to a Western country, to suddenly come to Australia and buy some groceries from a supermarket – to encounter that level of civility, courtesy, and friendly kindness – would shock them.
They would not know what to do with it.
But for Australian people, this politeness is part of the vein that identifies all Australian people, the same way business saviness would be associated with Chinese people.
The author of Diary Of A Mad Chaos from 1996 to 2018, The Lost Years book, Wubao In China (猎艳奇缘) book series, and Foreigner (华人) an exploration of race relations in Australia. Fluent in Chinese Mandarin, Macedonian, and English, the author currently resides in China, Guangzhou where he continues to make comparative analysis of the cultural differences between Eastern and Western societies.