Huai’an: Behavior warp in the modern era

When it comes to e-commerce, China is the undisputed leader. In small cities like Huai’an, WeChat and Alipay have become so ingrained in everyday life that if one of those platforms crashed, widespread chaos would erupt.

Anyway, a few odd customs and traditions remain in today’s modern era, and they can be a little surprising. Last week my wife purchased some milk powder at a local store. After close inspection I discovered that it was from a factory in Heilongjiang Province. For those of you unaware, it’s an area of the country not exactly known for its green pastures and lush vegetation.

When taking into account the potential risks involved with giving a baby milk powder made in China, I felt it best to see if I could go back to the store where it was purchased and exchange it for something a little safer.

milk powder store

I voiced my concerns to the store owner, and he said I could exchange it, but that I would have to come back in the afternoon. He said exchanges were only conducted in the afternoons, and that’s where his explanation ended.

I thought to myself, “What a unique little policy!’ I asked if this was common in the other stores in the city, thinking maybe I had come at the wrong time. I could see he was becoming annoyed with what he perceived as naiveté from somebody who was obviously not a local.

Without giving me any more attention than he already had, he instructed, “Go home and ask your parents, they’ll know.”

First, I’d like to make it very clear how satisfied I was that he had agreed to take the powder milk back. But to be honest, I was a little put off by his rigidity and indifference. I really wanted to know the source of this policy and its history. Who came up this idea? Why wasn’t there a note on the receipt that said, “Morning Exchanges Prohibited.” As a freelancer I’m constantly thinking about my time and how best to use it. Clearly, this was a huge waste of my day as now I was going to have to come to his store to complete the exchange in question.

I held my cell phone in front of him and asked, “Can you repeat the store policy so I can let my parents hear it?”

But he slapped it away with a rolled up newspaper. He stared at me angrily and said, “Here I am, feel free to come back anytime you want, I’m not afraid of you!

I responded with, “What did I say? I haven’t threatened you, I just to think your exchange policy is ridiculous. And while we’re at it, your attitude isn’t exactly in the place where it should be.”

I later asked my friends about this “morning exchange prohibited” policy, and one friend explained that store owners think it will bring bad luck on the day if they carry out exchanges in the morning. If you start the day on a bad note, then chances are you’ll the day on a bad one as well.

I think it’s silly, and e-commerce behemoths like Taobao and JD would not be around if a rule like that was part of their business methodology.

But outside of inconvenient methods of business operations, the people of Huai’an place great emphasis etiquette in specific social environments.

“Huaianese,” as I like to call them, are fantastic drinkers. This should come as no surprise as the city is home to a handful of baijiu factories that churn out some of China’s best brands. So it only makes sense that they would be particular over how they conduct themselves when drinking with others. And certainly more so than how people drink in neighboring cities.

Chinese Baijiu etiquette

Their drinking etiquette isn’t complicated, but there a few crooked types who use such social rules as weapons for abuse or an excuse for ostentatious behavior associated with a retarded person who’s manages a McDonald’s.

One rule of etiquette involves downing two drinks consecutively which makes up the entire round. This means one cannot drink with another person until they have completed the entire round. This rule provides one with the opportunity to decline a toast made in your honor.

Now, this may seem strange for someone who has never been to China, but I’m pretty sure this is how it goes down. I attended many dinners and social events when I worked for the government. At these gatherings it seemed that everybody was an expert on drinking etiquette, and top of that, they were also extremely polite.

Recently, I was refused by another. I thought the man had one drink obligation with someone prior to me, but then an uncle sitting next to me said the man refused my toast because he had already finished one kettle of alcohol, which I had not done. He next proceeded to chastise me for not knowing the local drinking etiquette.

I was offended because the guy I wanted to drink with simply waved his hands in the air rather than offering an explanation as to why he didn’t want to drink with me. When you think about it, if he wanted to practice local etiquette, he could have least waited until we consumed the same amount of alcohol together. My uncle’s reaction didn’t make sense either. He was only trying to show some kind of imagined superiority over me because I was the youngest person at the table.

I later discussed what happened with a friend and he was in complete agreement with my interpretation on how the evening should have transpired.

Huai’an possesses many unique and fascinating customs, but engaging others with them in a polite manner should be of utmost importance. As the saying goes, “If you can’t do something nice, then don’t do anything at all.”