Comparison of Consumer Behavior Psychology Among German, British and Ethnic Chinese

On the evening of the first day of the Chinese new year, it rained lightly in Taipei. I, Mr. Hahn (my partner, German), my younger sister, my younger brother-in-law, and my parents were preparing hotpot at my younger brother’s. My younger sister marries a British man and they live and work in London for years. They usually only come back to Taipei once a year during festivals. Since we live in Shanghai and come back to Taipei once in a while, it is not easy for the eight of us to unite so it seems as if we are hurry to chat more. This blog’s topic, Comparison of Consumer Behavior Psychology Among German, British and Taiwanese (ethnic Chinese), comes from a chat with my younger sister.

My younger sister said, “You know, when mum came to visit me in Britain last year, she went to a supermarket near where I work to wait for me to get off work one day. When we walked to the bus station after I took off from work, she started to talk about what she JUST read on National Geographic with great interest. I asked if she bought the magazine. She answered that she stood in the shop finishing reading it instead of buying.”

My younger sister laughed and said in a righteous tone, “You cannot read magazines for free in Britain. You must pay before reading.”

Mum laughed and said without embarrassment, “I bought a can of drink in the shop so it would be all right for me to read the magazine.”

Courtesy to National Geographic

Mr. Hahn joined the conversation and said it was also not allowed in Germany. Germans never think magazines are free for reading in shops even they are not sealed by plastic foam or sticker.

Nevertheless, I also fully understand my mum’s psychology. In the viewpoints of ethnic Chinese, as long as we have spent money in the shop (regardless of how much we spent), it is no big deal to take small advantage of the shop owner by reading some magazines while waiting. We make the action of taking a small advantage REASONABLE by buying something else.

Ha-ha!

Eslite Bookshop in Taiwan.
Customers can read all of them in the service counter after the staff open the plastic foils for you.
Courtesy to Eslite

My younger brother-in-law is a well-mannered British man and always behaves as if he can act in Little Women without wearing ancient costumes. After listening to my explanation, a weird look of “I understand” showed up on his gentle face, but he still politely said that no one in Britain behaved like this.

By then, the hotpot was ready and my younger sister-in-law invited to use to join the dinner.

During the following few days and evenings, as long as we got together, we often compared the differences between British, German and ethnic Chinese in consumption habits and psychology.

In conclusion, there are four obvious and interesting differences for comparing and sharing.

Raohe Night Market in Taipei

Firstly, in Britain and Germany, there are price tags on almost every products, bargaining is not possible. However, in Chinatown (it also depends), the shop owners usually accept bargaining in small shops. In Taiwan night market, the wares tagged as 399NTD  implies that the buyers can bargain to 350 or 300NTD. No one will actually pay 399NTD.

As known to whoever has been to silk markets or large markets in Beijing and Shanghai, it would be better to bargain from 1/3 of the tagged price or lower. The bargaining will stop only after bargaining to the price satisfactory to both parties. As for most Chinese, as far as I myself and the ethnic Chinese people whom I know, it is an ability from childhood. Exaggeratedly speaking, bargaining is an ability that we can get without efforts like walking and eating.

After listening to me, my younger brother-in-law answered simply and gently, “But it wastes much time, doesn’t it?” (British really love to end up with “doesn’t it?” to tone up very simple sentences.)

Flea Market in Germany
Courtesy to Culture Trip

Mr. Hahn responsed that bargaining might be available in the flea market in Germany but he had never bargained in Germany. In common shops in Germany, bargaining is a no-go. 

A few years ago, when I intended to buy a wooden toy in a German Christmas market and bargained in English as I could not speak German at that time, the owner instantly showed an unhappy look and refused to sell. 

Ha-ha! I knew bargaining was not acceptable but I still wanted to have a try.

Wet Market

Secondly, when buying meat and vegetables in England and Germany, not only bargaining is not acceptable, also the shop owners will not offer a handful of complimentary green leeks, ginger and garlic upon payment and packing like what often happens in the Chinese food(wet) market.

When buying hams and meats in German butcher’s shops, the owner will only give you the exact number of meat slices as you demand and no one will present you one more slice or another small portion of something as free gift.

From German’s perspective, the communication with non-direct thoughts or implications is a pure waste of time, which is just different from Chinese customs. Chinese may think it is less friendly.

Carrefour in Taiwan

Thirdly, in large ethnic Chinese supermarkets, there often set small booths to exhibit and offer new product samples for free. Customers can enjoy new food samples for free while wandering, such as a small piece of scallion pancake, egg tarts and a small cup of juice. Definitely, each sample is only for you to try the taste.

I have heard that some friends of my friends even ask for these free foods over and over again to get full. (They are, of course, extreme examples.)

Mr. Hahn laughed and said that German supermarkets do not provide food samples. 

In my experience, I have also never seen any in their supermarkets.

Free tea served in Chinese restaurants

Fourthly, when eating in Chinese restaurants, the waiters immediately bring free hot tea and water with refills when customers sit down without ordering. Hence, customers who do not pay for drinks can also enjoy drinking “something” during the meal.

In British and German restaurants, if we want to have free water, we need to ask the waiters for TAP WATER. If we carelessly ask for water, the waiters will bring us a gas water or famous brand mineral water that needs to be paid.

Water on Western Table

On the whole, there seems no bargaining, complimentary food or small advantages in German and British cultures when it comes to consumptions. Through these trivia matters, I again, find out how different we are. What we all should do, is probably DO IN ROME AS THE ROMANS DO!

If you acknowledge any consumption psychology differences between British, German and ethnic Chinese, welcome to leave me comments. 

比較德國、英國與華人消費行為心理

大年初一的傍晚,台北飄小雨。我和德國人Mr. Hahn與我妹妹、我妹夫、父母在弟弟家的大餐桌上,準備煮火鍋。我妹妹嫁給英國先生,兩人長年在倫敦生活工作,一年通常只在過節時回來台北一次,而我們從上海回來,一家八人團圓相聚不易,所以總是有一種「要抓緊時間聊天」的氣氛。從妹妹開始的一番對話,得出了今天的題目,「比較德國與台灣(以下泛指華人)消費行為心理 」。

妹妹說:「你們知道嗎,老媽去年來英國找我玩的時候,有一天她到我工作附近的小超市逗留等我下班。我下班以後大家朝公車站的方向走時,老媽開始跟我描述她剛在國家地理雜誌上讀到的內容,還講的津津有味。我問她,老媽妳買了那本雜誌嗎?老媽說,沒有啊,我站在店裡把它看完的。」

妹妹大笑同時以充滿正義感的口氣說:「在英國不能看免費雜誌啦,要翻閱就得先付錢。」

老媽沒有覺得尷尬、也笑笑說:「可是我有跟店家買飲料啊,這樣應該可以看雜誌吧。」

韓先生參與了話題,她說這在德國也是不可以的。德國人在商店裡不會覺得可以看免費雜誌、即便雜誌沒有塑膠膜或貼紙封起來。

但是,我也完全理解我媽的心態。我們 華人會認為,既然我在店裡(不論店的規模大小)有消費,那佔店家一點小便宜、站著等人翻個報章雜誌,沒什麼大不了的。是的,我們沒有花錢買雜誌,但是我們也不盡然完全沒掏錢買東西,我們通過花錢買其他東西來讓佔了小便宜的舉止交待得過去。

哈哈哈哈!

我妹夫是位英國氣質書生,他給人的感覺是可以不用穿古裝就能演《小婦人(Little Women)》。他聽完我這番解釋,本來溫和的臉上浮出詭異的一抹「我懂了的表情」,但是還是很禮貌地說,在英國沒人會這樣做。

這時火鍋湯頭已經熱好,弟妹喚大家上桌開飯。

接下來的幾個白天和晚上,只要我們聚在一起,就經常比較英國、德國和亞洲在消費習慣與心裡的各種不一樣。

歸納下來,還有四個不同的消費行為心理可以作比較和分享。

首先,在英國和德國,商店明碼標價,就表示不議價,在華人區(當然也是看情況),在規模不大的商店,攤販通常可以議價。在台灣夜市裡,老闆標價399NTD的東西就是默認可以讓買家還價到350或300NTD。沒有人會付399。

如果到過北京和上海的朋友都知道,去絲綢市場或是各種大型市集,講價最好從開價的三分之一甚至更低開始說起。等一來一往、好不容易說到買賣雙方都滿意的數字,議價才會結束。這對大部分,至少我及我所認識的華人而言,是一種從小就儲備的能力,誇張一點地說,就像是腳走路、嘴巴吃東西一樣,議價是我們不費吹灰之力就具備的能力。

妹夫聽完後,也是簡潔而溫和地回答:「這很浪費時間,不是嗎?」(英國人說話,真的很喜歡在句尾以「不是嗎?」來為極其簡短的句子加強調語氣。)

Mr. Hahn說,德國的跳蚤市場的攤位「可能」有談價錢的空間,但是他在德國從來沒有討價還價過。德國一般的商店,議價更是天方夜談。

記得幾年前我在德國聖誕市集看到一尊木雕玩具挺想買,當時還不會說德語,用英語一開口殺價就被老闆擺臉色,東西收起來不賣了,哈哈哈。我知道不行,但是就想試試。

第二,在英國和德國商店買肉、買菜,不僅別想殺價,老闆當然也不會像華人菜市場,在結帳打包時,再抓一把蔥薑蒜塞到袋子裡免費送你調味。

在德國肉舖買火腿,你跟肉老闆說買幾片火腿就是切幾片,沒有人會多送你一片火腿,或是贈你一小坨別處的肉。

在德國人看來,說一期待有二的溝通方式,純然是浪費時間。

這當然沒有錯,只是跟華人的習慣不同。華人或許覺得這樣少了人情味。

第三,在華人的大型超市裡,經常設置有小攤位展示各種新品試吃試喝。客人每逛一個轉角,就可以免費嘗試新的食物樣品,比如一口蔥抓餅、一塊小蛋糕、一杯迷你果汁。當然每一份樣品都只能嚐個味道而已。

有聽說朋友的朋友,會專門一而再、再而三的去索取這些免費的食物,而且還讓自己在超市裡吃飽。(這當然是比較極端的範例。)

Mr. Hahn果斷地說,德國超市不提供樣品食物 。我自己也沒在德國超市看到過。英國也超市裡也沒有。

第四,上華人餐館吃飯,基本上一坐下來,店員會即刻端上免費的熱茶與水,客人根本不需要開口點,之後還可以不停續杯。所以花錢點飲料的人,也能邊吃邊喝著什麼。

在德國或英國餐館,坐下來想喝免費的水,就要自己開口跟店員說我要「水龍頭水(tab water)」,如果(不知道或不小心)說成「水」,店員會端來需要付費的氣泡水或是名牌礦泉水。

總而言之,德國和英國文化裡似乎沒有殺價的情趣、沒有免費的食物,更沒有消費附 帶的甜頭。通過這些芝麻綠豆的生活瑣事,我又再次發現,我們和德國人、英國人有多不一樣。我們所有人該作的,可能是盡量入境隨俗。

如果你們知道更多消費心理大不同,歡迎留言給我。

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