My call to Dad drops at the same instant there’s a knock at the door.
Two of the housekeepers stood there, all smiles. I wondered what I did wrong, or what they did if anything. Perhaps they wanted to apologize for waking me up that morning? No, that wasn’t it. They entered the doorway, and one of them started energetically talking and gesturing to my perfume bottle.
My lack of language skills is so painfully…well, painful at this point. I get the impression that the woman is interested in my perfume. It’s my every day wear perfume – Diesel’s Fuel for Life. They stopped selling it in the department stores because apparently I was the only one who liked it. The bottle currently on my nightstand I had saved for a year after buying it in Paris, not knowing when I would be able to get it again. China seemed like a good time to have it with me. And now I have found someone else interested in it as well.
The two of them don’t speak a word of English between them. I break out my translator apps and notebook and proceed to get thoroughly confused. I understand she wants “three” of something – does she want to sample the perfume? No, I get the idea she wants to buy it – she’s gesturing to her pocket. So I write down what I paid for it – $50 USD. This is an undersell, actually. Given the strength of the Euro to the dollar, I probably paid more like $65 for it – well, maybe $60 (the dollar was rebounding a little). I show the number to the woman, and write the amount into RMB – 330. This is a slightly over the mark, because currently the exchange rate is 6.2 RMB to the dollar. I don’t know what it is compared to the Euro (I would look it up later). It all sort of evens out in my head.
After much discussion and more character writing I decide I am getting nowhere. No matter how slowly they speak I can’t respond. I figure out what she’s trying to say, sort of, but I don’t know how to formulate my responses. The words I translate do nothing to facilitate – they only lead to long explanations and laughter. So I say very slowly “1 minute…” and take off for the lobby. Tina is there, thankfully. Tina, who speaks moderately good English and is polite and patient. Tina translates one of the character sentences: “I would like to buy your shampoo.”
Breakthrough. So I trot back upstairs to my room, to the two laughing housekeepers, and write a discounted price down on the paper – 250rmb. It’s roughly $40, and my reasoning is that even though I haven’t used that much of the perfume, it’s still not new and I have used it, so charging full price wouldn’t be fair. I also appreciate that for $40 I could eat out every day for a week if I wanted, or eat lunch at the cafeteria every day for a month. But something is up – the one who wants to buy is still saying “three” something. It’s not 300 – because there’s no way she’d be asking to pay me more than I asked. The other one is trying to help my speaking slowly in different words, but I’ve hit my wall and there’s no going through it.
I do what I’ve been avoiding – I call reception and ask for Tina to come up to my room. I don’t like being an inconvenience, but I can tell when I’m in over my head and need help. Tina arrives like very polite cavalry, and through multiple translations we finally iron things out. The women want three bottles of perfume, and want to know when I can get them. I explain I only have the one, but that I could try to find some more for them if they wanted. Part of my brain is sarcastically asking when I’m planning on flying to Paris in the next couple of weeks. Then more details emerge – one cleaning lady wants a bottle like mine, the Fuel for Life. The other wants to buy my current bottle, and wants me to try and find two more Diesel perfumes which are not Fuel for Life. They both really like the smell.
Forget the Silk and Jade Roads – It’s the Perfume Road which runs through WenJiang…
I offer a couple of solutions to Tina. I can have my family find the perfume and ship it to me. Or I can try to locate it myself. Either way, I will find out the cost and let them know. The one gets serious – it’s her last day. And I am scheduled to check out soon – what happens if I find the perfume but I’m not at the hotel? I respond that even if I check out, I will bring the perfume back with me and drop it off with the other housekeeper, the one who is staying. I find the idea a little laughable – that I would go buy a bunch of perfume and then keep it.
Money in hand, perfume off the table, an outpouring of thanks to Tina, and then it is quiet in my room. Dad has gone to bed – I will have to apologize. And I am now reflective.
What just happened…?
In the hustle and bustle of miscommunication, I have somehow sold a bottle of perfume I’d been holding onto for over a year because it was one of my favorites. I sold my favorite perfume at what was most likely an undervalued price because…
I have no answer to this. That concerns me. Because someone else liked it and I can find more? Because I don’t remember to wear perfume most of the time anyway? Because it was a nice thing to do for a couple of ladies who maybe don’t see Western perfume that often? Because it’s just perfume and just money and really in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter? Because I have a real problem with not being able to say “no” to people, which I have not yet resolved? It’s a little of each, with a lot of that last one.
And now I’m hunting for perfume online? In fact, that’s what I’m doing right now. Let’s see…I bought the perfume at a Sephora. There’s a brand new Sephora in Chengdu! And according to the Chinese Sephora website (which does not have an English translation button, for shame!) the Diesel line of perfume is available. Cost…460rmb. Huh – so those ladies got a steal for my 85% full bottle. If the store in Chengdu carries it, then my little treasure hunt becomes much easier.
Let’s see, as of March 29, 2014:
45.50 Euro = 65 USD
45.50 Euro = 388 RMB
65 USD = 403 RMB
460 RMB = 74 USD = 54 Euro
So perfume is considerably more here in China than back home in the States, and more so than Europe as well. The price of smelling good….
Oh, and if you’re in China and put in http://www.sephora.com, you get taken to http://www.sephora.cn and there is no way to get to an English site. If you click on the “International” link down at the bottom you get taken to a host of other Sephora sites, none of them English. The Canadian site links back to the Chinese site. I can find information in Czech, French, Italian, Greek, and a host of other languages, but not English. Thank goodness brand names stay constant.