Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The cost of a pint of milk

Well, a half-pint, actually. In one of those tetrapak cartons.

After finishing up a recording session yesterday with my friend DD, we both ducked into a 'convenience store' next to a bus stop. Remembering that I was low on milk, I thought I'd see if they had any. Amazingly, they did.

The price tag on the shelf in the chiller said 2.80 RMB. The guy at the checkout said 5.00 RMB.

I'm honestly not sure what milk costs. It's such a routine - and relatively inexpensive - purchase that I don't really pay much attention most of the time. But my gut feeling is that in my local supermarket I only pay about 6 or 7 RMB for a full pint, and a half really shouldn't be more than 3.50 or 4. 5 RMB definitely seems just a little on the steep side, even for a 7/11-type store.

But it wasn't the price per se that bothered me so much as the inappropriate labelling on the shelf.

Pricing in Chinese stores is always a bit haphazard. It's often not clear if the tags refer to the items above or the items below. Many items appear not to be marked at all. In many cases there is a cluster of tags (many of them out-of-date?), so that you can't be sure which one is supposed to refer to the item you're interested in. And they're in Chinese only - and invariably hand-written, in a profuse, tiny, crabby script that I'm sure even Chinese find next-to-impossible to read.

But I was irritated enough on this occasion to go back and check, and to take one of the store clerks with me.

There was absolutely no room at all for ambiguity about the positioning of that 2.80 RMB tag - right under the half-pint milk cartons. Moreover, none of the tags on that entire shelf were for more than 4.00 RMB.

I was sufficiently irritated that I left without buying the milk.

It's not the price, it's the principle of the thing.

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