I haven't found the time to go grocery shopping for a couple of weeks, so have run out of food in the house. With very few chums around to join me for a proper dinner out, I have thus found myself a number of times constrained by a tight schedule and a grumbling stomach to - oh, the shame of it! - resort to eating fast food.
This past weekend, for example, walking to a sports bar to catch a football game, I realised that I hadn't eaten anything substantial all day, and ducked into a Subway to get a sandwich. I'm a big fan of Subway: tasty, reasonably healthy, and good value. And the stores here are usually quite well run, with staff who speak decent English.
Unfortunately, I tried to ask for some bacon to be added to my chicken sandwich.
The boss himself stepped forward to deal with this outrageous request. And he said, in remarkably good - but rather strident - English: "You can't have that. Where do you think you are? This is China. Just what you see on the menu. There's no chicken & bacon. Only chicken."
I think in every other Subway store I've ever been to, in every other country, bacon has been an inexpensive optional add-on (for any sandwich for which it might be appropriate). But here in China, it seems, the bacon is reserved exclusively for the BLT. You will cause them major stress if you try to ask for bacon on anything else.
While I was grateful to the boss man for explaining the position to me so clearly, I couldn't help thinking that China is still struggling rather with the customer service concept.
[To be fair, we did soon hit on the compromise solution of giving me some bacon on my sandwich and billing it as a 'double meat' order of chicken. Unfortunately, this cost an extra 15 or 20 kuai, which seems a tad steep for a measly three strips of bacon.
My friend Nigel had a similarly irksome wallet-shock experience in his local Subway outlet recently. At this branch, it seems, they are unaware of the 12-inch option, and advertise only 6-inch sandwiches. With some difficulty, he was able to persuade them to make him a 12-inch sandwich (since the bread rolls are all 12 inches long and have to be cut into two to make the 6-inch sandwich, this shouldn't have been a hard concept to grasp, but somehow it was). They insisted on charging him for two 6-inch sandwiches, rather than the usual much better value 12-inch rate. Subway in China seems to be somewhat lacking in that comforting uniformity which is the essence of the franchise concept.]