March 2, 2007 – In passing conversation with a Coffee Shop girl, Sally (Floor Manager)
I have been going to a Jack and Magic Pea coffee shop a lot recently because it has some really cool customer-friendly bits to it. You can pump your own lemon water at the table. The menu is full of so many different kinds of drinks, coffees, juices, and meals. Movies play on flat screens in the main areas as well as in the toilets. The music varies all the time. It also has ports for laptops! Of course, this shop is a product of Taiwan and has been rather successful in Zhuhai, with a few shops open within a couple years.
My offer here was rather simple. Gather the employees together and offer some English training sessions so that foreign customers can receive better service. When i visited the shop recently, i had been using Chinese to communicate. When i started using English with them, their only use was just to be looked at.
Here are a few things I learned when approaching Sally with the training ideas:
1. “Pretty girls don’t need to speak English, that’s why I work here to help the foreigners!”
a. So, girls in a coffee shop are just eye candy. Makes sense i guess.
b. Ordering coffee or food is so simple too. Just point at the menu, eh?
2. “My boss will send me to TPR for studying English. It is 1,000RMB per level. 26 classes per level and 6 total levels.
a. Here is a useful bit. Now i know what the going rate is for group lessons at the local Foreigner meat shop. It is a large chain of English schools. 3 or more in Zhuhai already. It’s big competition for me if I choose the generic route of English training.
b. GLV 和平English is much more expensive. About 1,000RMB per two week stay. I have heard that many of the girlfriends/wives of rich Guangdong men like to study here. Maybe this is a good part-time job option… “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
c. I’ve also learned that many little English schools dot the city selling something like English to people. That is a saturated market if I’ve ever seen one. But, i am always approached by people who want to study English more. So, i wonder how they can be served…?
3. Don’t waste much time with coffee shops. They might be interested in hosting an English Corner for publicity reasons. They basically need one person who can communicate when they need her to. This is the typical way to deal with the “English problem.”
Without realizing it, I found common answers which put a silencing finish to my questions. It’s not a reason to give up. I know people need private tutoring and improved English interfaces. China is still not English-friendly. It will take time to produce the right mix of services that can be accepted by Chinese businessmen and the hospitality industry.
Don’t lose hope! There are still plenty of private opportunities that can be networked around the local cities. We just need to start looking at the teacher-supply side. That will take more Internet based communication. Foreigners tend to get lost in these massive Chinese cities. I’ll figure it out in due time.