Below is a short story that was posted to our travel blog from Shanghai. Almost any visitor to China is likely to experience a higher-than-expected level of competiion while standing in line for something like a subway ticket. In the case below, I had made up my mind to be a competitor. Unfortunately things didn't work out as planned.
From the post: Lessons in Line Breaking
I had made a decision and I was going to act on it. Gone were the days of standing passively in line while Chinese people wedge themselves in front of me and place an order before I could react. I was going stand up for myself and try to be a little more Chinese.
This is not the kind of thing you can plan – it just has to happen and just last night, I had my chance. We were in the Shanghai subway terminal in line for our first subway card at a vending machine, as we’ve done so many times before in other cities. Just as the couple in front of me at the machine received their card and turned away, a young Chinese guy stepped directly in front of me. So, with great determination, I stepped in front of him enough to place my right shoulder at about his eye level and in a single motion stepped directly in front of the vending machine. It was mine! HAHA! I’ll show you line breaker! I’m no push-over tourist softy!
So there I was, with this foreign and unfamiliar machine staring me in the face. It was mine, yes, but I realized all too quickly that I had no idea how to use it. The instructions were in English and the #1 read “Select Fare???. Scratching my head with waves of embarrassment pending, I searched the machine for anything that said “Fare???. Nothing. I inquisitively pressed a couple of random buttons in the hopes that something would happen. Nothing. My pride was on the line here and I was blowing it! Thoughts of fleeing in shame entered my mind when I heard a voice over my shoulder, “Where do you need to go???? It was the line breaker politely asking a simple question that I couldn’t answer completely. All we knew was that we needed to go two stops on Line 2. He ended up doing the whole transaction for me and after many “thank yous??? I left with our subway cards in hand and my pride more than a little crushed.
The moral here is that if you’re going to try to act like a local, be prepared for the entire event. Going off half-cocked is a good way to shoot yourself in the foot.