It isn’t all bad in China: Marz the generally competent barista and otherwise excellent human being.

I know I am scrapping together whatever last few silver linings I can possibly find out of this two year China excursion, which increasingly seems like little more than a waste of my god damned time. But here and there within the experience there were situation in which, if no lesson was outright learned, one was certainly very clearly reinforced.

I have never really believed in cultural determinism. Many people that I have met seem to, either implicitly or otherwise. You hear it in the form of “Oh, well you do this because you are from such-and-such a place”, and despite your pleadings that it is not the case, you are told what you are like based solely on the geographical coincidence of where you were born. Said like this, you can truly see it for the shit idea that it is. But people really do seem to buy it. I get why: do you think I give the Chinese people I meet here the benefit of the doubt? Nope! They are lumped into the category of shit people until proven otherwise. Alas for us, those parts of our brains that were useful before civilization are now a determent to our living politely. Our brain is used to making large fast and easy sweeping rules that kept it alive. “Bushes hide predatory animals, stay away from all bushes forever and always” your brain says.

It’s easy to make such stupid rules, and thus it is easy to fall into the trap of believing in cultural determinism. “I met one person from x culture who does this shity thing” your brain generalizes, “thus everyone and their dog from said culture does it to. QED.”

This is why I am glad I met Marz. At some point in my Chinese internment they opened up a second Starbucks in the shopping center I work at. Being significantly closer to my work place, I often made dashes there for emergency rounds of espresso, just to give myself a reason to live through another few hours of extremely boring classes. In China, not only is the clientele of Starbucks moronic (what with their staring at the menu for hours, insisting on the drinks being explained and clarified ingredient by ingredient, trying to pay with a membership card, and haggling for discounts), but the staff  as well is plagued with a single-minded obsessed with rules they don’t understand and procedure followed for its own sake. Lines form rapidly at Starbucks, and no one ever stops to do those things that could eleviate the problem; such as any kind of multi-tasking, opening another till, or having that person who is currently taking inventory of the mugs stop it and come give a hand at the god damned bar.

This isn’t my term for it, but a colleague here refers to what is going on as ‘a culture of incompetence.’ In China, nothing works, everyone knows nothing works, and so people just throw up there hands to say ‘oh well, sense nothing works I will put forth no effort into trying to get things to fucking work.’

Well, that’s one reaction to the problem. But it isn’t the only one. These things are not determined.

Marz is a force of order in a world that long since gave up on things.  While all the other employees are sat there doing things in the same wrong manner that doesn’t seem to work, Marz is helping where needed and thinking about how to make things better. Starbucks in China has a problem communicating with their foreign customers. The context of coffee is lost on the Chinese, and so they don’t realize that the foreign customers are irate because Starbucks as the last hope they have for curing this hangover.  When the foreigners get to order this irritation is made worse by none of the staff understanding the order (admittedly not their fault). So Marz took a picture of all the foreign regulars, and put them in a book with a list of the drinks they normally get.  Making things easy for everyone.

When things gets busy, Marz inserts himself where he is needed. If they are backed up at drinks, he makes the drinks. Backed up at the till? He opens another one and takes orders.

If everyone in China were like this guy the place would truly deserve the accolades it gets.

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