A recent New York Times story about high-end U.S. retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany marketing directly to wealthy Chinese visitors reminded me of some of the extreme Chinese shopping I’ve witnessed in Europe. Stopping in the Zurich airport branch of Sprungli on my way home from Davos, I saw a Chinese man (who spoke no English at all) spend $900 on Swiss chocolates. Offered a free taste by a saleslady as a courtesy for buying so much stuff, he waved it off. Apparently he was not actually a chocolate lover but just buying gifts for some lucky friends. On the tube in London I saw Chinese women en route to Heathrow with the most enormous Louis Vuitton shopping bags and clocked the resentful glances of their fellow passengers. It reminded me of how Americans abroad used to be rich and universally loathed.
We roared with laughter yesterday at David Henry Hwang’s latest play Chinglish which is in previews at the Longacre Theatre after a successful run in Chicago. Anyone who has been to meetings in China, done any business there or met a government official will recognize the hilarity of the miscommunication that results from two countries divided not just by culture but by language. The folly of poor translation has not been rendered so incisively since the famous scene in “Lost in Translation” in which the extensive instructions given by the Japanese director of a whiskey commercial that Bill Murray is acting in is reduced to just a few words.