Having it China’s way

The first Burger King to do business in China opened its doors June, 2005 on Nanjing Xi Lu, the trendiest street in Shanghai.

Placards and posters told consumers that they have a right, one of many listed on a translated bill of rights, to have things “their way” and to stand up and fight for that right if they don’t get it. This means being able to tell a clerk to subtract items from the ready-made product. Any other requests necessitate the intervention of manager Lily Xu.

“It’s o.k. It’s language barrier,” says Xu with a smile as warm as a Whopper’s sizzle. “Foreigner talk to Shanghainese and Chinese they try.”

Success comes from “good product, good people,” she adds.

But once inside the marketing curve turns vertical. On the 56th anniversary of the Communist declaration of New China a middle aged working woman had set aside her Chinese newspaper to copy down the English words of the poster because “the sentence is very good” while nearby two young girls want to know why French Fries are called “French.”

But where the “Burger King Bill of Rights” tells customers, in English, that “you” have the right, in Chinese it reads “I have the right.” And the pithy little humorous placards about escaping French Fries and the people who use an inordinate amount of napkins seems to fly way over the head of most of the Chinese customers.

Above: a photo taken in Istanbul in 2011. Credit: Bill Marcus