Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chino Shops

I keep finding myself using the phrase "chino shop" in blog posts, so I figured I'd better explain what I mean by that before I publish more posts and you all think I'm a racist.

Throughout Madrid (and Spain) are small corner shops and alimentaciones run by Chinese people or families.  The small corner shops (sometimes called "bazar"s on signs) are packed with all sorts of things at cheap prices: school supplies, toys, games, electronics, kitchen stuff, shoes, purses, picture frames, fabric, yarn, lightbulbs, glue, hair ties, umbrellas, maps, etc.

Really, if you need some type of household item, you can find it in a chino shop.

There are also alimentaciones, which are small shops that have food and drinks -- kind of like what you'd find on the shelves in an American gas station.  The reason you might buy something there instead of in a grocery store is because they're open later during the weekdays, and on Sundays.  Whatever you buy at an alimentación will probably be a bit more expensive than what you'd pay in a Dia or another grocery store, but hey -- you're paying for convenience.

While searching for any type of previously written material about all of these chino shops in Spain, I found this video - it's an interview with a Chinese owner of an alimentación.  He says his shop is open 12-13 hours a day, plus weekends.  His wife and son live in China, but come to Spain two months every year to live with him.  You can see what an alimentación looks like in the video, and hearing his views about life in Spain as a foreigner is quite interesting. (Video has English subtitles)

There are Chinese people that own Chinese restaurants, clothing stores, or shoe/accessory shops -- which are also open on Sundays when most other businesses are closed.

Now to the other half of this matter: the shops are owned by Chinese people, but why would that be taken into account when referring to the shop itself?

I remember when I was first adjusting to Spain when I studied abroad here two years ago, I was surprised by the amount of racial language used to describe or label people.  For example, Gregorio has an African American friend that he refers to as el negro (the black person -- a term that can be offensive) when he tells me stories about him.

In addition to americana, I have been called a gringa or a yanqui - terms you will often hear when referring to North Americans.  It hasn't been used towards me in a negative way; Gregorio will use it in a joking manner sometimes: ¡Qué yanqui eres! for example.

The word for Chinese people in Spanish is "chinos", but their shops are often called the same in conversation.  On Friday evening when we took my clock necklace to the chino shop, Gregorio had said "Vamos al chino".  He knows the man that runs the store, his name is "Joni" (Johnny), yet I've still only ever heard Gregorio refer to Johnny as el chino, the same word we use to refer to the shop itself.

As Gregorio says, here they don't care as much about using politically correct terms as we do in the United States.

So when in Spain, if you hear someone say the word chino, they may be referring to (1) a Chinese person, (2) a bazar or alimentación shop run by a Chinese person, or I suppose (3) a Chinese restaurant.  Do not be offended when you hear this term, as that is not intended.  And if you'll be living here for any extended period of time, I can assure you the word "chino" will become a part of your daily vocabulary.

Below are a few more links that may be of interest if you want to learn more about this topic:


  1. As far as I can tell the U.S. is the least racist country in the world, and we probably have the most diversity? We're too politically correct here.

  2. Oh dear, Rebecca, because some of your blog's instructions are in spanish, I'm not sure if this is the correct place to comment, but I found your observations and comments very interesting. It is interesting that we in the US are very afraid of noting, or labeling racial identities. Perhaps we need to work on not avoiding the fact that we are of different racial make ups, and instead embrace our ethnicities without attaching racists stereotypes and negative connotations to ethnic backgrounds.

  3. nice, i will admit I was confused for a while before i read this haha.
    hope you are having a great time!

  4. Yada yada ya.. Politically correct bullshit.. Yada yada ya

  5. I spent three weeks in Madrid recently. In English, I always called them Chinese stores. In Spanish I referred to them as "tiendas chinas".

    1. Thanks for sharing—I hope you had a great time in Madrid!

  6. Rebecca - regarding the video about the store owner:

    I really enjoyed this for whatever reason. It was interesting to see this guy's life story and his perspective on it. My first thought was - he has a good humor about him, a really positive outlook about everything. But my next thought - is he always like this, or was it only because someone was paying attention to him for the interview? I think a bit of both.

    He says he knows he'll never make it big. And I kind of feel the same way about my own life. But we all want to feel important, like our story means something, like people care about us. I'm glad he got to share his story, I'm glad he perked up for the interview. It's OK if we don't make it big, because we already are big, in the subtlest of ways. Just like this guy. Really cool stuff.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hey Karlos — I'm glad you enjoyed the video! Maybe you already know about these, but it sounds like you might also enjoy "The Moth" or "Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People."

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!