My wife is Singaporean Chinese.
Although she speaks perfect English, when she’s with her family she speaks their dialect, Teochew.
When we were first going out, we used to go everywhere together.
I hate shopping.
Like most blokes, I just want to go in, buy what I want, and get out.
I don’t like shopping just for the sake of it.
But, like most women, Cathy does.
And it did seem to me she was very wasteful.
She would buy too much of everything.
And she’d buy things we didn’t need.
So, when we’d go to the supermarket, I’d follow behind pushing the trolley.
And I’d take things out and put them back on the shelf.
Eventually she caught me doing it.
She said “Don’t be silly, Kyum Si Sai.”
And she put them back in the trolley.
‘Kyum Si Sai’ was obviously the Teochew way of saying ‘Darling’.
Later, she wanted to buy shoes.
So we went to South Molton Street.
I said “Why do you need shoes? The ones you’ve got haven’t worn out?”
She looked at me strangely.
She said “Don’t worry about it, Kyum Si Sai. I’m earning my own money, I’ll buy my own shoes.”
And she ignored me.
Strangely, Cathy only ever called me ‘darling’ in Teochew when we were shopping.
She would spend money on something I didn’t think we needed.
I’d say “Why are you buying that?”
She’d say “It’s my money Kyum Si Sai, what do you care?”
Years later, I mentioned to her brother that Cathy always used the Teochew word for darling when we were shopping.
He said “What Teochew word?”
I said “Kyum Si Sai”
He laughed, he said “That doesn’t mean darling.”
I said “What does it mean?”
He said “Stingy shit.”
This was a good lesson for me.
If you’re in advertising it’s essential to know your market.
Over 70% of all purchases (by value) are made by women.
So I discussed the process with my sister-in-law.
Betty, was a buyer for a large chain of stores in South East Asia.
She told me about the different way the stores are laid out to maximise sales.
The women’s department is carefully planned like a journey of discovery.
Leading women carefully through section after section.
Making sure what a woman’s thinking about turns up just as she’s ready to consider it.
Because, in general, women and men shop the way they use the phone.
Women come at it out of a question.
Men come at it out of an answer.
Men use the phone to deliver a message, finish.
Women use it for a chat.
So women go shopping to discover what’s new.
Men shop for a particular object.
Betty told me they plan their stores with meticulous care as far as women are concerned.
Then, whatever space is left over, that’s where they put the mens’ department.
It doesn’t matter where they put it, men will find it.
Because, for men, shopping is purely functional.
They don’t go shopping for enjoyment and discovery.
Men walk in with blinkers on.
They know the exact object they want.
They walk in, look for the men’s department, and look for that object.
Then they either find it or walk out and go somewhere else.
They don’t look around to see what they can buy instead.
Learning the difference was a big lesson for me.
Elaine Rawlins (nee Jones) is a copywriter at our agency.
She told me about the last time (and she does mean last time) she took her husband shopping.
She wanted a white blouse.
She said he sat in the corner of the shop and couldn’t wait to get it over with.
She tried one on and asked Matt what he thought of it.
He said “Yeah, that’ll do.”
She said “What do you mean, it’ll do? Do you like it or not?”
He said “Well, it does the job.”
Elaine said. “What do you mean ‘IT DOES THE JOB’?”
He said “Well it’s white, and it’s a shirt, and you wanted a white shirt, so it does the job.”
And, as Elaine says, that was the last time she took him shopping.