Drinking coffee is a large part of my morning ritual. When I first arrived in Shanghai, I knew that it would be important to find a place near school to grab a quick cup. Luckily, the NYU Shanghai campus has both a 7/11 and a Family Mart(a popular Chinese convenience store chain) that offer super cheap Americanos. I don’t remember exactly when but I noticed I would always see the same two women who I always referred to as “7/11 Lady” and “Family Mart Girl”. After the first few smooth encounters, I would find myself waiting in their checkout line even if it was longer just out of familiarity. They were both very nice and less rushed than many of the other cashiers who didn’t seem to know that I couldn’t speak Chinese well. Once I got into this habit of seeing their familiar faces, it seemed that they began to recognize me as well.
On the days I go to 7/11, 7/11 Lady would ask me if I wanted my usual Americano and sometimes hand me stickers to collect for special promos. She even let me know of any special discounts they were having like buy-one-get-one half off deals. One time she told me that if I paid half the price for a second coffee now, she would give me the other one the following day, so I wouldn’t have to get two upfront. Though I haven’t been back in a while, I have a feeling she’ll know my order.
These days, I mostly go to Family Mart since I think the coffee tastes better and is closer to the school entrance. Family Mart Girl seems to be around my age, fairly young and always greeting you with a “Welcome to Family Mart!” when you walk in. I think she can tell that I’m a shy Chinese speaker, mostly because she seems to be a shy English speaker herself. It seems that she can speak some key English words and understand more than the other workers. Between her limited English and my limited Chinese, our interactions go quite smoothly. Though she doesn’t quite know my order like 7/11 Lady, she’s definitely seen me eat a lot of the same pre-packaged microwave meals whenever I’m hungry and in a rush. Come to think of it, she’s seen me in all sorts of moods- sleepy and barely awake, hungry and busy, as well as just regular cheerful me. I’ve told my parents and friends that the thing I might miss most about Shanghai will be Family Mart and I that definitely includes kind Family Mart Girl.
It’s funny how the small habit of buying coffee can create this loose connection to virtual strangers. Though I haven’t said any words besides, “One hot/iced Americano, please”, I feel like this customer-cashier relationship is one that’s helped me through this semester.