“You’re still using iPhone 5s?”
“Yes, and what is the problem with that?”
“The iPhone is much cheaper in the U.S. than in China! You should’ve upgraded to the newest model the moment it came out!”
I raised an eyebrow. What’s wrong with still using iPhone 5s? In fact, even if I don’t have a smartphone, I can still survive.
It’s after having countless conversations like those, when I realize that what I hear on the news is probably not too surprising —– that Chinese tourists are bombarding Apple stores in cities like Tokyo, and sometimes falling in conflict with the local shoppers, especially when supplies run out.
However, Apple products and electronics are not the only things the Chinese masses are obsessed with. Anything that comes with a reputable brand name would be sought after with perseverance stronger than I will ever have when comes to shopping. For example, my in-laws flew in a while ago to attend my husband’s graduation. As tight as the time already is, today I’m going to accompany them to buy brand name shoes, clothes, and vitamins for some of their acquaintances back home. Some of the brands that they have requested, I have never even heard of and had to Google them. My mother-in-law was also quite surprised at my cluelessness, “I thought that everyone in the U.S. know of these brands!” I could only shrug.
The biggest problem I have with this brand obsession is that some people cannot explain why an item is good, but will buy it just for the sake of buying the brand with a conviction that by dressing up in brands, they appear higher in status and gain more “face” in social or family gatherings. In addition, they will even go as far as judging others depending on what kind of brands they use. It’s really disturbing to think that, if I go to a family or friends’ gathering and the brands on me are not high-class or chic enough, I may get shunned for it. Usually I choose my friends based on their personality or interests. I like my friends to be fun, adventurous, and humorous. To me, choosing friends based on what brands they like seems illogical and absurd.
On many occasions, I have been made fun of for not knowing what the latest design bag of xyz brand. Since most people around me seem to care more about brands than I do, sometimes I feel that I do not fit in. Whenever a big group starts to talk about brands over dinner, I feel very outdated and have nothing to contribute to the conversation. Also, I have had cases where I grew apart with my childhood girlfriends from China because after they got older, they became more and more interested in brands, and since I’m in the states, they constantly ask me about U.S. and European brands. At one point, we just ran out of things to talk about. It was hard enough already to keep a long-distance friendship alive, so those kinds of friendships ended gradually. Nowadays, I’m glad that I have a couple friends who whole-heartedly share my attitude towards brands.
That being said, I do not wish to change my position just because of outside pressure. I will keep on using the brand-less but good products that I like, and ignore those who tell me I should do otherwise. I do not consider myself a hater of brands. If I find a brand to be truly worth my investment because I find it to be amazing in quality or style, I will use it. In that case, even if everyone I know hates that brand, I would still go ahead and buy it. After all, in the end, I’m the one who is going to pay for it and use it on myself. One can argue that people are “branded” in ways as well.
I’m sure that amongst some of my acquaintances from China, I have been branded as a “Harvard” girl. Though I hope that through more interaction, they would get to know the real me better, and the “Harvard” brand will eventually fade in their perceptions (I am proud to have gone to Harvard, but I don’t want to be associated with Harvard every time someone thinks of me). However, even if the association never fades away, I still do not regret for having chosen Harvard because I believe that I would have studied there anyway, big name college or not.
Xiao Fu is a writer and English teacher based in New York City. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.