the shoelace

or how the Chinos saved the day once again

A long time ago I promised a post about the Chinos (“chee-nose”), but never got around to it. Now that we’ve been living here for four months, I am long overdue to explain this phenomenon.

To answer the most obvious question – yes, this word is a direct reference to Chinese people. It is not meant to be derogatory or offensive (some people might use it that way, but more on that later). There are a great deal of Chinese immigrants living here in Spain, and somehow they have managed to corner the market on all things cheap. They operate stores that could be compared to dollar stores or flea markets in the United States – everything you could possibly need for 1/4 of the price (or less). So while it’s not an actual chain of stores – any store in this country that sells this kind of merchandise and is owned by someone of Chinese descent (or not) is a “Chino”. Their usefulness is compounded by the fact that they remain open during siesta and are open every day until 11 pm, including most holidays and the most important: Sundays.

Now some Spaniards are anti-Chino. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with these people, but they are missing out. Some señoras refuse to shop there, and consider it beneath them and they can be pretty vocal about it. On the other hand you have people like my neighbor, the infamous Loli. I leave the apartment one morning and the forecast says rain. Loli takes the elevator down with me and admonishes me for lack of appropriate rain gear. I assure her that an umbrella purchase is in my future. She leans over and in a conspiratorial whisper says, “I don’t know if you know, but you can get an umbrella on the cheap from the Chinos.” I agree and tell her I’m headed there this minute. For extra insurance and the Loli stamp of approval (very important to me), she says: “I even have things from the Chino in my own home.” Well, shit. To the Chino I go!

The phrase “.. going to the Chinos” comes up almost every day in conversation. Here are some prime examples of when to go to the Chino – which is to say, all the time.

  • “Hey, we need another lighter for the stove” = Chino.
  • “I forgot to get wine for this party tonight” = before 10 pm? Chino.
  • “We’re out of cereal and the supermarket is closed” = Chino
  • “Where did I put my tweezers?” = Chino
  • “I need a padlock for my gym locker” = Chino
  • “We need more fabric softener” = Chino
  • “I think I want index cards for my English classes” = Chino
  • “Can you pick up some orange juice?” = Chino
  • “It’s supposed to be cold next week, I need tights” = Chino
  • “I am not going to pay 5 euros for shampoo” = Chino
  • “The doors in our apartment are so squeaky” = Chino
  • and the title track of this promotion: “Damnit I broke my shoelace” = thank you, Chinos!

Clearly this could go on for days. All of the above mentioned purchased are between 0.75 cents and at the high end – probably 2.50. How can you go wrong?

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