You might still remember how McDonald’s gave away 5 million of McMuffins on their International Breakfast Day on Mar 18th of 2013 all over the world. Those burgers could build a mountain. But what intrigued you and me might not be how high the burger mountain could be, nor the zillions of calories increase McDonald’s had brought to the world on a Monday morning. It’s how different people around the world queued up for free burgers that amazed me.
The picture above shows how Hong Kong people tried to hide their faces when they were lining up for free burgers. No matter they were adults, elderly or even students, they all used their newspaper (that called them to line up for burgers) to block themselves from the camera. After they got the burgers, they would disappear from the store by a quick run to avoid being spotted by the cameramen from newspapers and magazines.
The same kind of shame didn’t apply to Mainland China (although both Hong Kongers and Mainland Chinese are “Chinese”), Singapore, or even Colombo. Those nations other than Hong Kongers seem to be more open-minded to the idea of getting freebies, and didn’t mind to look at the camera when they were queuing. It only points to one undeniable truth that Hong Kongese are ashamed of getting freebies.
When it’s Not Free, the Shame is Less
On the contrary, when it comes to paying for what they want, Hong Kong people feel less ashamed of lining up. A good example is how Hong Kongers seemed happy to queue for Apple’s new products, even though they might need to set up tents to stay overnight just for getting a new Apple iPad or iPhone. There are people hiding their face with their hands occasionally, but they were not afraid of showing their faces in general. When they finally got the products, some of them were happy to show to the camera.
When it’s Very Expensive, the Shame is Gone
If paying makes Hong Kongers feel less ashamed, paying for expensive products makes them even not ashamed, or even proud. The queues outside luxury stores on Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui speak for itself. Although most of the people in these queues outside the luxury fashion stores are actually Mainland Chinese Tourists, one could still imagine that if Hong Kongese join the queues, they would still feel a lot more open to show their faces compared with lining up for free McMuffins. LV vs. McDonald’s, which one sounds more glamorous and Facebook-sharing friendly? You know the answer.
Materialistic People in a Material City
Hong Kongers are unwilling to show their faces when they are getting freebies; but they’re open to share with (Facebook, Twitter, Weibo etc.) friends when they are buying luxury goods. It indicates that not only is Hong Kong a material place flooded with brand labels and luxury goods, but also the people are crazy about getting those capitalist byproducts. For Hong Kong people, owning the products are not the only way to enjoy their lavish lifestyle, they also want to share the glamour to others on social media platform while hiding their thrifty instinct as they think that being thrifty means that they’re not affluent. Being not affluent means being less respected by others such as shopkeepers, restaurant staff or even just the doorman of their residence.
As discussed with other friends of mine, we can compare the views of a Hong Konger and an American on getting Freebies:
- Hong Konger: “Only poor people get freebies”;
- American: “Only smart people know how to get freebies”.
Hong Kong people’s way of being powerful is positively linked to how much “good face” they show and how much “bad face” they avoid to show. There is an one-sided mindset in Hong Kong that the more wealthy you get, the less thrifty thing you should do. When you show your thrift, you’re not wealthy.
It’s all About Your Face
This kind of “freebies are for the poor, paid expensive goods are for the affluent” social code means that if wealthy Hong Kongese want to be thrifty, they have to do it in secrets. There could be wealthy female executives going Shenzhen to buy fake designer handbags, or lavish housewives collecting cash coupons of supermarkets from their credit card redemption schemes and asking their domestic helpers to use those coupons. This attitude is responsible for some questionable credit use, people here often spend more than they can on credit, which makes lexington law here very strong.
Everybody in Hong Kong is trying to save face, gain face and avoid losing face. This might explain why the face-protecting industry is thriving – skincare brands spend a fortune into their advertising campaigns each year, and cosmetics are among the top 3 categories of goods consumed the most by Mainland Chinese Tourists.