Things I have learned (II): Convenience

February 1, 2011

Germany is the country of inconvenience. We love our traditions, our rules and our principles. We don’t love change and we dread disturbance of any kind.

But in our defence: Germans really don’t know what convenience is! That concept is rather abstract for us. It was to me, anyway. I remember when I first traveled to China I repeatedly came across this one term: convenient. Digging up my Oxford grade 10 English I remembered that word and it’s German translation (‘praktisch’), I hadn’t used it a lot by then though, there was just no need to. But little did I know about the huge impact of this word on a whole culture! I should have been suspicious – even people with very little proficiency in English would definitely know the word ‘convenient’.

But it is not really China that is world famous for its obsession with convenience. In fact Japan, a country with so many people and so few time, is most reknown for not only its high density of so called convenience stores (or combini, the mandatory katakanisation) but also for… quite original inventions like the cultivation of rectangular and therefore stackable water melons just to name one (there is a very entertaining book: ‘The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions’, I highly recommend it).

And Taiwan was a good student. The density of convenience stores in Taipei feels even higher than in Tokyo. But what makes a convenience store so convenient? Well, except that they have an astounding assortment of things that belong to everyday needs (nappies, throw-away-panties, stationery, booze, …), most stores have an ATM, you can get fresh Cafe Latte, you can pay your utility bills, have your photos developed, recharge your public transport card, fill up on instant noodle soup, japanese curries and other dishes, you can even fax, copy, print and purchase train or concert tickets.

Convenient stores have become such an important part of Taiwanese life that they are among the top 3 criteria when chosing an apartment (the other two being transport and restaurants). When asking young Taiwanese exchange students who spent a time in Europe studying what they had missed most they envitably reply: Seven Eleven, the mother of all convenient stores.

But not only convenient stores are convenient. One kind of store I really like going to in Taiwan is the household supply store. Every time I discover new treasures, things I always needed but that don’t exist in Germany, things I didn’t even know I could possibly need and that I cannot live without now and things I still haven’t figured out what they are good for. However, they are all made for one purpose, to make my life more convenient. And I love it.



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