To Give or Not to Give?

I went to Radio Shack the other day for a can of dust removal spray. My purchase was smooth until I came to the cashier. The twenty-something-year-old sales guy who spoke nearly indecipherable English asked me, “What’s your last name?”

What? I couldn’t figure out why my last name had to do with my payment. I looked at him and asked him to repeat the question. He did and I seemed to have no choice but give him the answer. I thought that was it.

“What’s your first name?” He asked.

I automatically spelled out my name for him but I still didn’t know why he needed to know my name, my home address, ZIP code, phone number and email address. I’m not used to giving my own personal information out to strangers. It’s not what I grew up with in China. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As youngsters, we were always reminded that we should not talk to strangers in public; don’t give out any private information to others unless they’re your trustworthy family and friends. So you’ll see it’s difficult for a reporter in China to get sources because normally the interviewees are reluctant to tell you their names, age and other personal details. They’re afraid of reprisals. The approach is genuinely from a sense of self protection.

Unlike the Chinese belief, Americans are open about themselves. As long as you talk to a stranger long enough, he will introduce himself to you. If he’s interested in talking with you, he may even tell you about his childhood, his family and probably his love affair anecdotes. That seldom happens among city dwellers in China. I’m told most American families list their names and phone numbers in the White Pages. My first reaction to that was—Oh, that’s dangerous! It encourages malicious crime.

After the sales guy input the information on the computer, he said, “Okay, we’ll email you a ten-dollar discount coupon.”

I thanked him with a facetious smile and left. My mind couldn’t help thinking of the questions the sales guy had asked me. Just for a ten-dollar discount coupon, I had to release all my personal information to him? Is it worth it?

Honestly, I do not like this interrogation sales strategy in America. I recall when I came to the country last summer I went to a Verizon store to buy a mobile phone. The first question the sales guy asked me was What’s your Social Security Number?

Hey I am new to this country. I don’t know what Social Security Number is. Please just sell me a phone and service. I was annoyed and thought to myself. Anyone can get a phone and number easily in China but it’s definitely not so in the U.S.. Because I didn’t have my Social Security Number at that time, I couldn’t apply for a phone plan. At last I got a prepaid phone which isn’t popular in America.

Now when I check out in a store, I’m apprehensive of the questions I will be asked. In order to save the trouble of identifying who I am, I learned driving in Pittsburgh from scratch just to obtain a legal ID. But at times I’m still wondering, can I keep my personal information safe and sound?  


Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America