One of the most popular locations for a foreigner in Shanghai is Nanjing Road. It has the light, it has the shopping, it has the food, it has the bund, and it has the scams. If you look and act like a foreigner around People’s Square, odds are that you will be approached by some younger Chinese girls and it will begin…
Chinese Girl 1: “Hi, where are you from?”
Foreigner: “I am from the USA”
Chinese Girl 2: “Oh, I love the USA! Are you here on vacation?”
Chinese Girl 1: “So are we!”
Chinese Girl 1: “We heard about this nice tea ceremony nearby. It gives the full Shanghai experience. Want to join us?”
Foreigner: *thinking that he should get the Chinese experience and enjoying the company of Chinese girls* “Sure!”
What Happens Next…
The foreigner / foreigners (let’s just keep it plural for now) accompany the Chinese girls to a local tea shop where they sit and talk to the girls while having tea presented to them. Expecting the bill to be no more than 20 RMB a person, the foreigners don’t give much thought to the event and are happy to have the chance to experience the culture as insiders.
The problems arise when the bill appears and the foreigners see a bill of 200+ RMB per person. If the foreigners complain about the price, so do the girls. The girls reluctantly pay. Because the guys don’t want to look cheap in front of the girls, they do as well.
The foreign guys leave the ceremony with a funny feeling. They feel ripped off, they feel bad for the girls who paid too much, but they also got a bit of the Chinese culture. After thinking about it a bit, the foreigners figure they just paid for a story to tell their friends. Not a big deal and not worth ruining their vacation worrying about. This is, unless they accompany the girls to the acrobat show after the tea ceremony…
What Really Happens
The Chinese girls are employed by the tea store to bring in clueless foreigners to pay inflated prices for the tea ceremony. They know that single foreign males likely won’t turn down the advances of friendly Chinese girls and will have too much pride to complain about prices in front of girls, so they are the perfect candidate. The girls pay for the tea with money given to them from the tea shop and only pretend to be upset by the final cost. Later that day, they go back and get a portion of all revenue made.
Stories of the Tea Scam
When I first arrived in Shanghai I was approached by tea scammers a few times. They all had similar stories. While I actually wish I went with them one time to be able to tell the story first-hand, I can’t say I’ve experienced the actual tea ceremony. However, I’ve met two guys who had. The first guy I met in an airport. He had a 6 hour layover and decided to check out People’s Square. The above story happened to him. He felt a bit funny about paying so much, but overall thought the tea scam was a fun event. I felt bad for him, but it led me to realize that those getting scammed aren’t always aware of it, even when the scam is over. The second guy was one of my friends — same thing, complained that it was a bit expensive, but was actually gloating about how he met some local girls.
However, I read one story on Shanghai Expat regarding the tea ceremony scheme that is far more entertaining…
They were strolling along the Bund taking in the beautiful views of the construction near the intersection with East Nanjing Road when they were approached by two girls who wanted to take their picture with them, then they got chatting and the two scammers said they were from Hainan which my mates remembered as they said the “Hawaii of China” and then said they were going to watch a tea ceremony would they like to come….
So my mates being plonkers said yes and went with them to a tea house – 22 Tianjin Road to be exact – and before they knew it an hour had passed and they both paid 580RMB!! My friends are trolley dolleys like i was so they’ve been around the world, i thought they were smart. I kept saying ‘You wouldn’t go with some random you met in London so why do it in Shanghai?’
My friends didn’t actually have enough cash on them so the two scammers actually walked them to cash machine to get more out!!! Then followed them around for the next hour trying to get them to hire a car for day and drive around Shanghai on some tour, but they said they felt uneasy at that point and were making excuses to get away.
When i met them at the hotel and asked them what they’d been up to and they said “We had a tea ceremony” the look on my face must have said it all because they then admitted they didn’t feel right about paying that much, then i explained it was a scam etc etc and then with hindsight they could see all the warning signs and the things that weren’t quite right. They said they didn’t want to pay that much but felt under pressure because the scammers were so nice.
The story gets better… my mates were RAGING to say the least and went straight over to the hotel manager explained what happened and he was also angry….so he marched us to the police station, and then like some ruccus about to happen 3 police officers, the three of us, the hotel manager and two bell boys bowled down to the tea house – it was only 5 mins from the hotel – and basically went in, the two scammers were sitting there on their mobiles just having a chat with the other workers in there and then loads of shouting began and 5 minutes later they had their money back!!!!!!!!!
I was so impressed because i kept saying it was a lost cause, but my friends were soooo pissed off they were going to go down there with or without the police. But the look on the girls’ face when my friends returned with the police was priceless!!!!
The Shanghai Tea Scam is a popular, but not overly harmful scam. However, it is always fun to talk about. Do you have a story about this scam happening to you? Please tell in the comments section!