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Author Note: Unable to get away from insistent sales talk, without being blatantly rude.   

This story is to serve as a caution to all consumers. Beware of any Chinese shop assistants who tell you that something is 'flea!' While the offer may sound enticing at the time, nothing is 'flea.'

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On Friday 31st October 2003, Paul, my then husband, and I were passing a Chinese health shop in a mall. We noticed two huge signs that read 'FREE' and 'ALLERGY TESTING.'

We paused outside the shop for a moment. Suddenly, a little Chinese woman, very slightly built and extremely young for such an outgoing insistent person, came rushing out. She was more or less grabbing at us, talking about how our health would improve if we had this 'test.' She repeated with great insistency, "Most necessary!"

I pointed to the notice that read, 'FREE' and asked her for confirmation. "Is it completely free for these allergy tests?"

To which she replied, "Yes, it's flea! flea!"

We were ushered inside where a Chinese man stood behind the counter. He handed each of us a form to fill in. We were asked to supply our names, addresses and phone numbers. Then we were told to put a circle around all the ailments we suffered. Such as: tiredness; aches, and where they were; hair loss and so on, including some very personal ailments.

We were getting a bit fed up with all of these formalities, and I said, "Can we just get on with the allergy testing?"

We expected a little metal peg thing to be placed over the ends of our middle fingers. Instead, the Chinese woman said she needed to cut off a small piece of our hair for the test. She disappeared for a few seconds and then re-appeared with some large scissors. She grabbed Paul's ponytail, which I had been trimming neatly so he could grow it long. Just as she prepared to make the cut, I stopped her.

It seemed as if she was about to cut it completely off! I removed the scissors from her hand (what a cheek she had) and trimmed some hair from Paul's beard. Actually, I took the time to neaten it up at the same time. In a way, I purposefully wanted to make her wait as she had made me quite angry at this point. She waited impatiently, until I handed this hair to her.

She took it, with a scowl on her face, and attached it to the form we had filled out. Meanwhile, I trimmed a tiny amount of hair from the end of my ponytail. She muttered something about sending the samples away so the DNA could be extracted from the hair. I then realized that the extent of the test was merely to send it away to a lab. 'How ridiculous,' I thought, and almost said it out loud. The hair could easily get lost in the post, mixed up wherever it was sent, or, not make it to the lab at all! I demanded to see a list of everything to be tested.

The Chinese woman responded, "Too many to list. Four hundred, at least! We don't have forms with allergies here." She then asked us for £35 each. (About $60 each.) Strangely, she never smiled but continued to scowl at us.

I immediately advised her, "You said this test was free!"

Without taking a breath, she replied, "Consultation 'flea! flea!' Allergy test, sent away. Come back with results. Cost £35 each. Pay me now! Consultation after!"

I looked at Paul in complete disbelief. This woman had blatantly lied to us! "Can't we have the consultation now then?" I asked.

"No," she replied loudly. "After results. Then consultation. We tell you then what needed to make you well!"

Then she went into all the spiel about how we needed to do this if we expected to be healthy and happy. She bombarded us with her broken English, expressing the same sentiments in more words than we cared to listen to. I did not want to be impolite, but her high-pitched, squeaky sales talk, at eighty-miles an hour, was just too much!

The entire time, Paul was grinning. He was waiting for me to do or say something; he knew I would. By raising my voice enough to drown the woman out, I stopped her speech in mid-air. I told her proper allergy tests were performed in front of people. The way it stood, we had no proof if any tests would be carried out. She listened momentarily and began to go into her spiel again. Once again, I talked over her, to prevent us from hearing her go over the whole thing again.

The Chinese man behind the counter stood there in silence the entire time. He had a look of surprise on his face. Apparently, this woman had never failed at relieving innocent people of their money. At least, not once she had them trapped in the shop! I easily imagined other people getting 'bludgeoned' into handing over their money, so they could escape from her! The Chinese woman looked almost affronted that I would not hand her any money.

Still, she refused to accept the fact that the shop notice stated the allergy test was 'flea.' Paul and I left the shop in disgust. On the way out, wallets intact, I pointed out the large 'FREE' sign, below the sign for 'ALLERGY TESTING.' She pointed to a smaller sign, further down the wall that read, 'CONSULTATION.'

What a complete con! Normally, I would have told her exactly what I thought of her illicit behaviour. But, she looked so small and fragile, I did not have the heart to do so. But, I certainly would have berated her for using such cheating techniques, however, since Paul and I were running late, so we just left.

In the meantime, I still felt quite angry, while Paul found it amusing that she had tried to con us. It did not even bother him that she might have cut his ponytail off had I not interceded. What irritated me the most was the way she had tried to take control. That annoyed me even more than the way she had tried this scam on us!

I had sold Encyclopaedias in the past and knew all about 'bombarding' sales techniques. The goal was to 'humiliate' the potential 'victim' so they felt guilty about backing out. But that was not what bothered me about her. It was her 'spiel,' that annoyed the hell out of me. Just the manner in which she uttered, 'flea!' 'flea!' instead of 'free!' 'free!' was one example. It made me want to pick her up and throw her over the counter!

There was a lesson to be learned from this incident. In the future, if anyone tells me something is free, I will have my suspicions. If I am interested in a trial or further information, I will definitely handle the situation differently. Questions will need to be asked. For example,

"What IS it that you want me to pay for?" Or, better still, "That's good it's free. I've just spent all my cash and left my cards at home!"

So, be warned everyone. It is one thing if you agree to a procedure and the cost before you get to a clinic. But, do not be taken in by these 'market sellers,' who lie to get you into their clutches. Their goal is to make it difficult to escape unless you are quite rude with them. If you encounter this behaviour, literally shut them up and get out of their shop immediately.

The best allergy testing is performed by a professional, in front of you. It has many advantages. For instance, you can actually hear the sounds that the machine makes to each phial you are given to hold. In this fashion, you know just how bad your allergic reaction is to a certain item. Anything from dust to traces of food. I have had this professional test done on myself.

These tests are a bit more expensive than the ones offered as 'flea,' 'flea' but, anything is better than 'fleas!' I thought back to the Chinese woman. Perhaps, I gave her 'a flea in the ear?


Copyright 2005 Donni-Jay De-Ville
All rights reserved and may not be
reproduced in any way without permission from the author

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