Why I don’t call corner stores “chinos” in Spain

Well, if you don’t live in, or near, a major city in Spain, you probably weren’t aware that a corner store — or “alimentación” in Spanish — is commonly referred to as el chino (Spanish for “the Chinese”). We’re all familiar with these shops — y’know, the ones where you can find chips, cans of food, and also cheap plastic knick-knacks that are ubiquitous in some form in almost every corner of the world. However, if you’re in and around Barcelona, you might go visit el paki for a bottle of wine and a pack of peanuts. Now, hopefully many of you cringed a little inside when you read that, but if that instinct wasn’t reflexive, let me explain to you why is it for me -

So it’s obvious, the reason why these businesses are often referred to as “chinos” and “pakis” — because many of the shop owners are of East Asian and South Asian descent, in this case respectively in Madrid and Barcelona.

Firstly, you could be thinking: but most of the “chinos” are owned by chinos???
Yes, but “chino” — or “Chinese” by definition, is employed as the following:

1.the language of China.
2.a native or inhabitant of China, or a person of Chinese descent.
1.relating to China or its language, culture, or people.

Last time I checked, potato chips, paper towel, and plastic lighters had nothing to do with the Chinese language, culture, or people (I don’t have to look up “paki” for you but I can tell you it’s not a word appropriately used to refer to Pakistani people, language, or culture. But if you’re blissfully unaware of what connotations it holds you can click here)

So, next question is — why do Chinese people own 99.9998548% of alimentaciones (corner stores)/bazares (dollar stores) in Madrid?

Usually, when immigrants come to a new country, they have very limited resources. Corner stores are indispensable in any neighbourhood, and the business model is tried, tested, and true. There’s the infrastructure and the resources available through the Chinese community as well as the support. Immigrants don’t often have the privilege to undertake risks financially with uncharted territories business-wise.

This, and simply — demand. These stores exist and thrive — not because people open them — but because we demand them. We want, and therefore buy cheap plastic objects, and we like going to a huge shop where we can find everything we need under one roof for an affordable price. We are the ones that curate the shelves of these shops, not the Chinese, or the Pakistani, or anyone else. They are simply the messengers of our desires, and this one in concrete happens to be the desire for large quantities of cheap plastic goods and the convenience of having it close to home.

The same goes for the phenomenon of Vietnamese people and nail salons. Being Vietnamese myself, I can tell you there is nothing inherently Vietnamese about manicures and pedicures, nor do we have an affinity towards nails. What has happened is simply the result of the response of one community towards the demands of another. Luckily in this case, no one — at least to my knowledge — is going around calling nail salons the Vietnamese.