China is full of surprises. You never know what will happen, anything is possible. But one thing that always made me laugh was the reaction to my name: Ee-lee-sha-bai? (that’s the phonetic translation of Elisabeth into Chinese), Ao-di-li-de Ee-lee-sha-bai? (Elisabeth from Austria?) And then they always started smiling and told me about the beautiful princess from Austria with whom I share my name. Coincidentally, I also managed to get tables when I booked at restaurants using Ee-lee-sha-bai.
In Austria, we grow up watching the Sissi-movies starring Romy Schneider about the life of Empress Elisabeth, the wife of Emperor Franz Josef. I never expected that very movie to be popular abroad. And especially not in China. But when I studied in Beijing I found a DVD of the movie with Chinese subtitles (yes, this was in 2007, when we still used DVDs..). A friend who had lived for more than 20 years in China later told me that the Austrian ambassador showed the movie at public screenings at the embassy in Beijing. This was in the late eighties when a lot of Chinese families did not have their on TV sets as yet. Consequently, the movie became really popular.
When I launched my fitness app in China, this passion for our late empress shaped our brand story and even our name – Imperial Glamour Club. Empress Sissi already had her private gym in the palace over 100 years ago. Hence, she was the perfect fit.
For our marketing, we planned some street promotion in Shanghai. I organized some princess costumes for our promotion girls to make them stand out in the crowd. But as it happens so often when you organize something in China, a lot of it does not end up as planned. Half of the girls we booked did not show up. And 15 minutes later, I was standing with the other girls in a princess costume on one of the world’s busiest shopping streets, promoting my product in Chinese.
In the beginning, I felt really uncomfortable. But, frankly, I did not have a choice. If I wanted to get the word out, I had to do it. I flew to Shanghai just for this promotion tour and every day counted. The other girls were great, they engaged with all the people, took pictures and explained the product. At first, I was rather in a supporting role.
But suddenly, there was these group of elderly aunties who spotted me in the group and wanted to take pictures with me. Foreigners are nothing out of the ordinary for people living in the big cities. But for tourists from the Chinese countryside who are a bit older, seeing a foreigner may still be a new experience. I took countless pictures with them and everybody wanted to be in the picture with the “Austrian princess”. Apart from the aunties, we attracted the attention of other shoppers. And soon there was this huge crowd moving around us. We quickly used the buzz and distributed all our flyers and took countless pictures.
What started as a chaotic and uncomfortable day, ended up being a great intercultural experience. China really teaches you to move out of your comfort zone. I think I owe a big thank you to Romy Schneider, the Sissi-movies and my promo-girls 🙂