There is the Black Economy – old as the hills, everyone knows about this one. Un-reported and un-taxed earnings from legitimate activities such as cleaning, gardening, painting & decorating. Or, the monies derived from illegal activities which for obvious reasons criminals would not report, and therefore it too is untaxed. Her Majesty’s Revenue chaps are not happy about any of this – all citizens should declare any income and pay their taxes, after all if we don’t do so how is the Government going to pay for the war in Afghanistan?
So far I haven’t discovered a Purple, Yellow or Sky-blue Pink with White Spots economy but its only a matter of time.
Here in China – or should I say, here in Beijing – there is Grey Income. It was quite a while before the penny dropped, but a week or so ago I finally figured it out, and some discreet questions confirmed what I had learned.
Several times when shopping in one of the big supermarkets such as Jiā lè fu (Carrefour) or Wò ér mă (Wal-Mart) I have found someone standing at the end of the checkout – just an ordinary person who looks as though they are waiting for someone in the queue – who has been pro-actively helpful when I am packing stuff into my shopping trolley. After I have paid, should it have been with cash, they ask me – very politely – if they could have my fapiao (receipt). Of course, being married to an Aberdonian who keeps meticulous financial records, I always politely refuse them. I never thought much about it.
Then a few weeks ago I came across a little note stuck up in the ladies loo at a popular Thai restaurant which offered to buy/sell fapiao (the note was in both English and Chinese) no names, no pack drill. Why? I asked myself.
The answer is Grey Income or huise shouru as it is called in Chinese. Basically this is extra income above one’s salary – reimbursements for expenses which are covered by the employee’s company. Receipts for taxis, restaurant meals, petrol etc are all grist to the mill. To be reimbursed for things one has not paid for means extra ‘grey’ income. Hence my helpful people in the supermarket. They don’t want the receipts for themselves, oh dear me no, they are going to sell them to people who want them in order to claim reimbursement. Apparently there is a whole market in receipts.
I am obviously very wet behind the ears – such a business would never have occurred to me. The fact is I will never be super-rich, my mind just doesn’t work in the right way.