Your friendly fake Apple Stoer in Kunming

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There are four authentic Apple stores in China, two in Beijing and two in Shanghai, with plans to open another in Shanghai and one in Hong Kong by the end of the year. I've been in one of the Beijing stores and in one of the Shanghai stores; they are palaces of iPods, iPads, iPhones, and all manner of other Apple products.

A blogger in Kunming, Yunnan Province of China, has stumbled upon devilishly realistic Apple Store knockoffs — the whole kit and kaboodle, including circular stairs and laid-back staff in blue t-shirts who appear to believe that they are working for Apple Computer, Inc., not some Chinese shānzhài 山寨 ("imitation; pirated brand") outfit. Her account of these stores in Kunming (BirdAbroad (July 20, 2011, with later updates, including a video) "Are you listening, Steve Jobs?") has gone absolutely viral, with more than a million visitors to her site, and the story being picked up by thousands of news outlets.

One of the first major online news services to pick up the story was the Huffington Post ("China's Fake Apple Stores Mimic Real Thing–Down To Product Displays", 7/20/2011). Then came Wired ("Counterfeit Apple Stores Popping Up in China", 7/21/2011), the San Jose Mercury News ("Entire Apple stores being faked in China", 7/21/2011), Reuters ("Customers angry, staff defiant at China's fake Apple Store", 7/22/2011), and countless others.

One of the more interesting accounts appeared in the Los Angeles Times ("Taiwanese animators create Fake Apple Store reenactment", 7/22/2011), featuring a video from Next Media Animation, the talented Taiwanese computer animation studio that produced the reenactment ,of the Tiger Woods scandal and other hilarious send-ups of current events,

I knew about BirdAbroad's sensational revelations on the first day she posted them, and wanted to write about them on Language Log. However, from the very beginning, I could spot only one linguistic hook: the absurd misspelling of "store" as "stoer" as seen in this photograph from BirdAbroad's original post:

No, it's not the Highlands Scottish township of Stoer in the parish of Assynt, Sutherland.

That error was spectacularly careless, given the professionalism, effort, and expense evident in the rest of the fakery, but it didn't seem like enough for a post. So I spent the next couple of days scouring the web for other linguistic anomalies in the stores. I even deputed friends who live in Kunming to go down to the fake Apple stores and ferret out interesting features about their language usage, whether English or Chinese, but to no avail.

So I went back and reread BirdAbroad's post and came upon this sentence: "Apple never writes 'Apple Store' on it’s [sic] signs – it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit."

She's right, of course. Go on Google Images and search for [ apple store ] (quotation marks unnecessary, and you will see many beautiful, glassy Apple store fronts in major cities, with the glowing Apple logo prominently in view, but nary a sign advertising "Apple Store." That would be too gauche and obvious, wouldn't it?

So that set me thinking about how the perpetrators of this sublime dissimulation rendered "Apple Store" in Chinese, bearing in mind that it shouldn't really be on the fronts of those stores at all — if they're attempting to be truly fake down to the last detail.

Without trying very hard, I quickly found three different Chinese translations of "Apple Store" in the photographs that are available on the internet:

Píngguǒ língshòu diàn 蘋果零售店 ("Apple Retail Store")

Píngguǒ shāngdiàn 蘋果商店 ("Apple Store")

Píngguǒ líng mài diàn 苹果零卖店 ("Apple Retail Store")

The multiplicity of variant translations is an indication that the local managers were, so to speak, playing it by ear, and not following the Apple playbook when they devised these bogus translations of bogus signs on the fronts of bogus stores.

So, even though a bit of linguistic evidence has been brought to bear here, I'm appealing to Language Log readers in Kunming, or other cities where these fake Apple stores are appearing, to visit them and inspect them for other linguistic anomalies.  Apple's icon-dominated aesthetic creates relatively few opportunities for errors at the scale of the pictures that I've seen so far. Does the quality of fakery hold up when you look more closely?


  1. kktkkr said,

    July 23, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    Is there any decent way to translate/modify "Apple Store" without making it sound like a fruit seller? Including "Computer" or "Phone" in the title makes it too restrictive, and putting both of them in the title makes it awkward (from what I know, Apple is not a fan of long names).

  2. Adrian said,

    July 23, 2011 @ 10:48 am

    @kktkkr "Apple Store" doesn't sound like a fruit seller to me. It sounds like an, er, apple store. But I don't think there's likely to be any confusion. There are no apple stores on Main St and no Apple Stores in warehousing districts.

  3. Jeff DeMarco said,

    July 23, 2011 @ 11:58 am

    Reminds me of a fake McDonald's I saw in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay in 1993 – the sign read "McDoland's" (not sure about the forgotten letter – it may have not been there….)

  4. June Teufel Dreyer said,

    July 23, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

    putting aside the humorous aspects for a moment, this is a very serious issue, and one for which adequate redress is lacking. WTO litigation procedures are cumbersome and extremely expensive; companies smaller than Apple, Disney, and Microsoft are apt to be bankrupt before they can expect any ruling. Brining suit is Chinese courts generally means dealing with corruption and local protectionism, among other difficulties. It may be only when counterfeiters in other countries are found selling bogus Chinese goods that the Beijing central government begins to take the issue seriously.

  5. Carl said,

    July 23, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

    I find it interesting that Apple is translated rather than transliterated. The Japanese transliterate it.

  6. Joan said,

    July 23, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

    Although the shop pictured is fake, there are actually 13 legit Apple resellers (经销商) in Kunming.

    (not sure if that link will work, but it's not hard to find on's homepage

    It's plausible that some of these resellers have misled their staff into thinking they are officially Apple. They may be going against Apple's terms and conditions by not prominently displaying a sign that they are independent.

    Even if they are fake in the sense that they didn't get approval from Apple, they are probably selling real goods from the factories. However, the OS may be suspect.

  7. John said,

    July 23, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

    Why does "蘋果商店" sound so much sillier to me than "Apple Store"?

  8. joe said,

    July 23, 2011 @ 11:38 pm

    stoer may not be a careless, unprofessional mistake in the country where fake products are a common sight everywhere. it may be a deliberate choice. in the summer days, the most eye-catching fake brands in china are very probably those printed on t-shirts. fake product makers deliberately arrange the letters of a famous brand in a wrong way. a t-shirt may present a brand name in english that looks like the original one, but a closer look reveals the name deliberately misspelled. i am not sure exactly why fake products makers choose misspelled brand names. my guess is they think this is a way of avoiding possible crackdowns and lawsuits and creating an excuse, no matter how lame it is, that can be used in defense. the argument might sound like this: . i have not violated the law. my brand name is something i created though i haven't got it registered. it's not puma at all. it's puuma.

    where have i read something funny and experimental: according to some scholars, english words can be misspelled in various ways but so long as all first and last letters are in the right place and the misspelled words look roughly like the correctly spelled words, readers can easily read a message written in the incorrect way. guess this is a trick many fake goods makers here adopt.

    [(myl) The first-and-last-letters business is a sort of scientific urban legend, dating originally from 2003.]

  9. Bruce H. said,

    July 24, 2011 @ 8:33 am

    >> … misspelled in various ways but so long as all first
    >> and last letters are in the right place …

    The first time I encountered that, the claim was that the internal letters could be arbitrarily rearranged. Superficially true, but only because most words are short. Keeping the first and last letter in place, there's only one way to misspell a four letter word, transpose the interior letters. But there are five ways to misspell a five letter word (disregarding duplicate letters), 23 ways to misspell a six letter word, etc. (The formula is (n-2)!-1.) I wrote a little program to simply sort the interior letters into alphabetical order, and for most words over 6 or 7 letters, the output is absolutely unreadable.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    July 24, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

    Here's an unusual take on this story:

  11. Thomas K. Anderson said,

    July 24, 2011 @ 11:16 pm

    @June Teufel Dreyer: This is Language Log, not Trademark Policy Log.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2011 @ 7:25 am

    This (New York Times article linked below) shows how the insatiable demand for Apple products in China far outstrips the capacity of Apple to provide enough of their own stores to satisfy the clamor.

    ***Key point about Apple products: NOT EASY TO COUNTERFEIT.

    ***2nd key point about Apple products: they continue to come up with new and more sophisticated devices; try as they might, the Chinese copyists just can't keep up. Before they've managed to figure out the iPad, for example, Apple makes a new, better, more advanced iPad. So frustrating for the imitators!

    Other foreign companies that try to do business in China usually lose their intellectual property, copyright, and technology almost immediately to SHANZHAI imitators who make more or less shoddy copies. Apparently, despite the fact that Apple products are assembled in China, the technology is so advanced that the fakers and imitators haven't figured out how to reverse engineer them sufficiently well to come up with knock-offs that are even slightly credible in terms of function (of course, it's very easy for them to come up with something that LOOKS like an Apple product, but they can't make clones that come close to performing like an Apple product).

    Nike, Adidas, Louis Vitton, Otis Elevator, Toledo Scales, Gucci, Rolex, Starbucks, McDonald's, KFC, movies like "Titanic", Google, Facebook, YouTube…; everything's up for grabs — but not yet Apple.

    embedded link:

  13. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2011 @ 12:45 pm


    China's Apple frenzy triggers wave of smuggling

    Chinese city orders two fake Apple Stores to close

  14. Tian said,

    July 25, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

    Following the publicity, trade officials investigated and found five stores in Kunming posing as official Apple retail outlets.

    Two of the five have now been closed as their owners lacked a business license.

  15. Svafa said,

    July 25, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

    @Carl: I know very little concerning Chinese, but the Japanese have three writing systems, one of which (katakana) is used specifically for foreign words. To my knowledge, the Chinese do not have such a system and instead are constricted to their single logographic system.

    Thus, when the Japanese wish to transcribe an English word like "apple", they break out the katakana and write アップル which is roughly pronounced "apple" ("a-puru" is a better approximation). This wouldn't be written in either hiragana or kanji, as both of these are used for words of Japanese origin; kanji being roughly equivalent to the Chinese writing system, and hiragana being a separate syllabary system similar to katakana but with different characters and uses.

    In comparison, Chinese, to my understanding, would be stuck to the equivalent of the Japanese kanji, as they do not have a syllabary system like hiragana or katakana. The closest Chinese comes to this is in pinyin, which is a romanization and not, strictly speaking, Chinese.

  16. Anthony said,

    July 26, 2011 @ 12:16 am

    Joe's comment above, and a more recent LL post make me wonder if someone in China has tried to rip off French Connection UK in a similar manner. They'd probably have a large market in the U.S. and the UK among self-imagined "transgressive" youf.

  17. Bob Violence said,

    July 26, 2011 @ 8:46 am

    Chinese does use characters to transcribe the names of foreign companies — in fact, I believe a company can't register in China without a Chinese-character name. The name might get translated if it poses no great difficulties to do so, as in the case of Apple or Microsoft (微软 Wēiruǎn), but that doesn't quite work with something like "Compaq" or "Sony," so you get 康柏 Kāngbǎi and 索尼 Suǒní instead. Mandarin is certainly less loaded with phonetic loans than Japanese and Korean and I'm sure the writing system is part of the reason, although I think there's more to it than that.

  18. Svafa said,

    July 26, 2011 @ 9:56 am

    @ Bob Violence: Thanks for the info! I've occasionally wondered how Chinese handled foreign words as their written language isn't exactly phonetic. I suppose I haven't wondered hard enough to pester my friends in/from China or Taiwan, but still… >.>

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