The Ethnic Advantage

Haggling is not my thing. Come to think of it, almost all white people I know are not very good at this very important skill. Usually unable to bargain the way people in markets around the world do every day, North Americans get accustomed to paying “sale” prices only when TV and media tell them there’s a sale.  Knowing how important negotiating prices is when  travelling throughout Southeast Asia, I was initially concerned but realized we have an undue advantage that I call “The Ethnic Advantage”. As any white guy married to an Asian will attest, marrying an Asian woman comes with certain benefits not available to Caucasian couples. Almost everything you can buy in Asia comes with a “foreigners price” and a “local price” . Being armed with an Asian wife often means getting prices somewhere in the middle even without haggling.

imageUnexpectedly, a perfect example of the ethnic advantage arose right here in South Surrey, British Columbia at a local cellular store. Needing accessibility to a wi-fi connection while staying at Diane’s parents old-fashioned and Internet-less home, we shopped around for a “no contract” plan that we can cancel after one month. Using  our friend’s old IPhone, we learned of a plan with Bell, one of Canada’s leading cell providers, that allows unlimited Canada wide calling and texting and 10 Mb of data for only $65 per month in exchange for using a Saskatchewan phone number. Satisfying our data needs as well as having an emergency phone while making the 900 mile drive across the province, we went into the local store and explained our situation to a middle-aged Chinese employee. Already having an advantage over the obnoxious kids that work at American cell kiosks and usually have knowledge of absolutely nothing, we expected we’d get what we need with the Chinese guy.

imageUnfortunately, paying with cash is not an option since the company only offers credit card billing in arrears at the end of each 30 day period. Although Canada and the U.S. enjoy the largest trading relationship in the world to the tune of several billion dollars daily, when it comes to cooperation  and compatibility in the financial world, Canada may as well be Zimbabwe. Unable to use a “foreign credit card” to show a valid Canadian line of credit, the system offered a host of other identification options, none of which are any good since we haven’t been Canadian residents since 2007 and we don’t carry our one remaining Canadian credit card. Getting frustrated, we know from experience that nobody working in a cellular store in North America would offer any more help for the puny commission you earn from selling 30 days  of service with limited options.

Had we been in a Malaysian store, I almost guarantee we’d get a but more attention because of the ethnic advantage. Interestingly, many Asians can’t figure out exactly Diane’s ethnicity but it’s obvious she’s of some Asian background. Learning how to say “I’m not Thai people” when we went to Thailand, they carried on conversations unaware of Diane’s total illiteracy in Thai even though she certainly doesn’t look Thai . Apparently appearing Filipino to Bornean Malaysians and either Chinese, Korean or Vietnamese to the Singaporeans, in almost every situation we know we’d been given “local price preference”, probably enhanced by the local’s inability to decide if Diane is “one of them”, albeit clearly a foreigner.


Rather than turn us away, the employee whipped out his own credit card, entered his number into the required field and clicked “next step”. Apparently unable to tie in his credit line to my name, the system instantly moved to the next step and after fifteen minutes of searching our Dropbox account for passport numbers, old Canadian credit card numbers and even entering a California drivers license that was instantly recognized as “foreign”, the computer screen moved on to step three.  Call me crazy but I’m willing to bet that Diane’s ethnicity had something to do with this workaround although at the risk of sounding stereotypical, Chinese people are usually better at getting things done when they stand to make some money in the process . It’s just a fact, not a criticism.

With our friend’s awesome mountain cabin unavailable, our  plan for this month in Canada changed a bit and we stayed here in British Columbia a few days longer. Somehow flying by, it’s already been a week since squatting on the west coast so it’s time to endure the 12 hour drive to Edmonton where we’ll take up residence with Diane’s parents for a while. While here, we enjoyed a Canadian tradition not seen as much in the USA; East Indian buffet lunch.  Available for only $11 each, there isn’t much meat but the butter chicken sauce  was delicious.


Disappointed that we’ve only seen the sun for the first two days we arrived, listening to weather forecasts constantly talking about sunshine and warm temperatures is an exercise in futility.  Although milder than the fog and low clouds of the San Francisco Bay Area, most days in southern British Columbia are grey, overcast and just plain dreary. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, both Edmonton and Calgary enjoy brighter skies, even if half of them come with a temperature suitable for polar bears and emperor penguins from Antarctica.  Ready to move on, we hit the road tomorrow and head to Alberta.  Unsure if the car is suitable for giving to our niece due to the check engine light issue, we may wind up driving back anyway before finally flying to begin the adventure in late June. Meanwhile it’s off to the land of Alberta beef, one of the world’s finest, and hopefully some sun tanning before the torrid heat and humidity of Malaysia.

 Have any Ethnic Advantage stories? Please share 

Coming next: Alberta Sunshine


3 thoughts on “The Ethnic Advantage

  1. Mabel Kwong

    Hilarious to hear that Diane gets mistaken to be one of the locals usually when she visits Asia as long as she doesn’t say much 😀 When I visit Malaysia, I certainly get treated like one of the locals eventhough my nationality is Australian. It probably has to do with the fact that I can speak Malay apart from looking of Chinese descent. Always get charged local prices, always get greeted in Cantonese when I sit down at a hawker restaurant.



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