Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

Precio de Gabacho or White People Pricing

by | May 14, 2024 | Sales | 0 comments

The sales dummy chronicles: Haggling and demanding ethnic discounts

Tree Farm in Petaluma, California. December, 2020. Photo by author. 

A writer I like pronounced on his social media platform, “Asking for a discount is a sign of lower intelligence.”

Ouch!

I must be one big dummy.

I love the artistry of haggling.

The beauty of throwing your hands in the air and acting disgusted when someone tells you what something costs. The rush from getting a secret deal, one only available to those who ask. The thrill of knowing that you have done something to sustain your $13 caramel macchiato habit that day.

I remember doing such a performance one Christmas.

Nuala, my mother-in-law, had been to every single tree farm in the area looking for the perfect tree. But with no luck. One day, a pop-up tree farm appeared in Petaluma on Copeland Street and East Washington Street. The store set up shop in a tiny patch of dirt. When she saw this, she stopped by it, but no one spoke English.

She arranged for me to come back with her.

When we got there, we looked around until we found it: the perfect tree. It was an 8-foot Nobel Fir tree that was full and wide. The two loggers had driven it to Petaluma from the Northwest of the country.

I called for the main guy and asked him, “Cuánto por este? (How much for this one?)

“$110.” He said.

“$110?” I threw my hands in the air and walked away angrily.

I came back and told him playfully, “Es el precio que le das a los gabacho. Dame el precio de la Raza.” (That’s white people’s prices. Give me the price you give the race.”

Now, in Barranquilla, where I grew up, you don’t refer to other Colombians as ‘race.’ But I knew Mexican Americans referred to each other as ‘raza.’ I worked at a call center once selling magazine subscriptions and had close to thirty Mexican coworkers.

Even though they spoke Spanish, the slang made it sound like I needed to learn a new language.

Eventually, I learned their language and ways — which were similar to mine but with some twists, like eating cucumber with tajin. Tajin is not the same as tajine, the African pot and dish. Or even tahini, which is ground sesame butter.

No, no, no.

Tajin is a powder in a plastic bottle the size of a Tapatio bottle, made out of dehydrated Chili peppers, lime, and salt. It goes great on fruit and raw vegetables, especially on jicama sticks. Jicama is that weird root you see in the supermarket and have no clue what to do with. Now, you know. Mexicans also use it when dieting because it is made of mostly water.

I never feel comfortable calling anyone ‘raza’ unless I’m trying to get a better deal.

What I love about it is that it is a universal way to overcome not knowing someone but knowing you share something about your identity with them.

And while in Colombia, we didn’t refer to each other as ‘raza’. I did see the principle at play. A friend of mine, who is black, explained to me that he could say hello to any other black person walking down the street, even if he didn’t know them, just by saying to them ‘mi color’ (or my color.) Again, it is a beautiful way to overcome the fact that you don’t know someone by acknowledging something you have in common.

The man smiled with recognition and said, “Bueno bueno. $90.” (Okay, fine. $90)

“$90? Te doy $70.” ($90. I’ll give you 70)

“Dame $80 y ya.” (Give me $80, and we are done.)

“$80 y se lo llevas a la casa gratis.” ($80 and you deliver it for free).

We shook on it. I brought him down $30 and got free delivery.

Nuala can afford to pay the market rate, and I was only there to translate, not to negotiate. But why pay market rates? Those are for chumps.

Nuala, who had seen the whole exchange, had no idea what went down. I explained to her that I had just called her, the mother of my wife, a ‘gabacha’ but that I got her a deal. I secured her ethnic pricing.

The next day, the tree arrived, and Nuala was over the moon. She generously tipped the helpers and worked on making the tree look beautiful ahead of the season, her book group meeting, and her Christmas Day party.

The day after that, the tree died a most horrible death. It immediately dried off and stopped taking water. But by then, the tree was fully decorated. I offered to help her return it to get a new one, but she thought it was too much of a hassle. So instead, she kept it, and I worried that this tree was a fire hazard, ready to burn down the house at any second. I worried about the future of my marriage if her house burned down.

I felt embarrassed for the part I played as if I was responsible for the tree’s death. Maybe a better way to think about it is that I got her a deal on a tree that would die anyway.

Nuala still thinks it was one of the funniest interactions she has ever seen. Whenever she retells the story, she gracefully leaves out the part where the tree dies almost as soon as it comes into her house and how, for a month, she had to live with an indoor threat of brush wildfire.

At the end of the season, I looked at the brown tree and realized I was meant to be the chump on this transaction, but, man, did I have fun haggling.


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