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May 2, 2013 02:44 PM

Do ethnic markets discriminate?


I love ethnic foods. In fact, sometimes I prefer a good Thai dish to a ribeye, yet I won't shop at an ethnic market. I think they discriminate; They cater to their own and don't want my business. If they did, signs would be in English also.
The way they operate is a reflection of their culture and it may conflict with others. I've gone into a Hispanic market looking for a particular chili that I couldn't find elsewhere and felt like I was in another country. I found what I needed and couldn't get out of there fast enough. I think I was the only Gringo in there.

  1. Catering to a particular customer doesn't necessarily equal discrimination. You're not excluded- you just choose to exclude yourself. I'm the only white person at the Asian supermarket I go to, but so what? I want what they're selling.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Hobbert

      agree with hobbert,
      often i am the only gringo in the mexican market.
      so what?
      at this point, i've learned enough spanish so that i wouldn't necessarily want them to try to translate for me.
      also, not too sure why you would assume that they know enough written english to make correct signs even if they tried.

      1. re: westsidegal

        if I'm truly stumped about a product, I ask a patient question (although I usually try to find a younger clerk, one more likely to have learned English early on - so who's discriminating now? uhh, me I guess.)

    2. i have shopped in major chain supermarkets that had aisle signs in both english and spanish and in many latin markets where the signs are just in spanish. they're catering to their own, not discriminating "against" me. often the owners' english is pretty rudimentary and i don't know that they are able to effectively label in their 2nd/3rd language.

      19 Replies
      1. re: hotoynoodle

        according to the most recent census, my previous condo was in a boston neighborhood that was 47% south/central american. i suspect the actual figure was higher, but, whatevs. as a single white woman? i WAS a minority. as mentioned, my shaw's had aisle signs in both spanish and english and so did my cvs. lots of the packaging was bilingual too. shaw's and cvs are multi-billion-dollar corporations. bodegas? not so much.

        my little corner store was owned by older italian immigrants. they loved me, as a curly-haired italian girl, and i felt a little bit of my brooklyn childhood shopping there. they butchered meat and made bread on-site. they carried all sorts of specialty foods i would have needed to go to the north end for, right outside my door.

        the husband dropped dead. the wife needed to retire. a few months later, the kids couldn't hack it. salvadoreans bought the space.

        while i lamented the loss of that store, i realized i was a dying demographic in the neighb.

        boston is small, so i also go to chinatown often. once at a fish counter, i had several chinese men literally muscle their way ahead of me, while the cutter ignored me. after the 3rd guy bumped me, i pushed forward and made my presence to order. it was unsettling, but to this day, i don't know if it was racist or sexist? either way, discriminatory, lol. yeah, it sucked, but a pebble in the pond of what others must experience most days in their adopted country.

        don't feel put-upon. exhale and expand your horizons.

        it's not about "you", ya know?

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            Your experience at the Chinatown fish counter probably wasn't race-based. I'm Asian, and I have to employ my sharp elbows all the time just to make sure I don't lose my place in the queue.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              hotoy - I don't think they weren't being rude, that's just how 'no-line' counters work esp. in Asian markets, you have to let the clerk know you're ready to order. think the old days of the NYSE with 1000's of brokers screaming at each other and waving 'chits'. sorta the same idea. I picked it up one Saturday AM trying to buy a smoked duck and being the former Boy Scout I am, allowed Grandma after Grandma to elbow me out of her way before I got assertive (nothing physical, I just started waving at the clerk)

              your basic message is the 'right' take, one has to roll with it.

            2. re: hotoynoodle

              I'm confused.....if they're catering to their own, which is ok for them, then why do we have to press #1 for English? Why aren't we entitled to just "cater to our own"?

              You also say "it's not about you, ya know", but couldn't the exact same thing be said to them? It's not just about them doing business in our country/society, is it?

              The OP is talking about their particular experience, right, wrong or indifferent I don't think the tables should be turned trying to say it's "his problem not theirs".

              To each their own...........

              (FYI I really have no problem if the store is in Spanish or whatever language, just saying they have a right to just cater to their own, doesn't really seem right. If your doing business to the public that consists of a wide variety of people and all should at least feel "welcome" )

              1. re: jrvedivici

                if you're pressing "1" for english, that business is indeed trying to broaden its base and also has the resources to offer multi-lingual services. not everybody does.

                as for this:

                "It's not just about them doing business in our country/society, is it?"

                actually, yes, it is. they are running a private business. they are not refusing to sell anything to anybody, so it's open commerce. i never once felt unwelcome in any of the bodegas or small restaurants in my former neighb, even with a language barrier.

                not everybody has my same comfort zone, though, i get that.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  My comfort zone is probably similar to yours, I truly couldn't care less. It's just when it comes to regulating things.....I feel a policy once issued if it was reversed should also seem fair.

                  Your comment of "catering to their own" if it was reversed in our society and we used the "catering to our own" philosophy minority groups of all kinds would be crying foul. In my opinion of course.

                  Please don't take anything I'm saying as being adversarial, just giving my view/feelings.

                  1. re: jrvedivici

                    do most places you shop/eat have english-only signs and menus? that's the policy in reverse and far outnumbers its opposite in most places.

                2. re: jrvedivici

                  If the store grew to include many customers who spoke different languages, then it would benefit the business to have signs in those languages, as the ones w/ the phone recording demonstrates. Are phone recording companies discriminating against Norwegians or Gaelic speakers because they don't have an option for them? Or are they just going w/ their largest markets?

                  1. re: jrvedivici

                    One thing to keep in mind is that in this one instance, in your whole life, you feel this way. Most non-whites go through that regularly, not just standing out and being the only one of their race (outside big cities) but real discrimination. Not getting the service you think you deserve isn't discrimination especially compared to what others have experienced.

                    I would say in your case, they don't cater to your demographic, but it doesn't mean they're discriminating against you. I'm short. I can't reach the top shelf in supermarkets. I can claim discrimination or I can realize I'm one of the few people my height and the stores cater to the average taller person. Do stores discriminate against people who are blind by not having everything in braille? Do stores not want their business? Or is it that it just isn't cost effective to do for the few customers who need it?

                    1. re: chowser

                      Just to clarify I do NOT agree with the OP. I have no problem with ethnic markets etc. My only problem was the "are they catering to their own" comment which struck me the wrong way.

                      Like I said I really don't have a horse in this race, I probably shouldn't have commented at all!

                      In the interest of fairness, tu comprende? Lol

                      1. re: jrvedivici

                        Si. I think it should be they're "catering to their customer base" not to their own.

                        1. re: chowser

                          Yeah exactly, I guess my PC, corporate side took over. Imagine a bank running the campaign "Lending To Our Own Since 1910" Lol

                          1. re: jrvedivici

                            Ah, you mean like Banca d'Italia (est 1904)? Seems they did pretty well...


                      2. re: chowser

                        Well, disabilities are in a different category, because there are policies in place that require businesses to accommodate disabled customers in various ways. But lack of multilingual skills and discomfort resulting from contact with unfamiliar cultures are not currently recognized as disabilities.

                        1. re: DeppityDawg

                          I'll edit and say before the ADA, then. Or, if you'd rather, just ditch the analogy. All I'm saying is that markets cater to their clientele.

                        2. re: chowser

                          And, how do you know, EXACTLY, how the OP feels in every instance of his/her life?

                          1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                            I generalized because if he had faced discrimination, this would be a non-issue for the most part.

                            1. re: chowser

                              Exactly my point, you are generalizing.....

                    2. Keep trying. Hispanic, Asian, Italian, Greek. They may all think you a "gringo", but it's up to you to prove them wrong. Be friendly and inquisitive, but not intrusive. Remember, most cultures expect the courtesy of a customer to buy more than just one thing and also accept (if offered) a gift from the shop owner. It would be rude to plop one item on the counter pay and leave. They see you as treating them as an afterthought. Likewise, if you make a purchase of a few items, some ethnic grocers offer something from their shop as a gift. Accept it with many thanks. And be sure to return and thank them again, with more purchases.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Gastronomos

                        Very well said.

                        I had a funny experience not that long ago. I was parking at a trendy restaurant for lunch, and realized I had no change for the meter, one of the older ones that won't take your debit card. I noticed a market right there (a mom & pop kind) and decided to go in to buy something small to get change. (I know, they hate that!). But while in the store, I realized I wanted to buy some Sake, and had a picture of the bottle I had had at a resto some months earlier. So I started to look thru my pics on my phone, so I could inquire if they sold it, or something like it. The older lady behind the register must have been rolling her eyes by now, since I was acting distracted, and not looking at the store items, but my phone. Couldn't find the pic, so I grabbed a pack of gum and paid for it with a $5 bill. She was not happy about giving me change.

                        Long story short, after I paid the meter and had my lunch, I finally found the pic of the sake bottle, since I can't read Japanese, I went right back into that mom&pop and she recognized me. I smiled and showed her the photo and inquired if they sold that brand. She called to the elderly sushi chef, and he helped me out by recommending another brand (that was delicious, btw). I purchased it, and she was all smiles at me and very polite. To this day, I now go in there every so often when in the nabe, and buy some sake & other Asian products from them. I have several Asian stores that are closer, but am willing to shop there, as they were willing to help out this newb. And the older lady is so sweet to me now, complimenting me on things. So if you give them a chance, even when they don't give you one, with a little persistence and kindness, everyone can wind up happy.

                      2. In an ideal world, they would have unlimited time and resources to cater to everyone who might be interested in what they're selling, but in the real world, they have to make some choices. If they get enough customers by catering to "their own", and to "Gringos" who, unlike you, somehow manage to get by without signs in English, then it's not worth their while putting a lot of extra energy into making you feel more welcome. Their loss, I'm sure.

                        1. I'm glad they cater to their own. That's why I'm at the ethnic market in the first place, to buy "their own" food. And I can't recall any instance when I've felt discriminated against because I'm white. I'm sure a red, brown or yellow person who acted as confused as I sometimes do would face the same occasional grimace or eyeroll.