Life Event

823 words | 3 page(s)

During a month-long trip to South Korea, I became good friends with a high school student named Shin who, like many of her Korean counterparts, was quite fascinated by American popular culture. Shin acted as my official guide during my stay in Seoul and it was only fair I extend to her an invitation to visit the U.S. which she gladly accepted. Since she already had plans to go to college in the U.S., this invitational trip seemed a good idea to become oriented with life in America. Shin informed me last year in spring she will be visiting the U.S. in summer and her first stop will be New York City. We decided I would meet her in New York City and act as her official guide during her week-long stay in the city. She finally arrived in New York City in the middle of May last year.

After sightseeing for four days, Shin dedicated the remaining days to shopping. Anyone who has been even slightly exposed to current fashion and lifestyle trends knows few fashion items excite women as much as handbags and arguably the most famous handbag in the world is Hermes Birkin Bag which costs thousands of dollars at the minimum yet Hermes hardly struggles to maintain strong demand for its Birkin Bags. Shin explained to me that if Louis Vuitton handbags are the equivalent of Mercedes Benz S-Class luxury sedans in the fashion world, then Hermes Birkins Bags are the equivalent of Rolls Royce Phantom. She claimed as soon as she made her plans for the U.S., she started working towards budget for Hermes Birkin Bag and she cannot imagine going back to Korea without it.

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If one is in New York City and wants to buy one of the representative products of Hermes, the obvious destination is the company’s flagship retail store on Madison Avenue. As soon as we entered the shop, we were as much awestruck by the appearance of the sales staff as we were by the interior of the store as well as the glitzy products. If I had met the sales associates somewhere else, I would have mistaken them for investment bankers or at least members of the upper class. But as soon as I saw few items priced over 100K and even 200K, it became clear that this is a store frequently visited by ultra-rich some of whom may be billionaires, thus, the high standards of professionalism have to be expected from the sales associates. Hardly, few minutes had passed before we were approached by a smiling female sales associate who looked in her late 20s but with unrivaled charisma at her disposal. She started showing different Birkin Bags to Shin and also answering any questions Shin had. Since I didn’t have much to do, I just made myself comfortable on one of the leather chair in the store. While I began studying the interior design of the store, two more visitors entered the store who looked African from their attire which had cultural elements. My educated guess was that they are from Nigeria.

They also began looking at items and it was not until ten minutes that I realized no sales associate had approached them yet. After about fifteen minutes, they looked visibly uncomfortable as if they had sensed they were being ignored since the store traffic was really low at the time. They might have waited another five minutes only before they stormed out of the store. Me and Shin had been treated quite well by the sales staff but as an objective observer, I could not ignore what I had just witnessed. I excused myself and followed them in order to apologize for the discriminatory treatment they had received. The girl introduced herself as Ada and as I guess they were indeed Nigerian. She told me she had planned to buy a diamond watch for her father as well as a Birkin Bag for her mother and the items would have easily cost over 20K. But she would not spend a dime at a place where she doesn’t get the respect no matter how much she may desire the items. It suddenly dawned upon me Shin had planned to spend less than half of Ada.

The incident taught me several valuable lessons. First of all, we should never judge a book by its cover. Second, discrimination is not something that can be eliminated through laws but instead requires an inner change in citizens. Laws can punish explicit acts of discrimination but they are ineffective against implicit acts of discrimination which are much more difficult to prove. I also learnt everyone has dignity and everyone should be respected because we never know what dividends merely small acts of kindness may yield. Hermes staff might not have been aware but their prejudice was costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more.

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