Have you run into people who automatically discount you just because of your faith? Mitt Romney seems to get some of that and other Latter-day Saints experience it in various forms. Mormons may gripe about it, but the "Mormon Discount" is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I was grateful for it here in Shanghai a couple of weeks ago.

My wife and I were marveling at the buildings and the crowds at Shanghai's beautiful Yu Yuan Gardens, one of my favorite areas and just a short walk from my apartment. We were approached by a Chinese man who spoke fluent English and pointed out a few of the sites to us. I answered back with a little Chinese, leading to the question of where I studied it. I blamed it on BYU. "BYU? Sure, I know BYU. My brother went there. He became a Mormon and now lives in Spanish Fork. You must be Mormon." While avoiding any religious discussion, I admitted that he had made a correct conclusion. "That's great. I love Mormons and always give them a special discount in my shop." Our new friend was a pearl dealer, a special breed of businessman here in Shanghai.

He kindly took us to his shop, a really beautiful place at Yu Yuan, and had his staff demonstrate how the extract cultured pearls from oysters. A large oyster was removed from a fish tank and it soon gave it's all for our benefit. He explained that of the roughly 20 pearls in that oyster, on the average maybe one would be good enough for jewelry and the others would be ground up as an ingredient for cosmetics. I hadn't seen this before and found it interesting.

Then he kindly allowed us to look at his pearls all of which would get "the Mormon Discount"--80% off the marked price. I figured that would probably bring the prices down to the going street price and later searching suggested that was about right. We bought a couple strands for some people back home, grateful for what may be the most exotic discount available in China, the Mormon Discount.

My gratitude became even greater after that. Now that we had made a purchase, he returned a very kind favor. There was a famous dumpling house he had pointed out to us as were walking around the area before being led into the pearl shop. There was a long line extending for many yards outside of the shop, with a wait of well over an hour just to get in. He said, "Would you like to try lunch there? Come with me. I'm friends with the owner." He walked past the long line and straight into the restaurant, where he took us back by the kitchen to watch the dumpling manufacturing process, and then he took us into what I think was a VIP room with some open tables. He got us seated and we were ordering and eating a few minutes later. If you were in the line waiting, I apologize. I was actually uncomfortable with exploiting the power of guanxi to get served before all those patient people who had been waiting so long, but I also didn't want to insult our friend who was giving us the Mormon Discount not only for the price of pearls but for the length of time required to dine at a famous place. I bit my tongue and accepted the gift. Sorry if it was at your expense, making you another victim of the Mormon Discount.

FYI, if you are approached by a friendly, smooth-talking English speaker (as opposed to someone just trying to practice English) ready to just help you out for free in a major tourist area, understand that you are about to experience a standard business model aimed at luring them into some of the shops that are more easily overlooked without the tour-guide marketing method (e.g., second story shops). It's OK--can be great fun if you're in shopping mode, and you'll meet some very smart and interesting people. Just be ready to buy a little something at perhaps higher than normal prices, unless you're as lucky as I was and get the Mormon Discount from someone whose brother is Mormon. (At least I hope that's true.)
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