Gwai privilege?

Any expat who's been in Hong Kong long enough will hear rumors: you expats get treated better sometimes than local people do! We'll call this phenomenon 'gwai privilege'.

First, what is gwai privilege?

In a nutshell, I'd say it's a form of inverted racism, in which a gwai (i.e. non-Chinese person, specifically a westerner) is treated better than a local Chinese person would be in the same situation.

Does gwai privilege really exist?

I think it does. Let me give you a particularly trenchant example from my early days in Hong Kong: I was meeting the now-Mrs Tall for yum cha one Saturday at lunchtime. My beloved tested my devotion by asking that I precede her to a restaurant in Causeway Bay to 'get a table'. Now, those of you who have lived in Hong Kong for any time at all will recognize immediately the quixotic nature of this quest. Getting a table in a dim sum place in Causeway Bay on a Saturday after about 5:45 am is next to impossible. They're all chock-a-block with newspaper-reading men, housewives who've put down polyester roots, screeching spawn, etc.

Anyway, the things you'll do for love, and all that -- so I turned up at this place to find, as expected, a horde of yum cha wannabes clutching their little numbered chits, waiting in sullen temper outside the restaurant's main entrance. There must have been 50 or 60 people harassing the captain and captainette, who were yelling frantically into their walkie-talkies, then giving everybody the evil eye to keep them from overwhelming their little table-assignment command post.

I figured I'd just get a number so I would fit in with the crowd, wait for my girlfriend, and then we'd go elsewhere -- this being before the time of mobile phones, of course.

But as I reached for my chit, my elbow was sharply grasped by the captainette, who whisked me straight into the restaurant, over my increasingly heated protests. I told her I'd just got there, and that there were lots of other people waiting. And I certainly wasn't the only one to make this point -- most of the other people waiting immediately saw what was going on, and several started yelling, including one guy who let it fly at her -- in English, no doubt for my benefit -- 'You're giving him a table just because he's a gwailo! Aren't you a real Chinese? What's the matter with you?' and so on. I was completely nonplussed by all this, and to my shame I admit I stopped protesting, and took the table.

I don't know if something like this could happen in Hong Kong today -- the incident I've mentioned occurred over ten years ago -- but there are little things that still make me think it could. If you are a gwai -- and maybe if you're not -- you may well have noticed that we sometimes get little perks such as being waved straight into buildings by security guards, more attentive service at some restaurants and shops, particularly those catering to western tastes, and so on. We're also not likely to get stopped for ID card checks by the police, and I think our complaints and requests to government departments may often be taken more seriously than the average local person's.

But does gwai privilege make up for some of the indignities gwai face in Hong Kong -- such as being called gwai, just to take one example?

What do you think?


Sorta-gwai privlege

 On my first trip to Hong Kong last year, I found some sort of "gwai" privilege.  Being ethnic Chinese, locals assumed I was a local as well.  But since I only speak English fluently, that's all I used.  After an initial confusion/impatience/shock they realized that I was really not a local and spoke in English instead and I got a more respectful approach from them and service was great.

 I suppose I could get away with speaking only in English there but it would probably be best if I became fluent in Cantonese -- in case I get hit by a taxi or something.  Or maybe I should stick to English so they'd take me to the better hospital.  ;)


gwai privilege

Why  am  I  not  surprised,  from  the  example,  that  it  was  a   Chinese  women  showing  the   gweilo   gwei privilege?

It  seems  the  inverted  racism  exists  most  in  aSIAN  WOMEN,  which  explains  the  high  number  of  them  dating/marrying  gweilos.  Its  very  sad.

Re: Gwai Privilege

Hi there,

My own experience, despite I am a local, was that, if you want to file a complaint about a service provider, if you send the complain letter/email in English you would usually get a  faster respond.

My 2 cents,


From my experience, I have a

From my experience, I have a theory that part of the reason foreigners get treated well is that the locals serving you can't be bothered arguing with you in English, or even to converse with you. So often they'll just take the path of least resistance and wave you through. I say this because at times when I've gone back to a place with my Chinese wife or a Chinese friend, I've actually gotten worse service than when I was alone! Why? Because when I bring a Chinese-speaking person, the service people will ignore me and just tell my companions in Chinese why they can't do whatever it is I want them to, etc. The irony is these will be instances where I've brought a Chinese-speaking person with me thinking that everything will go a lot smoother, when actually I end up getting worse service!