Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The White Guy Surcharge

It’s every white male’s fantasy: Throwing off the shackles of modern, work-a-day society and running away to some tropical island paradise, there to spend the rest of your days lolling in the sun sipping exotic tropical beverages. No deadlines. No pressure. Just surf, sand and solitude – the unholy trinity of bohemia.

Of course, it’s just a fantasy. The reality of life within an isolated island community – even one as popular and picturesque as Mauritius (my own particular flavor of rhapsodic bohemia) – is far less fantastical. In fact, the disconnect between a middle-aged white man’s imaginary destination and the harsh truth of island living, can be quite jarring.

Gridlocked traffic. Unchecked pollution. Debilitating shortages. These are the facts of life in “paradise.” And with Mauritius, you can add to this list: Intractable racism, rampant corruption and a golden rule that says “do unto others before they do unto you.”

Basically, life here is dystopian, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the daily ritual of securing goods and services. Whether you’re buying a basket of fruit from the local street vendor or negotiating the price of a small landscaping project with a day laborer, you can rest assured that you’ll be cheated at some point in the process.

That basket of fruit will prove to be rotten at the bottom, while the day laborer will decide – after a week on the job and with your yard now in a shambles – that he needs more money to complete the work. Never mind that you negotiated the rate in advance, or that you have his signature on a clearly defined statement of work. You’re white, their thinking goes, so you can afford it.

In fact, for the typical white ex-patriot, life in “paradise” quickly devolves into a daily struggle against a kind of reverse discrimination: Your skin color, mannerisms and dress code reveal that you are a foreigner. And since most foreigners are “wealthy” (at least by island standards) tourists, you're fair game for every imaginable scheme, scam and con-job the locals can dream up.

Even when you establish the fact that you’re a proper resident, you’re still treated as an outsider. Deals and concessions that are routinely extended to native citizens are denied to you, while any effort to secure equal treatment is looked upon as a shocking violation of both taste and protocol.

Again, you’re white. You can afford it. It’s this intrinsic bias against non-natives that my wife and I have come to refer to as the “white guy surcharge” – a pseudo-tax that is applied to every action we take, every move we make.

And it’s not always monetary. The “surcharge” also manifests itself in the quality of the workmanship and/or selection of materials employed. A local might be hesitant to screw-over one of his own race/class/neighborhood (word gets around). But, sticking it to the white guy? By performing shoddy work with substandard components? That’s just good sport.

As an “ugly American” living in the third world, I’ve learned the hard way just how far removed from reality those naive white male fantasies truly are. In my four years of struggle on the island of Mauritius, I’ve been scammed, cheated, lied-to and openly discriminated against more times than I can recall.

I’ve also learned to do for myself what I can no longer trust others to do for me, all the while gaining a sense of freedom and independence that was lacking in my States-side existence. They say “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and I’ve emerged from my experiences tougher, wiser and more willing to fight for what I deserve.

Which is why I’ve decided to pen this open-ended missive about my experiences chasing that elusive dream: An attempt to pass along some of the hard won knowledge I’ve acquired and to offer a bit of sage advice on how to effectively survive – and even thrive – as an ex-patriot.

So I bid you welcome to my own, personal hell – replete with palm trees, cool ocean breezes and the uneasy realization that life in “paradise” isn’t all it’s cracked-up to be.


  1. Jochen,

    Thanks! FYI, I hope to update the blog at least twice weekly, so...stay tuned! :-)


  2. Blimey RCK, sounds very off-putting. I`m a Brit, still living in the UK married to a UK Mauritian. We hope one day to re-locate to Mauritius in life in Mauritius really that bad? I`ve been visiting the island since 1993, so I don`t really see the underbelly of life in MRU. I`ll be following your blog with interest. Cheers.......Matt

  3. I think there is some paranoia and delusion of persecution here,you must have known that when you go to live in a third world country that you will have to face problems which do not exist in affluent countries!!!do your homework and if life on the island is not for you with it's imperfections, then the solution is not to go to live there..logical solution...

  4. nope, there's no paranoia, he tells it like it is.

  5. Dear White Guy,

    Has your life in that sunny bright inferno, improved?
    I like very much what you wrote about Mauritius.
    Please let us know if you continue with this endeavour.
    All the best

  6. mate Im a Mauritian and Kreole african whatever you said was true I am a university graduate from India worked for Convergys services ltd an American company handling operations for Australian telecommunication company Optus building dealership bases and supporting them in a highly commercialised market full of competition. I have been here for a period of a year and half unemployed and hurt terribly. There is a lot of discrimination against me as I am african kreole. I am making this comment because the majority of the Indian looking people and the whites dont welcome me here they want me to behave like a coonbag Kenyan.. U are and American am sure u know what a coonie is. I am terribly lost as there are no fellow like minded people to assist me with anything. I hope things change mate and I know what you typed correlates to what i feel and my situation ... Thanks and regards

    1. Go to youtube...type in Dr. Velu Annamalai
      It is one lecture Part 1-13
      (10 minutes each)
      Everything you need to know about where the racism against you comes from and why it is
      so strong. Marshall..check it out

  7. Unfortunately Randall, the assumption that you are white (especially american) and therefore rich is the legacy of colonialism...all post coolonial societies have that mindset to some degree or another. You hit the nail on the head! It's a sick corrupt mentality that the slave masters instilled in the slaves and even after independence the wealth & status of the white families there gives indiect credence to the mentality. White middle & upper class americans also unsuspectingly re-inforced that mindset decades ago when travelling as tourists and encountering a huge economic advantage based on their currency.Therefore the locals have been spoiled by that experience also so that most people think of white foreigners as rich and since they are poor and destitute they believe that you shouldn't mind a rip off cuz it won't 'dent' your savings.

  8. Randall, by the way...I am proud of your honesty in the observation that the creole african decendents who were on the island LOOOOONG before the Indentured workers from India came are relegated to the bakdoor of the society (unlike the whites) Also, don't you think it is a coincidence that a welathy traditional hindu family accepted you as a son-in-law? Isn't it strange that the mauritian society is ethnically stratified similar to India? what a coincidence! This is Hindu theology at work (Caste System). The whites are loved 7 the african features 7 dark skin is Hated! Check out the video i recommended to Marshall...Eye Opening Truth from the horses mouth!

    1. I agree to your comments. If I wanted to I could have had an Indian wife to from Mauritius. I cannot count the amount of civil service servants or 'well-off' indians from mauritius giving me details of their 'girl' or'girls' waiting to be hitched. Sick. All of them said how wealthy they are, even gave me the brand of the car(s) they drove, the amount of bungalows they own, the family of a family in the government which will help me become mauritian via red carpet treatment. It was sick and almost like selling your girl(s) by saying/pretending how much money they had or how many influences they have in the political circle. I am not racist, have never been and will never be but living in Mauritius sometimes makes you wonder how much tolerance you can have towards people who bath in corrupted money and act as if the island was called Indiamabad as compared to Mauritius. I'm sorry if I am having a rant against hindus and I know I shouldn't generalise but that's the unfortunate taste Mauritius left in my mouth. Oh yes, I have also had thieves in my bungalow and the police is still investigating. At the hotel nearby my bungalow two tourists were attacked and robbed and guess what the police are still investigating. Michaela Harte's murder still under investigation and so many cases still being investigated that makes you creep at the only thought of taking a fresh breath of sea air under your veranda. Who is lurking in the corner watching your every move because they think I am a rich foreigner. I also encountered some white Mauritian people who were first to invite me to their cocktails and their private clubs but my Congolese colleague (development manager) never got that chance. I wonder why? When I recruited a cleaner all those who applied were dark skinned. There is no shame in cleaning and why is this something only done by African origin people who from what I heard are made to believe to be third class citizens? There's something wrong on this island and I have never been able to grasp what?

  9. I have lived here for 7 years..and although there are many instances in which I have met wonderful Mauritian people, many of whom are now good friends, I still find that the same struggles are everywhere in everyday life. I am from Zimbabwe, therefore a lot of the times I am mistaken for a Mauritian because I look like the Creole's here, however, even after learning the language, when I open my mouth to speak, it's a disaster! First of all, I often have people openly mocking or mimicking my accent while I'm talking to them, and then of course there's the price thing!
    To be honest, this will never be a place I feel at home, because the cultural dynamics do not make it easy in any way for foreigners to integrate.

  10. I agree on all points. I lived in Mauritius for four years on work contract and discovered that underneath the smile there's a lot of hypocrisy. The indians act like they are in india and encourage bribes and corruptions. All the girls want to marry someone white and I do not count the amount of time I have been invited to this person or that person's place because they had girls they were trying to hook up. They think they are well off indians in mauritius and so deserve their girls to marry someone out of mauritius (imbeciles mostly). This island looks more like little India than everything else to me. Then there's the white who believe try to establish some sort of supremacy which is risible in all instance. The chinese who are in their shops or in their flashy cars trying to become white. The slave descent who are mostly thieves and still act like the slave trade has not been abolished. I didn't encounter many muslims but then again I will not be able to differentiate them from the indians who populate like rabbits on this island. I am white so made felt superior but only made felt as the reality is different. My accent was mocked, they spoke to me in their dialect which I think was insults as compared to answering my questions etc. The police again mostly indian guys were the worst, they will stop my car even if I committed no offence and tried to get me to understand I have no right to be on this island. I once told one of them that if his ancestors did not come there as labourers he would not be there too. Despite being asked to renew my contract there was no way I was staying in this place. It stinks of corruption, of racism or bribes and of everything you will expect to meet in nigeria as compared to a tropical island. This is no paradise, may have been before the independance but now it's a rotten island where everyone seems to want to migrate and hopefully when they reach foreign shores they will be given the same treatment.

  11. Hi,
    I am so deeply sorry that you had such a bad experience on the island of Mauritius. I am Mauritian and I have to agree with a lot of things you said. The country is a little India and corruption, racism (based on caste, religions and skin colour) do come with it. I am not playing the devil's advocate but I feel like I have to add this, a lot of it have to do with the country having been colonised by white people who treated the labourers and the ex slaves like dirt and inferior people. Because of that, this sick mentality stayed where locals think that if you are white or foreigners you must have $$/€€/££. A lot have to do with the white Mauritians being richer/ wealthier compared to the rest of the population excluding the corrupted politicians.
    I am not trying to find excuses for my people's mentality but some or most of them do not even realised that they are being "racist/judgemental" against the white tourists or like you expats who have to save their hard earned money to allow themselves a holiday/vacation. The majority specially those in the business industry think that because your $$ is worth MUR 35 so you don't feel it when they charge you extra. I know as even though I am Mauritian by birth, I am Australian by choice,I met and married a white Aussie and I witnessed first hand the discrimination my husband was victim of on our last visit. For example, I paid MUR 25 for a service and he paid 3 times the amount and that happened 33 times. Not so funny part is, growing up I wouldn't have bat an eyelid as I would have seen this as being normal. As I said before many of the people are doing this without realising that it's wrong for the reasons mentioned above.
    As far as racism among locals is concerned, We talk, eat and hang out with people of the other race in appearance while still thinking that x y or z is superior. For example, I am Creole. Because of my ethnicity people will expect me to be poorer, not as well educated, and just plain inferior. I saw someone mentioned that we- ceeoles were all thieves - not true but I see your point. Unfortunately, even other créoles won't expect me to succeed and if I do succeed they will say that "mo grand noir" - pretend to be white, showing my superiority - or something along the line. Funny part is compared to Caucasians all Mauritians are brown or black however lighter shades of brown people will think that they are superior than the darker shades of brown to black. Again this has a lot to do with colonisation and the hierarchy that existed then white- mulatto and blacks or the caste system in India. When I was in Mauritius everyone was quick to say that "oh I am Hindu, Muslim, creole etc". However when I meet your countrymen in a foreign land that's when they show their patriotism, that's when they call themselves Mauritians. I think patriotism should start from home.

    Again, I should emphasise on the fact that the island is slowly changing with interfaith marriages and with people living and experiencing life abroad. It will take a long time though.