Sri Lankan Men in Tourist Resorts – you either Love them or Hate them

Hikkaduwa Ford; melted many a heart in his life

Hikkaduwa Ford; melted many a heart in his life

This is one of my rants. Forgive me if any of you take offence…I am just saying it how it is. Also note I am with one of these Sri Lankan men who grew up in a tourist resort, so I probably fall into the former category of actually seeing them in a good light. Don’t get me wrong – I could quite happily kill him sometimes but fortunately we know each other well and can generally sort shit out (the day after, sometimes 2 or 3, haha).

I’ll get back to that in another post but firstly in case you have just stumbled on this post and know very little about Sri Lanka – *ONE WORD OF NOTE* – do not let this put you off coming here for a fantastic holiday, even if you are a single female travelling alone. The country will welcome you with open arms but I hope this post may make just that little bit wiser about how you go about your day-to-day holiday adventures.

Unemployment is a big problem in this country, not because it is absurdly high, but because there are no social security measures in place to aid these people. A problem the Government needs to address – but that is for another post as well. So if you have no job, you have NOTHING. Lots of people get small unreliable work in the agricultural sector which is weather dependant and where they get paid not by the hour, or day, or month…NO but by what they actually bring to their SUV-driving boss in his posh house. If the weather is shit, they go home with nothing to feed their kids. Add to that fishermen and masons (brickies) who are usually self-employed and don’t have the correct HR systems in place to safe-guard them should their work dry up or if they are unable to work because of illness or disabilities.

Back to the Tourist sector; all along the coast from Colombo to Matara the young generation has grown up with tourists, even during the war and in the aftermath of the tsunami (different types of tourists, yes, but they still had money to spend). They see tourists as “work” – whether from teaching them how to surf and taking them on proper tours to commission greedy boys that will demand 10% or 20% of whatever the tourist buys in certain shops. I haven’t actually got a problem with these commission “guides”. Why? Because they have no alternative employment, no decent education to speak of BUT yet they speak 4 or 5 languages enough to actually take these holiday-makers to the best markets, the best spice shops, the best gem and jewellery shops AND the best beaches, best local temples, lagoons and waterfalls etc. These guys put in their days work too, usually on foot in the sweltering heat. YES, they will pocket some money on top of the market price of goods but the shop keepers are in on all this and if a lone tourist enters the shop alone and chooses an item which is not priced, the shop will make a 100% mark-up anyway. Most of these “guides” are from poor fishing communities and help their folks, wives or if single, they will buy the arrack for all the others in the evening. They are not evil. If you don’t want their help, tell them to fuck off. They understand and leave you alone. Many have met Europeans who have helped them and their families to build houses and live a better life, some get married and move abroad – surely in my view this is progress for Sri Lanka.

You can of course get ripped off BIG STYLE, but this is usually down to the stupidity of the tourist. Look at Hikkaduwa for example…you go to Mambo’s for a beach party during the season. If you are a young backpacker you may want to get some drugs to enliven your your evening (I am not casting judgements here…been there, done that, luckily I had fun and good friends, including the Mambo boys), BUT sometimes you may get ripped off. Do your research guys, ask around, what is the going price etc. Don’t just get steaming on Arrack and Bacardi at the bar and then decide to score 2 E’s. You’re wasted, you have a pocket full of cash. Any drug dealer in the world will think you are easy prey. BE SMART. Keep your head – I agree it’s not always easy when dancing barefoot on the beach with Techno blasting and you are beyond caring but you wouldn’t lose your head at home so don’t here. The Sri Lankans will respect you more for it.

There are so many bad reviews on the internet about the so-called “beach boys” and “commission guides” in Sri Lanka. Yes it happens, but you can also make them your friends and then these “beach boys” and “commission guides” will look after you and ensure your holiday is safe and memorable. Yes they make some money, but considering they give you the time and advice, surely they deserve it. Add to that the fact that you will see parts of this wonderful country which big tour agencies do not visit and very often you will be invited to their family home for rice and curry – local style. Nothing is better than that plus you will have a friend for life. Respect and be respected.

BE SAVVY, STAY SAFE! And enjoy the paradise that is Sri Lanka! Who knows you might even find true love, whether for the country, a beach dog, a gorgeous smart shy Sri Lankan girl, a clever funny intelligent Colombo guy or a delicious looking cheeky beach boy. Enjoy and love but mainly respect them in their country: Sri Lanka. Your life will never be the same.

9 Comments

Filed under Just stuff, Sri Lankan life

9 responses to “Sri Lankan Men in Tourist Resorts – you either Love them or Hate them

  1. Seriously, the men are such a pain. I go to a beach with the wife and some lady friends and a big bunch of these ‘boys’ would cavort close to where we are, making noise and trying to get attention. We then have to move away. Again. It is intimidating and irritating. I have seen single foreign women just go back to their hotels because of the comments, and gestures thrown their way. It’s stupid.

    • Hi, thanks for reading. Yes they can be a menace but you can tell them to go away. Have you tried to learn some simple Singhalese words such as “Epa” which means “no, I do not want”. Very simple things like this can help you and your friends. Also respect their culture, to them making noise and trying to get attention is not a rude gesture…try walking around in Pettah in Colombo!!! Also keep nudity to a minimum, i.e. do not go topless as a women, no g-strings etc. If these boys get threatening then you can use some harsher swear words (I will gladly give you them if require ;-)). Also contact your hotel security – the men they employ are usually bored so give them something to do!

      You will find that that if you tell them to go away enough, eventually they leave you alone. Making female tourists retire to their hotel is threatening and should be reported. What I failed to mention in my post is that you may encounter some more persuasive ones because they are addicts (usually heroin). You can usually see the difference. A proper beach boy is fit, with a six-pack an will not be rude to you, your wife or your friends. An addict will offer you the world but look thin and have no real back-up to his stories of wonderful tours etc. Like I said BE SAVVY. A beach boy will not rob you, an addict will. If somebody bothers you too much, go to security or the police, chances are they already have a file on the guy anyway. I wish you, your wife and friends a wonderful holiday. Enjoy Sri Lanka, don’t let these guys get to you. x

  2. Brilliant post Ankie! These are the types of things our government should be looking at when try to improve tourism in the island. Giving them some formal training and utilizing their existing skills about the tours/places/things to see etc… It takes very little money and effort to do these type of things which can have a big impact.

    • Thank you so much – it was a rant written in 15 mins. Not thought out and researched, I keep reading it back and thinking of changing things but I’m leaving it alone :) To be fair the SLTB has been doing stuff to teach these guys and to get them certified. It will happen in time. In the meantime these boys speak better Russian than me, Italian, French, German (most fluently) and obviously English. They are not stupid….nurture their talent and they will be a credit to this country. Some are conmen – you get them all over world…if the tourists do their homework they will know.

      What also gets me is how the successful boys like the Mambo brothers get slated all over the internet. They did so much in the aftermath of the tsunami, both in Hikkaduwa & Arugam Bay. They are are business men and good at what they do. they are not rapists and do not threaten tourists. Tourism is their livelihood, they know that. I know them all and think they are great. Nowadays all their pictures on Facebook are of their gorgeous babies with their wives.

      I think Bentota & Hikka are ok, there are still some rogues furher South….Mirissa, Tangalle etc. And the new areas, which are pretty unknown to me…I think those guys need some training esp. if they have been involved with the war etc. I mean how can you stop a soldier (Sri Lankan and LTTE both) not staring at a foreign lady in a bikini. If I had been hiding in trenches for years I would stare at a sexy bloke in a pair of boardshorts too.

  3. billy

    didnt they start some sort of a dedicated police force(tourist police or something like that) for these areas?

    • Hi Billy – yes they have dedicated Tourist police spots, the ones I know are in Moragalla (Aluthgama, Beruwela area) and Hikkaduwa (Narigama). These police officers undergo special training to support tourists if they have been victims of crimes such as robbery, rape etc.

  4. magerata

    First of all thank you for a wonderful post. I was just browsing Kottu before going to school and noticed a new post by you. Saw your title and thought “oh no not Ankie too!” because almost everything we hear about those people who hangs around where tourists frequent were negative.
    I was all smiles as I read the post and you made my day!.
    On one of our visits, a few years ago, my Mama, sis and I went to Mount Lavinia beach. They were sunning themselves and I went for a swim. Little later I saw a bunch of guys standing around them. I came to them thinking they were being harassed but to the contrary they all were having fun . The beach boys were really intrigued by the small Japanese lady and a Caucasian looking girl claiming to be her daughter. I walked in and made their jaws drop by calling my Mama, ‘Mama’ (I am too big in any standard and handsome ;) just think of David, Michael Angelo fame). Obviously they wanted to sell us all sorts of stuff, including tours and one kid more protective of us said he is supporting his family and schooling by being a beach boy. We shared some food we had and left. We were staying at the Mount Lavinia hotel and took every chance to swim sun ourselves. This particular young boy became owners of us (He told other beach boys that we are ‘HIS’ tourists :) ). My Mama being a Mama and who she is (she is involved in a few projects in the eastern part of the SL,) wanted to check his story out. We did.

    To keep the story short, his story was half right. He was supporting his family but had dropped out of school. As of today, his family is employed by people we know and he is awaiting his high school results / opportunity to enter one of those competitive Universities.

  5. Jane ( Sri Lanka)

    What a brilliant piece. I agree with every word you say 100%, so many of these “beach boys” have no hope of any other employment and in the the vast majority of them do a really good job helping tourists, so what if they get money from shopekeepers etc, that is the way of life here. Of course there are some very greedy ones ,but I think that perhaps it is the tourists who have made them greedy, they see the tourists flashing money , expensive cameras and phones abour, and they have nothing so no wonder they want as much as they can get.

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