Thursday, June 6, 2013

An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 2

“Being happy does not mean that everything is perfect. It means that you have decided to look beyond the imperfections.”
~ Aristotle

I'm often mistaken for a tourist or traveler. To a local this pretty foreign face equals unlikely or not expected to actually live in Sri Lanka. This can be both a positive or negative thing.

On the positive, it's fairly good because of the warm and welcoming local attitude towards tourists and travelers. And, by nature, most locals are genuinely helpful and hospitable. I've visited remote villages and towns where they probably haven't seen many foreigners, yet they're never paranoid nor unwelcoming. It's the complete opposite and so refreshing. Most visitors are often struck by the generous smiles and open faces around the island. I know for a fact this is not often the case outside of Sri Lanka. And I also know some of my Sri Lankan friends haven't necessarily been treated that well whilst traveling abroad, especially with increased attacks around the globe and paranoia on the rise. It's embarrassing and troubling the number of times I've stood at one of the counters at immigration or border control in UK/Europe and the US/Canada and listened to my brown-skinned friends being questioned with a not-so-subtle hint of in-hospitality and sometimes fear. So, to be warmly welcomed as a foreigner in Sri Lanka is truly a positive.

However, there are downsides to being a foreigner living in Sri Lanka (and mistaken for a tourist). One of these is what I term the "kerching" experience. So, what is that you ask? Well, it's my label (and sound) for what happens when some locals, businesses or government agencies see a tourist and their face lights up because they think they can make some extra cash or charge a little more. Yes, it's also the sound you hear when you open a cash register...kerching!

An example of this relates to the problematic dual pricing system that exists, primarily for ticketing or services offered within the tourism industry. Dual pricing exists in countries outside of Sri Lanka too, so it's not unique to the island...

** Please note, the full blog post has been removed as parts of the blog content will be edited for inclusion in an upcoming publication by the author. More information will be made available on the Adventures in a Tuk-Tuk Blog in due course **


Hayley McNorton said...

Hi Eva! Thanks so much for your blog post. I am travelling to Negombo for an internship in July and this definitely gave some helpful insight. I was wondering if I could ask you a quick question though. For my internship I have my own apartment and am cooking for myself. Do you have any tips on the best places to buy food and do's and donts of grocery shopping? Thanks -Hayley

Eva Stone said...

Hi Hayley, Appreciate the comment regarding the post. Sounds like you're adventure-bound, which is great to know. Food can be easily purchased at supermarkets. The local names for the larger stores are Cargills, Keels, or Arpico. However, there are other supermarkets like Laughs and other smaller shops that sell foodstuffs. You can purchase dry goods as well as fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, frozen foods and various grocery items. Also there is usually a Sunday polla or market in most neighborhoods where lots of fresh vegetables and fruits are sold by local sellers. This is often a great place to get the fresh stuff and get familiar with the local produce. There are also shops that sell fresh fish, seafood etc. And these are normally caught daily. I don't have any specific don'ts with regards to grocery shopping though I find a lot of expats (including myself) don't tend to purchase a lot of red meat, as it doesn't look like what we're used to 'back home'. I tend to stick to seafood or chicken and lots of fruit and vegetables. If you have any other questions feel free to send an email to All the best! Cheers, Eva

Loubna TANJI said...

Hi Eva!
I love your blog!!!!! I am moving to Sri Lanka for 2 years in August and to be honest I am not sure what to pack.
I will be teaching in a British school and there is a dress code. All my summer clothes are quite casual and my big problem is shoes as sandals are banned and I don't find nice summer shoes. Any advice?

Eva Stone said...

Appreciate the blog love Loubna! Congrats on your impending move to Sri Lanka. Welcome! My advice would be to pack what is comfortable for leisure wear, and bring what you have that would be suitable for teaching. You can buy the rest when you get here (after you get a better idea once you're here). I've always found that slightly looser clothing is more comfortable for the humid weather, unless you're in air-conditioning. Also cotton or linen clothing is better than polyester or nylon with the heat. With shoes I do wear flats and heels when necessary, but on the whole whenever I can, I'm in a variety of sandals, slip-ons or flip-flops. With your teaching role I'd bring your most comfortable heels or flat shoes that go with your outfits. And, most of the time I carry my sandals or flips so I can change into them as soon as possible. There are also footwear retailers in Colombo to check out once you get here. Note - good leather shoes don't last that long here due to the weather!

Loubna TANJI said...

Thank you so much all these very useful pieces of advice. I don't want to take too much with me so it is good to know that I will be able to buy stuff when I am there. I am really looking forward to it. Once again I love your blog especially the fact that you are giving a true reflection of what life in Sri Lanka can be.

Anonymous said...

Care to share the experience in the Caribbean?

Eva Stone said...

Lol. It was certainly eye-opening and a bit of a shock to the system, but I probably wouldn't want to share here.

Kip said...

I enjoy your blog. It's both entertaining and informative. I'm an American who has visited Sri Lanka many times, including a 2 years stay in Kandy. I love the country and its people. But this two-tiered pricing system you discuss here is the one really aggravating fact of life in SL. Most tourists don't realize how deeply it goes. You mentioned hotel prices. But even in most restaurants, when you are handed an English menu the prices on it are considerably higher than for the same food on the Sinhala one. As a Buddhist, I am always irritated by the exorbitant fees charged foreigners (locals free) at most temples in Sri Lanka. I often point out that as Buddha was an Indian he would have to pay to get into his own temple! More importantly, this turns something holy into a show for the tourists. The Hula dance was once a sacred part of the Hawaiian religion performed by their older wise women. Now it's a booty shaking show by young women for tourists. In 1992 I wanted to do a masters course in Buddhism at a university in Colombo. I was shocked to find out that locals paid $100/yr tuition while I was expected to pay $3500. Foreigners pay 30X the local admission price at the Colombo Zoo. I can't really explain why this is. I have lived in poorer countries than SL and never came across this degree of official organized scalping. (Though to be fair, I have encountered much greater levels of unorganized cheating and robbery.) I think it is related to SL's long history of colonization by Westerners: over 500 years, the first colonized country in Asia. As the country develops economically, and more Sri Lankans travel abroad and see what is normal in the world I hope this ripoff mentality withers away.

Eva Stone said...

Apologies for the late reply +Kip. Glad to connect with another person who loves Sri Lanka and its people! I've kind of worked through my issues or maybe resigned myself to the price differences for expats, tourists vs locals. Many of my srilankan expat friends get charged tourist rates much to their dismay (unless they can negotiate their way around things in sinhala). I'm actually happy to pay a higher fee as long as the money goes towards actually maintaining or conserving a historic or culturally important site or national park. But, what annoys me, is where it appears to be going into someone's fat pocket, and the historic sites are deteriorating etc.

I do think the issue of different tuition fees for foreigners is similar to what happens overseas actually. If you're not a citizen or permanent resident of a country, you are expected to pay higher fees to study at their educational institutions. If you're a citizen or local you benefit from free education or lower fees.

Thanks for your comments :-)

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