Scrolling through my blog, I came across this piece, written in 2011. It still seems relevant !
It’s spontaneous, takes you by the soul and wraps your heart in the comfort of human kindness. Makes you believe in humanity. This is the legendary Mauritian Smile; a trade mark of its own. The Mauritian smile is so powerful that it has helped the tourism industry blossom, up to being the major pillar of the economy, and it keeps on selling paradise-island on the world market. Of course, our beaches and natural beauty do play a role, a significant one – but we cannot deny the part played by the local smiles. Beware! A powerful tool in bad hands can harm the world (hmm, feels like Donald Rumsfeld speaking!). Tourists or businessmen, many a foreigner has seen himself trapped within the spell of a Mauritian smile. Many lost their fortune and went back home in total disillusion, while others got married and then divorced… and are now paying alimony! The smile…
Well, let’s first see why the common Mauritian is always smiling to foreigners. That’s my observation and I’m not inviting any reader to adhere to the views expressed here. If you do, then it’s fantastic. Else, take it as another B-S blog. To understand local population behaviour, we first need to note that Mauritian population is a mix of different cultures of the world: Indian labourers, African slaves, Chinese traders…etc. Our ancestors were brought here by European navigators and explorers. Respect (and fear) of the European race (no negative connotation here!) has, since then, prevailed. I remember my grandfather (an untamed macho beast) who would always refer to his boss (a French sugar estate owner) as ‘Missié’ (translate ‘Sir’ in English) even in the absence of the latter. My granddad treated his boss with incomparable respect and acknowledged the fact that without ‘Missié’ his family would maybe die of hunger. Granddad had faith in ‘Missié’ and nothing could challenge his loyalty.
From there, came also the perception that people like ‘Missié’ are in fact superior. You wouldn’t want to argue with my granddad on that one! Like any other descendants of Indian origin, he had a sacred faith in people within the same category as his boss. This notion of superiority was transmitted to my dad… And then came the independence, and free education and emancipation. So here you have an idea why foreigners were initially perceived as superior. Believe me, this is not a racist comment, but an observation of the social reality of the country.
Even with education and emancipation, the Mauritian still, in his subconscious mind, has a complex of inferiority. Tourism further sustained the perception. When the tourism industry was officially launched, a sensible government campaign explained the importance of tourists. The latter obviously got every attention possible. We didn’t want to fail in our demonstration of respect and sense of hospitality. Tourists brought additional social elements to enforce the feeling of foreigners’ superiority. The first element is what I call the E.T effect. Blame that on Mr Spielberg if you want, but I define it as follows:
‘If they travelled over to your world before you could even realize their existence, then surely they are of a superior class.’
The average Mauritian, during the 80s did not even have a motorcycle! Now imagine him in front of people who have just landed from an airplane. You got me? Ok, ok, I’m coming to the lethal smile thing, I promise.
Yes, so the poor local guy makes himself visible and gentle, he smiles on every occasion. What else can he do? Once again, with the tourism (five-star hotels, luxury cars, beautifully clad people, etc) the superiority of foreigners is affirmed. He smiles in the hope of getting under the wings of a superior race, he smiles to say that he’s ready to serve…and we all became known for our smile! Frustration is lurking around…
We all know that in this material world, superiority is most commonly measured by the amount of money one has. Who has more money? Ok, we dig further : Euro1 = Rs40 and USD1= Rs30. Got it? Read on.
Today the Mauritian is using his smile for a different objective. Not all of us, thank God! If you are from a different country, then you need to know that not every local smile is authentic. Some of us have learned the tricks of the trade; we know that a tourist can be hypnotized and ordered to imitate a money tap (LO!). By the time you’ve started to understand the fake smile, you’ve gone over your holiday budget. Tourists are short-term victims. They leave the country with a sour after-taste, and that’s it.
The thing gets more serious when it comes to expatriates and foreign businessmen. They are long term residents and have more at stake. Their presence has created a new sort of back-stage profession in the country: Professional swindlers, specialized in foreigners ripping-off. The smile is the perfect accessory of the learned swindler. Your wish is his command, well at first. He’s there to transform your wildest fantasies into reality. You want to setup a business? He’s got the expertise, even if he’s only a taxi driver or a hairdresser. He knows people, Ministers if not the Prime Minister himself! You want to try? Ask your taxi driver, his uncle should be a Minister. If you’re lucky he will tell you that the Prime Minister was his classmate and best-friend. How can you not believe him? Are you insensible to that smile? Once your soul is captured, you are aspired in a whirlpool. With the same smile, your new brother will convince you that he is an expert in business and immigration, he’ll prove his business management skills to you and you won’t resist putting all your faith in him. His wife will be the managing director of your company (He’s not interested in business and money, he’s just helping you out).
Consultants and accountant become mere money eaters and you’ll keep yourself away from professional advice. You’ll soon be having your Mauritian citizenship (remember the Prime Minister was a schoolmate!?)
Now, if mix that smile with the right dose of other tasty elements, you get something explosive. An absolute banker! That’s where the smile is the most effective and dangerous. You will be invited for dinner at home, or at the nephew’s wedding ceremony. You’ll be in a trance; you’re be part of the family… Life is beautiful, champagne is good! Payback time is not far.
The Mauritian is not naive. The biggest mistake foreigners make is taking the locals for granted. You should never lower your guard and never hesitate to seek professional advice whenever there is legal or financial aspects involved. We are not different human beings, and we did not fall in any ‘naive-rendering’ magic potion in our childhood. Material gain, greed and easy money are the sons of a super power Devil and we all need to agree that the Devil also loves the sea and sun of paradise-island.
The Smile is one of the things that differentiate humans from wild animals, my dad once told me!