When Paradise Gets Rough, Expats Turn Tough

When Paradise Gets Rough, Expats Turn Tough

“I can pick the foreigners who live here,” said the visiting sister. “There’s a certain attitude to them.” She meant arrogance, impatience and disdain – characteristics that chip away at the rose-coloured glasses of new foreign residents and eat into their starry-eyed perceptions until another cynical expat is unearthed.

True, it’s a daily challenge to keep a rein on the frustrations of living in a place where public services are inadequate and unreliable, such serious problems are aggravated by official inertia or denial, standards of service can be pitiful, bribery is part of obtaining most essential paperwork and the workforce seems largely unfamiliar with the concept of reasonable effort for fair reward.

We wouldn’t mind our housekeeper taking so many days off for ceremonies if she showed some consistent commitment to her work, would stop sneaking off to the guestroom for on-the-job naps and didn’t tell outrageously implausible fibs when caught out. “I come very late because my baby no breathing,” was a corker. She’d come very late, on a special occasion for us, because we were not yet scheduled to be home and she thought she’d get away with it. Her wide smile, as she rode down the road to us, gaily greeting her colleagues from beneath my secretly “borrowed” cap, had turned instantly to tears.

“Just treat it like a kindergarten,” advised the Playmate, but I baulk at that because I know the kids are quite capable of organising their own busy community and religious lives for which they have so much motivation and loyalty that there’s little left for us.

If we weren’t living here we probably wouldn’t have house staff, we remind ourselves, often. And, of course, caution is the creed on culture so ceremonial activities will always take precedence over work, though it’s increasingly hard to always be gracious about it. In fact, I’d say impatience has scored a significant victory.

Much has been said by many about opportunistic Indonesians who prey on foreigners. These ratbags range from moneychangers and street sellers through to property agents and owners, minor public servants and some of the highest-ranking government and judicial officials.

Less has been said about the loathsome ranks of foreigners, usually people who can’t make a decent living elsewhere because they are corrupt or dysfunctional, who come to paradise to deliberately exploit foreigners and locals alike. They are devoid of scruples and driven by greed. They are fraudsters who inveigle their way into business, surround themselves with would-be thugs, steal people’s money, threaten businesses and local livelihoods and deserve to be jailed.

Give the police a problem goat and they’ll create a cow

Others may arrive with worthy intentions but are overcome by avarice in an environment where money can buy protection from prosecution. Sensible Balinese will go to incredible lengths to deal with disputes through the traditional familial system rather than involving the law. They have a saying: If you go to the police to report a lost goat, it will cost you a cow.

Regrettably, this ongoing obstruction to justice means that swindlers can rightfully rationalise that they’ll probably get away with it and to hell with all those they burn on the way. Recently we heard the sad story of a young expatriate who’d been welcomed into a company as a director. He used his time there to rob the company of money and clients and exclude it from the big deal on which he was being paid to work. The business may not survive. Its 18 local staff would be jobless. The charming chap refused offers of mediation and civil settlement and found a local hood to attempt to intimidate his former boss. It’s a corporate matter, and he is likely to go to jail. His young family will suffer most.

At a more personal level, when a former property nominee turned bad and had to be removed from the scene through payment of the price of a goat, to avoid legal fees akin to the cost of a herd of cattle, he soon was forced to close the warung that probably was his family’s only regular and semi-legitimate source of income. He is now known to police and his reputation in his own village is shot.

The greedy expat who dispensed with our services when the business we’d built up was nearing a point at which we would share in the profit, and refused to pay us salaries owing, quickly lost the business, a substantial sum, and whatever might have existed of his local reputation. He’d missed the news that the mindset of “use them and lose them” crashed with Wall Street in the Eighties.

Call it karma or natural justice; it’s a weird and welcome phenomenon that something inherent in life invariably seems to issue a suitable serving of retribution to those who don’t play fair.

So sister, perhaps you saw that expat attitude in those who don’t hold this faith or in those who have too often been a victim. Things can be rough in Paradise, and we need to be tough to cope. Of course it means that when we find honourable people, the trustworthy and true, we treasure them all the more deeply.


1 Comment

  1. Marc Jacobs says:

    I am not sure what it is you try to justify by vilifying foreigners or expats on Bali, but I think it would be wise to stop attributing traits to people based upon the category ‘local’ and ‘non-local’. I was required to submit my name to send in this reaction. I would also want to know who wrote this piece.

    Marc Jacobs.
    (Hard working expat / impartial observer of all things Balinese & Indonesian)