Why sometimes it’s good to be nice – The Beach Boys from Zanzibar

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Someone once told me: Nice is the little sister of crap. And I always say, that I’m not a nice person. Because when someone tells me I did something “which wasn’t very nice of me”, I can say: “I’ve never said I’m a nice person”. End of discussion.  I don’t say I am mean or evil or whatever, but I’m just not a generally nice person. And let’s be honest: what’s wrong with these people who are always and in every situation nice?

ich wenn ich mal nicht nett binMake me wear a helmet and something orange and I definitely won’t be nice to you!

And now let’s talk about the beach boys and Zanzibar. And with beach boys I don’t mean hot surfer boys but beach vendors, who are called beach boys in (not only) Zanzibar.

beach boys zanzibar

The thing with the beach boys and why no one is nice to them

Everybody knows them but barely one is nice to them. Often with a good reason, you know all these stories, when beach vendors are ruining your day by being impertinent. And as people often think in stereotypes, they think they are the same all over the world. You know one, you know them all.

zansibar sunset und beachboys

Are the beach boys from Zanzibar any different?

There I am, lying on the beach in Kendwa, no one was talking to me yet, besides the man from the check in: “You’re alone here?” “Yes” “Don’t worry, many beach boys”. I haven’t checked in yet and already I get checked out, that was my thought exactly and I prepared myself for some annoying days on the beach. Time to be the not-nice Yvonne.

Nothing. No one. It’s low season.

I’m starring onto the water and decide to do nothing. NOTHING. Just being there and enjoying.

Then I hear nearby scolding, load and hectic voices “No, go, go. Leave me alone” – Something like this… I feel uncomfortable, it destroys the ideal world I’m sitting in right now. There are tourists shouting at one of the beach boys. And I think that’s not nice, just because the manner is bothering me. So aggressive, so arrogant. That’s not how I want to be. When the first beach boys is passing me with a casual “jambo” (which they obviously only use for tourists) I reply with “mambo”, he smiles and says “poa” – cool. Which is not a comment on my Swahili, but the regular response to “mambo”. He asks if I wanna buy something. I smile and say no, combined with “asante” (thank you). He shrugs, smiles and leaves me alone.

Same situation again and again. “Hello, how are you? – Fine, thank you. – Do you wanna buy something? – No, thank you. – Ok, bye bye.”

The beach boys are passing by, I’m staying nice and so do they.

beach boys zanzibar sanisbar

Ibrahim for example.

One day, my whole body is itching after a hurtful jelly fish situation, he’s walking down the beach. “Mambo. How are you” “Ahhh, not so well”. Well, I’m honest. After some oh and ah and uh, he says he has a secret medicine for me. Five minutes later he’s back with a bottle of Fanta in which there’s clearly no Fanta. It smells like vinegar. He says it’s more than vinegar, a secret medicine. Then he tells me to put it on the itchy parts and trust him, it will be better soon. It was. He smiled and wished me a nice day and then he was gone. Just like this. Because he’s a nice guy. And as I was nice to him, he was nice to me. Easy as this.

sansibar kili

Or Kili, the Masai from the mainland, who kind of is the official Masai from the hotel. All the other beach vendors weren’t allowed to cross an imaginary line on the beach. If they did, a security was there in a second to scare them away. But Kili has his shop in the restaurant. Actually his name is Kilimanjaro. When he found out that I’m German he showed me a postcard he was obviously carrying with him since some months. Written by German tourists, sent directly to him. I have no idea why they’ve written in German to him. Maybe they just didn’t think it through, maybe they thought there will be some German tourists around to translate. But there weren’t any or maybe none Kili wanted to ask if they could translate for him. When I was telling him what was written on the postcard his eyes were smiling.

sansibar adam

And then there was Adam, who always apologized for his bad English and at one time said: “Thank you for being so nice to me, it makes me happy when people are nice to me, most tourists aren’t.”

And this really made me thinking.

Sometimes it’s so easy to make someone happy. And let’s be honest, for sure the beach boys want to earn money. And for sure most tourist do have more money. Is it really that complicated to give a little bit of this to someone else? Does it really hurt that much to be nice? I don’t say that every beach vendor on earth is a nice person and I don’t say that every tourist is a not-nice person, who doesn’t even want to give one Euro. But sometimes it’s not about the money or “the” tourists or “the” beach vendors. Sometimes it’s about to treat others the way you want to be treated. With respect. And if you’re nice to someone who then isn’t nice to you there’s enough time to be not nice to that person afterwards. Just listen to your gut feeling, not everyone in this world is a bad person. Some people are generally nice. And sometimes they are just guys, trying to make a living on the beach and sometimes they lay aside their bags and play football and then it doesn’t count who’s tourist and who’s not.

sansibar football on the beach

Question: What do you think about the beach boys? Are you nice to them or not?

Hi, I'm Yvonne. Travel addict. Guilty as charged. Right now I'm probably falling off a camel somewhere in a desert, getting a new tattoo from a monk in Thailand or am carrying my luggage through a river in the jungle. But just as well I could be sitting on my sofa in Berlin, in my pyjamas. Good girls to to heaven, bad girls go everywhere. Everywhere sounds much more promising. So be travelous and follow me!

Discussion16 Comments

  1. wow. didn’t see that one coming, but what an awesome story and a point well made. i haven’t been on a beach for a while with these beach boys, but i guess one could compare it to all those guys who come up to your car and want to sell you something in south africa. i get usually very annoyed with them, it is just so many and at every traffic light. but at the end of the day i think it is similar – they are just trying to make a living and don’t we rather have them sell something even if we don’t need it than just stand there asking for money. shouldn’t be to hard to at least say ‘no, thank you’ with a smile.
    i also don’t consider myself a nice person, but you reminded me that it can make such a difference in someone’s day or even life if you are. thanks!

  2. What a great story! Honestly, I am not always nice in that situation. To the casual stranger, I am polite and have that nice guy reputation. I really appreciate your perspective in being nice to the beach boys. Probably more than other tourists, I like to be left alone. I actually seek out places where I can be alone. However, if someone like you who is not nice can be kind to the beach boys, this can inspire the rest of us to be kind to those like them as well.

  3. This is a great piece! I haven’t been to Zanzibar, but I’ve been in other beach-vendor situations. I think I usually just try to be neutral — just a “no thank you” but maybe I’ll try being nice..

  4. This is a great post. I hate it when I’m nice to venders or people that are traveling, and they take it as an invitation to try and pester me into buying something. It’s so much more pleasant to simply say hello, no thank you and still receive a kind response. I’m glad the beach boys returned the politeness, it makes for much happier travels!

  5. I have no idea how you start a post with “I’m not a nice person” but every reader will end this by thinking, “Wow, Yvonne is a nice girl…” – Clever lady! x

  6. Only last week I went to the Cambodian beach and I was approached by beach vendors (mostly children and women offering massages or hair threading) almost every 10 mins. It was a bit annoying to be honest, but a no thanks in their language was usually enough to make them go again. A lot of tourists got really annoyed with them and didn’t even acknowledge them. You could tell it upset the vendors. Cambodian are the most friendly people in the world, so if someone is rude to them they take it really personal. Just because somebody is poorer than you, doesn’t mean you can treat him or her like shit. It is not that difficult to stay polite.

  7. Oh gosh… was it PEE in that Fanta bottle!???? I am nice to the beach boys. Simply because I’m in a vacation mind set and I’m not going anywhere and it’s ok to bs with someone for a minute or two! ((Now ask me if I’m nice on a commuter train going to work… absolutely not… i’m a total ice queen then))

  8. We didn’t find the beach boys too bothersome in Zanzibar recently – mind you, we went at the beginning of the season, so maybe they hadn’t geared up yet :-). Some people who visit Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, say they’re bothered by the beach vendors there. But we’ve found that a smile and a “no” (maybe another “no”) does the trick. We’re always amazed at how friendly the vendors are, considering they get turned down so much.

  9. I have been living on zanibar for 2 years. Most of the pictures you have are not of the typical beatchboy. I liked your article, but I have expirienced a lot of different situations. After living on Zanzibar for a time, I got to now a lot of the typical beatch boys (the one you get warn againt) and I have to say its a good reason to why this happends. A lot of them had around 5-10 girlsfriends in Europe, sending them money. I have been sitting with some of the boys showing me how they sit and wait and when the ferry from Dar arrives they tell me who they are gone choose for this week,

  10. We had the same attitude you did in the beginning but they wore us down after a few days. There were afternoons when we timed them: Every two minutes. I agree, they are trying to make a living. I’m trying to relax/ eat / sleep/etc. At one point, one of the “boys” became aggressive with my husband because he continued to decline offers for tours, jewelry, and eventually illicit drugs. No way to spend a vacation. I would never go back to Nungwi because of what I liken to harassment.

  11. I worked hard to afford my zanzibar holiday. Why should I tollerate to be bothered every two minutes while strolling on the Beach? I ALWAYS Said no thanks and some of them turned verbally aggressive to me because i didnt stop by. Im not a rich person and when on holiday my time is Precious. The Beach boys litteraly ruined the main attraction of the island making my experience much worse. Im a big traveller, im not a narrow minded city boy.

  12. Yeah Yvonne this is bullshit. Me and my girlfriend just tried to have a walk for 10 minutes on a beach here and got harassed 6 times. I was pleasant, I chatted to the first three, took the business card of one but they just kept coming, their passive aggressiveness was palpable. Separately, the fact that they offer trips for only a Tenner cheaper than the hotel means they really aren’t worth taking considering they have no responsibility of care. It’s ruining our holiday. The irony is that if they just had a stall you could walk to unbothered you would probably give them more time and business. But I suspect what they are doing is illegal, so they travel light so they can run.

    • Totally agree with Simian. Just spent a week in Nungwi and although the place is great, the experience of not being able to spend time on the beach alone peacefully is just overwhelming. I was nice and polite but had to spend half of my time arguibg with the vendors. At some point you just loose patience. And the fact that everybody sells the same just makes it more annoying – it’s the same offer of snorkling endlessly. Difficult to stay nice in the long run

      • 100% agree with you Morten and Simian. Considering that there are legitimate, licensed and insured excursion vendors on Zanzibar, these people are just cheating those the system at the expense of those following the rules, and are taking advantage of ill-informed tourists. The Zanzibar gov’t is clearly not doing enough to get these people off the beach and is allowing this free-for-all tourism model to flourish. I have to agree with you it makes me have no interest in coming back here. How does letting this practice continue help Zanzibar in the long run? Why would I ever visit Zanzibar, when I know I can go to any number of other tropical beach destinations and not get pestered every five seconds to buy something, when I am trying to get away from stress?

        I was shocked to see that some people even hire Masai body guards to escort them on the beach just so that they will be left alone by the beach boys. It clearly shows you how huge of a problem this is.

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