Why it is better for people to think you are dumb


I had a nice time going home, but there were several examples of people talking me for the court jester. Case in point: my older sister asked me to take out her friend to this shopping centre called Slipway, near our house in Dar-es-Salaam. We wanted to go on this boat that takes you to Bongoyo island. When I was trying to buy the tickets, I got the impression they were trying to con me by telling us to pay two fares (one ‘marine tax’ + one boat fare). And then they told us, that to go on the boat, the boat had to have a capacity of 4 people, so they wanted me and her to pay for two phantom, fake people. I was like….wtf?

I refused. One of them said because my sister’s friend L was not from Tanzania, she would have to pay a foreigners fee which is more expensive than for Tanzanians. I was like….? I didn’t accept it til they showed me the form that the government had sanctioned. The one of them said to me that I should pay a foreigner’s fee too because I didn’t sound Tanzanian. And naturally, they all started laughing at me. I just shrugged it off and was like, no I am Tanzanian but I know for sure that we are not going on this wack boat. So we left. Then what happened? 10 minutes later or so, the captain of the boat found us and told me he would take both of us for less than the marine tax & boat fare combined.

This kind of attitude is why some African businesses are not growing. Here is what I learnt from this episode.

1. It is better for people to think you are dumb as they tried to do with me. Then when they saw I wouldn’t be conned, they came looking for us to still try and sell me shit.

2. Being Tanzanian does not mean speaking Swahili with a crystal Dar accent. I still speak Swahili, whether or not it is up to your standards  is completely irrelevant to me.

3. Incidents like this make me seriously wonder if this is an attitude problem with certain people.

What do you think? Is it always better to play dumb? When I was 18, things like this would really hurt me for someone to try and devalidate my identity by saying I spoke with an accent, but I have got to the point where I absolutely do not care anymore. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone except my mother and my late father.

If my mum is okay with me and my father is proud of me whereveer he is, that is good enough for me and everyone else can fuck off.

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15 thoughts on “Why it is better for people to think you are dumb

  1. I remember when I went to Jamaica last year with my family these con men charged us double the fare saying we were “foreigners”. Even though my parents have Jamaican accents according to the Jamacians their accents weren’t “authentic” enough. So locals see foreigners as having “more” money and that’s why they try to rip foreigners off.

  2. Its this kind of bullshit that prevents members of a country’s diaspora from wanting to return, or invest time or money in the economy. I agree with everybody that it happens everywhere, but there is an extra dose of pain when it comes from people that you consider your own.

  3. Well, it seems like dummies get more out of life. Maybe it IS better to “play” dumb or be dumb for real because this intelligence business isn’t working for me. 😐

  4. Conning is bad and unjustifiable in any case. However every country is guilty of price discrimination regardless of their GDP for example international students in the western countries do pay 2-3 times the natives for college or University fees. What is the justification for that?

  5. This actually is a very common thing in countries where tourism is one of the main industry’s. Most people are of the mentality that foreigners and expats are richer than the locals and quote higher fees for them. In the hotels and attractions sites there is a lower local fee.

    That being said I do think they were quoting a higher fee than the government sanctioned price and I hate when that happens.

  6. The Indian government also sanctions a foreigner’s fee and the reason is Econ 101. It’s all about price discrimination – the same way financial aid for college works. If you have the money (aka a foreigner in India or Tanzania), you will be charged full price. Natives are charged less because incomes are just less in third world countries. I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing. We, outsiders, are making it possible for the native population to enjoy their own resources.

    • It is not a good thing. 1, I am not a foreigner in Tanzania and they were still trying to shaft me. So I don’t understand your ”we, outsiders….” comment.

      Tourists in the UK & France are not charged more in those nations so why does this happen in Tanzania? Price discrimination helps to keep people away from spending money.

      • You live in England. Whether it is true or not, the Tanzanians believe you make more money as a foreigner and charge you for it. It’s not unique to you and it’s not unique to Tanzania. As others have mentioned, it is a quite common practice around the world.

        And the object of price discrimination is not to keep people away. It is the opposite actually. It is supposed to maximize the number of people that can afford your product.

        UK and France are OECD countries. They don’t need to price discriminate because the British and the French can afford all the things at the rate the foreigners are charged.

        • Did I say it was unique to me? No.

          Did I say it was not common? No.

          All I can speak of is my experience. I am not a spokeswoman for the entire world. I find your tone of trying to write me as a ‘foreigner’ offensive.

          • All I wanted to express was that you shouldn’t take it personally and based on your original post, you did take it personally.

            Obviously, you don’t think you are a foreigner, but the local person that was charging you for the ticket thought you were. I wasn’t there so I have no idea how he figured out you were an expat, but he did.

  7. I agree with Monie. Most places are like that where they try to con people who they think aren’t from there. Also, this is more likely to happen if you are a young female. They just wanted to take advantage of your money.

    You are also right that appearing dumb can work to your advantage, lol. If people underestimate your intelligence, you can actually use it against them because THEY don’t know you are smart. You have the element of surprise.

    • I do agree Aisha, that this is more likely to happen if you are a woman. It’s very sad and sexist. People still think African women are the bottom of the barrel.

      I am happy for people to think I am stupid. Takes lots of pressure off me.

  8. @Monie, that’s an interesting perspective. I hadn’t thought about it like that at first.

    In retrospect, I just think they were trying to have a laugh on me at my expensive.

    The dumb thing was we were fighting over the last boat. If they had sucked it up and gotten over my English accent, they actually got have made money for that ride but tried to be cute instead.

    FLOP HARD.

    Anyhoo, that kind of stuff doesn’t bother me personally anymore even though it used to hurt me a lot.

    I’m just worried for the state of the economy if people think conning people is a honest day’s work.

  9. Aulelia,

    I was just watching a documentary (on PBS) where a Vietnamese girl was was visiting the U.S. and a U.S. born Vietnamese guy asked her how he would be treated in Vietnam and she said he would probably be charged more for things than native born Vietnamese. She said the reason was that the perception by Vietnamese people was that Western born Vietnamese had more money.

    So maybe that was the case with you? Maybe they thought because you have a British accent that you can afford to pay more?

    Anyway I know that was frustrating.

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