On South African expats and the crab mentality

Crab mentality

What I’ve learned in my (short) time spent working on yachts and living abroad is that there is no nation more competitive and demeaning of each other than us South Africans. We arrive overseas – broke, shaky and bright-eyed – and after some experience, confidence and a few Euros in our pockets, we turn into arrogant, nasty dick heads who put-down our own people to make ourselves look good. It doesn’t take long before, in our eyes, we’re God’s gift to international shores, sitting on our passports and embarrassed about being anything ‘like the others’.

Psychologists call it ‘crabs in the bucket’ syndrome or ‘crab mentality’

And while we’re on the topic, don’t mind me throwing around a few important-sounding psychological terms that make me seem more clever than I actually am: psychologists call it ‘crabs in the bucket’ syndrome or ‘crab mentality’.

Stay with me on this one: remember filling a bucket with crabs when you were a lil’ un’ playing in the beach sand? Do you recall how the crabs, in their stupidity, would pull and tug at one another when one of their buddies tried to climb out? Soon, they’re all stuck there, in that bucket, without realising that they could all have escaped if they’d just pulled on their buddy who had his claw over the bucket’s edge.

It’s a competitive approach that gets no one, anywhere.

Entitlement: South Africans feel entitled to the riches of yachting, without helping their fellow countrymen get there too
Entitlement: South Africans feel entitled to the riches of yachting, without helping their fellow countrymen get there too

A few weeks back, I met a South African ‘power couple’ (puke) at the Monaco Yacht Show. Both had a few years’ experience under their belts, him as chief mate and her as chief stew. We were at a table of yachties, non-yachties, Europeans and South Africans when the guy took the chance to lurch full-throttle into an anti-South African rant, “Little pricks coming over here on daddy’s money, ruining our reputation, blah, blah, blah.”

And it’s a contagious thing this ‘crab mentality’; soon I was in full flow on the topic: “Yeah, they’re little brats making it hard for the rest of us.” (Talking as if I really gave a shit about ‘being a somebody’ in the industry).

And as the G&Ts started to go down the trap, the conversation got more vicious and less constructive. Other nations joined in on the vicarious bullying of South Africans, “My captain refuses to hire them because they’re idiots, always arriving with hangovers, clock-watching and doing a crap job.”

I woke up the next morning with my head hanging – in more ways than one.

“Little pricks coming over here on daddy’s money, ruining our reputation, blah, blah, blah.”

We forget that we were there too (once). And yes, now that I’m snug in my new title as captain’s girlfriend who lives in Monaco and has dusted her hands of, erm, dusting and cleaning toilets, it’s easier to take the ‘holier than thou’ approach. But why should I forget that once-upon-a-time, I too was a first year yachtie who had no clue, messed up and eventually found my way? I came over for a gap year, I loved it, I fell in love, and I stayed. I still go streaking at the ‘toilet bowl’ in Antibes for old times’ sake – just to remember my yachting roots and not to feel bad about being a South African who’s still having fun.

The reality, of course, is that there are South Africans who come for the ride with a chip on their shoulder. I, for one, have spoken quite openly about weeding these people out of the game from the start and setting realistic expectations for newbies to the industry (see reading list). But this applies to all nations: not just South Africans.

The realities: South Africans need to prepare one another
The realities: South Africans need to prepare one another

When I look at how Swedes look after one another in the industry, I feel a little sadness in my heart that South Africans aren’t capable of the same thing. I look at how Swedes help one another with working visas, opening bank accounts, looking for places to live and then I look at how it feels natural, almost inherent, for me to shut off and turn my back on people from home.

I suppose it takes a little reflection to realise we’re in it together and we’re only as strong as our weakest link. Yes, call the jokers out on their nonsense but also remember that without the help of others, you’re a small, nasty crab in a big, scary bucket.

For similar posts, read:

The South African Dream: Yachts, Failure and Attitude

On hen-pecked twenty-somethings and how yachting will make a meal of you

Imagery credits (crab cartoon): Visit Genius Coaching
All other images are the author’s own