Culture Shock Series is a series of genuine, often amusing, short videos exploring the culture of the country we’re currently visiting, from the mouth of the people who experience it daily.
The way these videos were put together is by asking people to define or explain the topic at hand, unprompted.
In this case it’s the Dominican Republic and we’re talking about the “Sanki Panki”
We hope for these videos to generate a conversation, as many of the culture shock topics are, by definition, touchy subjects with complicated backgrounds.
Please join into the conversation.
For our very first episode in the series, we’re tackling the Dominican Legend that is the Sanky Panky.
*Please note that not all views expressed in these videos are shared by us, the writers of WTaB. Rather they are intended as a peek into the actual culture and multitudes of views expressed by locals and expats alike. We tried to get as broad a spectrum of answers as possible, and included any and all answers (at least those that weren’t mumbled) We hope these videos will be amusing to our viewers, but also a reflection of the culture for those who create it*
**UPDATE** PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS VIDEO IS SUBTITLED IN ENGLISH AND SPANISH, CLICK THE CC (CLOSED CAPTIONING) AND CHOOSE YOUR LANGUAGE.
We had initially wanted to leave our personal opinions out of the mix until the end of the series, where we were going to then give our take on each topic, allowing the public to have a conversation without our bias. However, this video has spurred a lot of controversy and offense in our local community, so we’re changing strategy. Instead of waiting, we’re going to give our two cents at the end of each blog post. We’d still like for you to watch the video before reading this, but do as you will.
What do we think a Sanky Panky is?
Well, we’re not sure what the exact definition of a Sanky Panky is. It seems to have evolved over the years as is mentioned by a local in the video who speaks about her brothers. However, we find the word has taken on a more and more derogatory connotation as the years go by.
As tourism started to hit the Dominican Republic, the economic ideal started to change. Being surrounded by tourists who spend a lot of cash all day long, and partied just as much, inevitably changed the view locals had of themselves, where they stood, and what they strived for. Parts of the community began to strive for what the tourist had, or what he thought the tourist had. Being of a different economic background meant that, by definition, if the tourist (no matter the sex) wanted to spend time with the local, he/she was going to have to pay for entertainment out of his/her pocket. While these relationships were at first much more pure in nature and based on an actual interest to spend time with those of different cultures, this also eventually led some locals to see another benefit from spending time with tourists, one that was not directly related to their job, but still for monetary gain, or at least related to the ability to live beyond their normal means while hanging out with tourists.
As tourism started to hit the Dominican Republic, in the water-sport towns especially, those locals who initially had found a job as a sports instructor started being lured by the extra-curricular benefits that surrounded their work. (however, this phenomenon is not exclusive of water-sport instructors) Their bodies, exotic and cut by their physical activities were to inevitably be seen as attractive to at least a portion of female tourists on vacation and looking for a good time. Those locals seeking (equally as exotic) romance found themselves in the bedrooms of foreigners; tourists whom, by definition, were not here to stay. Short term relationships, yes, sometimes while holding a long-term relationship with their local partner.
Where sex and money meet, the lines of prostitution become blurred, and today, the tourist areas of the Dominican Republic do have selections of young men who spend time with foreigners either for money, for sex, or for both.
Some guys on the beach who kite, windsurf, or surf, do just that. And because they’re surrounded by tourists all day, they find it easier to continue hanging out with tourists off the beach, that’s who they best relate to. They have no ulterior motives. This is potentially what a Sanky Panky was originally, but today, when one uses the term, it is generally in a more derogatory sense, implying that the local male has ulterior motives beyond a naive interest in a foreign cultural exchange and friendship.
As they say, a few rotten apples spoil the bunch and it has become more and more difficult for locals of genuine motives to evade the Sanky label.
Intersectionality complicates things even more. While female prostitution is usually just as rampant in areas where affluent tourists frequent less affluent countries, those females are often viewed as desperate, assumed to have no other option, and in need of social and financial help. The Sanky Panky, however, is seen as a predator, despite his often equal position as his female counterpart. This could partially be due to the fact that this form of male prostitution is less clear cut. The line is not drawn in stone. When one hires an escort or a prostitute, the arrangement is clear. However, when one engages in a relationship with a male whom might or might not be after her money, things are not as clear. A sex worker is a sex worker. A Sanky Panky could be something else.
In fact, sometimes the relationships between locals and foreigners work, and last. Sometimes the local is taken back to the tourist’s home country. Adding a new motive to the equation. The Visa.
The international sociocultural factors that lead to Dominicans wanting to leave their country for “a better life” are too complicated for the scope of this post. Long story short, some Sankies are in it for the ticket out. Some win, building a better life in another country with someone whom they truly love, with enough left over at the end of the month to send home to their family back home. But… sometimes the grass seems greener on the other side, and the local finds himself in a foreign country, one that is often much colder than he had imagined was possible, forced to quickly adapt to conditions which are difficult, a way of life that is very different, and at times subject to a racism and segregation he’d never experienced before. Those most unlucky find themselves there with a woman they never loved to begin with.
It takes two to tango, though, as I’m sure you know. The locals dubbed “Sankies” can be judged to the haters’ hearts’ content, but their female tourist benefactors are equally to blame for this social phenomenon. Some do it because they don’t know what a Sanky is, naive youngsters on their first holiday, whom can leave with a very bitter taste in their mouth if they feel they’ve been taken for a ride. Some do it because their financial power makes up for some other ‘weakness’ which allows them to ‘land’ a guy who is ‘out of their league’ back home, sometimes just for the vacation, sometimes in hopes of seducing them into eternal love. Some do it knowing full well it’s prostitution, just like their male counterparts, changing partners as they will. Some do it because they’re actually in love, genuinely, reciprocated love. I should know, some would argue I married a Sanky.
The notion isn’t unique to the Dominican Republic. I encountered the same thing while visiting Central America, and indeed, as mentioned above, any ‘poor’ country frequented by a more affluent tourism would fall victim to similar, if not identical, issues. (In fact, what I witnessed in Central America usually had a more tragic ending, but that’s not for today)
What makes the Sanky Panky unique to the Dominican Republic is that the phenomenon has been named, and even made it so far into pop-culture to be eternalized in the form of not one, but two, full length motion features.
One thing is for sure, Sankies only exist in tourist areas. The further inland you go, the less likely you are to find someone who has heard of the term.
As a general rule, the deeper into tourist country one ventures, the more likely it is to encounter a Sanky Panky, from any part of the spectrum of the definition of the word. The further from organized tourism one ventures on the island, the more likely it is to have real, genuine relationships with a kind, open-hearted people interested in sharing their country with new folk. (and sometimes their food and their houses too) As tourists, it’s our responsibility to not abuse that kindness by encouraging, or engaging in, behaviors that promote the Sanky Panky phenomenon.
We can do this by being aware that our very presence is a shock which changes the community we visit, by being responsible with the relationships which we choose to foster, and by being careful and thoughtful in the way with which we use our pocketbooks.