5. Electricity in the Philippines is one of the most expensive in the world
Trivial? I think not. For a country that is generally viewed by foreigners as a “cheap” place to live in, electricity can bring that sweet-sounding bargain to a bitter end. Wanton and irresponsible use of electric items on a daily basis can easily compete with rent prices. Actually, I’m referring mostly to the use of air-conditioning, which may be a non-negotiable for non-equator-dwelling folk who are unused to braving the heat in nothing but one’s boxers. With summer temperatures reaching 35°C coupled with the infamous, sticky, oily, heavy humidity, it can be a sure deal-breaker for some. Even worse, electricity rates per KWh tend to soar during this season. Main energy sources depend on natural resources such as gas, coal, etc, which are heavily dependent on international market prices. Yikes! Better find a way to get through the day without paying as much as your “cheap” rent just for the luxury of air-conditioning! Just remember that if you plan on getting your own apartment especially in Manila, where the lack of greenery will be sure to haunt you and your sweat glands. Best of luck trying to keep that bill down!
Dear foreigner, bear that in mind next time you stay at a host/foster home in Manila and you blast up the air-conditioning like you’re trying to make it snow in there, and your host is just too shy to tell you to turn the darn thing off sometimes. Remember that the average Filipino family isn’t even rich enough to own one (some parts of the 7,000+ Philippine islands don’t even have electricity yet), and in a house where there is only one, the Filipino in them would most likely let you have that room. Proceed with caution and great tact in divulging your air-conditioning privileges.
Which brings me to my next point,
4. Yes is no and no is yes
That may seem counter-intuitive to the goal of communication, and it might frustrate you if you stay in the Philippines for a while. But it could prove to be a fun game, trying to guess what Juan really means when he says ‘yes’ to your question of whether he would really be up for accompanying you to another night of bar-hopping when he has work early the next morning.
Dear foreigner, be sensitive, and encourage a light-hearted honesty if you can. Looking good in front of neighbors, guests, up to twice-removed relatives is a default disposition here, which has led to some severe foreigner-pleasing tendencies in the Filipino psyche.
3. Crab Mentality for both the good and the bad
One thing to keep in mind when talking with most Filipinos about the Philippines, is that we will readily admit the cancers of Filipino society, and then just as readily speak of Manny Pacquiao’s achievements as if we were personal friends, or that we had grave personal contributions to his success.
Any single person in the world that has achieved some form of international recognition, who has even just a drop of Filipino blood (never mind that they’ve never set foot on Filipino soil, that they don’t speak a word of any Filipino dialect, that they might not even know where Manila is), will pepper the daily news, as if ‘claiming’ these people is an essential part of the common Filipino’s self-worth. Every single time.
Also, notice that for every outlined problem, the conclusion will almost always exclusively be “government corruption”. Now that may not be a problem on the surface, but repeated daily, for generations upon generations, it made the Filipino psyche lax and passive in claiming personal responsibility for his own country’s state, because, yeah, it was easier to just point fingers, and it was also easy to believe that a common man could not do anything against the Powers That Be. This has given birth to a culture of turning a blind eye on the fact that common men put together can be stronger than a system, for the system cannot even exist without them. That’s funny because we were the first Asian nation to have ever deposed a dictator with a revolution, not even 30 years ago, and again a decade after, and then again.
Dear foreigner, take hastily-made valuation comments with a grain of salt, and keep an open mind if you can. If you think this extreme love-hate relationship with one’s own country is bizarre, remember that climbing up the societal ladder is a built-in goal to the Filipino psyche. Don’t be so easy to dismiss the effects of having faced centuries of multiple oppression in the past by “superior races”. What can easily raise one’s reputation is embraced, and any that might bring it down is hastily shunned. Which also brings me to my next point, which is:
2. Slave-culture is still alive a.k.a The Filipino Inferiority Complex
Having endured feudal oppression by the Spanish, economic inferiority to the Chinese, military oppression by the Japanese, and more recently, pop-culture oppression by Koreans (and anything western, really), it’s no wonder that alipores (derogatory word for menial workers) culture is still alive. Rich families have hordes of helpers, drivers, gardeners, nannies, and people to wipe one’s ass, and the weird thing is that average families may have just as much. No one cleans after themselves in fastfood chains, just check out McDonald’s and Jollibee–in case no workers are available to clean up after you, heck, don’t be surprised to see the security guard clearing up tables and opening doors and greeting you a ‘good morning’ all at once. When asked why customers behave so, a most common reply would be, “Let them do it; it’s their job. It’s what they’re paid for,” which, if you think about it, is total bullshit as many of these workers don’t even receive the legal minimum wage of 420 Pesos.
This type of service-orientation has become a no-brainer in this culture, which is why I suspect Filipino workers are valued abroad for the service-industry. It might have to do with the famed Filipino hospitality, but I’m more inclined to believe that the latter is the result of years and years of expecting to put oneself on a (lower) pedestal for a person perceived to be from a socially-elevated-class than oneself, which has ridiculously come to mean ‘anybody who can pay’, which in turn, leads to the naive and hasty assumption that that also means ‘anybody who is foreign’.
Take the Filipino term ‘matapobre’, which refers to a person, usually one hailing from a rich family, who has a heavy disdain for poor people and anything related to poverty. An elitist, so to speak, socio-economically. It is an adapted compound of the Spanish words for “kill” and “poor”, so imagine the hatred, the violence? Kill the poor? Who says that? Except, I dunno, the leftovers of feudal elitists? The same goes for being “fashionably late”. Only elite people get to be late, so naturally, everyone is thirty minutes late for an 8PM dinner party.
Dear foreigner, I hope you will remember yourselves when faced with such lavish service. While many of you can surely afford it, these people are humans just the same as you, and perhaps the system needs a foreigner such as yourself (who Filipinos often have a giddy automatic respect for) to show them that some manner of self-respect and dignity by picking up after oneself is more admirable than having a trail of ‘slaves’ at their disposal. For those humble solo-travelers, mostly the students, don’t be daunted by the “white tax”, or that expectation that you are rich enough to be ripped-off. One, you probably really are richer than them if you could cross the globe to come here, and two, sensible and patient haggling can always do the trick anyway. Keep relations good and equal with Filipinos, and you will be met with the same respect, plus lifting their poor racial self-esteem up a bit.
1. The Philippines is in transition and so are our brains
Most of the outlined points have held true since time immemorial. But with the advent of globalization via media, the internet, maybe even education, and just generally, the changing times, things are slowly changing in this country. Just like anywhere in the world, the younger generations are less in danger of falling into such culture faux pas and are more willing to keep an open mind.
The economy has vastly improved over the last few years, too. The buildings and downtown areas you see now were not there only a few years ago. The seemingly average, or even well-to-do Filipino you meet might not have always been so in the past. The shadow of the picture that “anything and anyone foreign is richer and better than me and what we have here” is still looming in the back of this people’s minds, and most of the time it’s an automatic reflex more than a conscious stance.
Dear foreigner, be patient, be sensitive, give us time. Please don’t be so easy to dismiss the better parts of the culture, such as the propensity to laughter and smiles. Most foreigners I’ve come across (from various parts of the world, too) never fail to notice this, once they’ve spent enough time here. Knowing what I’ve just told you, the challenge for you, whether you are a tourist, a student, an expat, or a volunteer, is to pay it forward–respect, kindness, laughter, and open-mindedness–and who’s going to be terribly surprised if you learn that we’re all the same after all?