“How you look at it is pretty much how you’ll see it”

June 15, 2013

Since I have been “sick as a DOG” as my Mom would say, and haven’t had time for a proper blog entry, here is a wee little snippet of cultural observations I have made while being here thus far:


Some cultural observances:

1) Filipinos don’t appear to drink a lot of coffee.  Since I take my coffee in a vat, this could be an issue.  In fact, many places only serve instant coffee.  I was told to take some brewable coffee to Calbayog with me, so I purchased a super cheap French press and some local coffee.  Every day at the conference, Chad and I were the only ones that would drink coffee.  Apparently, Americans are on over-caffeinated lot…by comparison, anyway. 


2) Americans are L-O-U-D.  Everywhere our group  went, I felt like we were yelling compared to everyone else.  This is something I often observe in other countries…and even in Hawai`i.  You can always pick out the Americans by their loud mouths.  I went to the bathroom in a restaurant and could pick out each of Chad, Mililani, and Shanda’s voices, but not anyone else’s.  This seriously made me giggle.  Why do we feel the need to yell at each other all of the time???  😛


3) Standing in line.  Filipinos are not really aggressive in any way, except for getting in line.  I constantly find myself doing it wrong.  In an effort to always be polite, when someone shoves in front of me, I just allow it, not knowing how to handle it.  Every time I attempt to get into line, somehow 10 people manage to cut in front of me.  I am doing it wrong, I tell ya.


4)  Food.  Dear GOD, the food!  I have never eaten so much.  And when we refuse, they insist!  Snacks, as mentioned already are a full plate of food: spaghetti, burger and fries, soup and bread…I don’t know how they do it and stay so teeny tiny!  This is actually difficult for me, losing the ability to control my meals…how they are prepared, what I eat, and when.  I have always been a picky eater, so this has been one of my biggest struggles.  I have only been here for 3 weeks and I am already dreaming of Indian food, pizza, and healthy veggies that I cannot get here.    


5) Covering the mouth.  I’m not sure what this one is about, and it appears to be mostly limited to just the women.  When they speak, they often put a hand in front of their mouth.  They do it when speaking English or otherwise, but I do notice it more when they are speaking in English.  This could be a sign of shyness or because they are worried about their English skills, but it can be sort of frustrating because it makes it harder to understand.  It makes them quiet and mumble-y and I have to ask them to repeat.  When they do it in Waray Waray, it’s especially frustrating, as I am desperately trying to learn.  I have not noticed men do this.


6) The staring.  I’ve mentioned it already, but it’s so intense it gets mentioned twice.  I don’t know if Filipinos consider staring rude, but I would guess not.  Americans are always taught not to stare, even if something is stare-worthy.  Filipinos seem to have no issue with it, as everywhere I go I am stared at like I am a walking Mona Lisa.  Other standards of “rude” are different, as well.  For example, they will often tell someone, ‘You look fat today.” Or blatantly ask your age, or why you don’t have children.  These things would be considered very rude and intrusive in America, as Americans so fiercely guard their privacy.  And also – the belching!!!  People (even women) let out HUGE, LOUD belches and don’t seem even slightly embarrassed.  They don’t say, “excuse me” and it makes me giggle like a 4 yr. old (I’m verrrry mature) every time someone does it, especially a woman.  Very interesting. 


7)  Filipinos hate rain.  It is the rainy season here, and it rains daily.  They take their umbrellas with them everywhere they go, and pop them up the second it starts to sprinkle like they are going to melt.  They find it so odd that I don’t do this.  I really don’t use an umbrella unless it is REALLY raining, but they pressure me into it, always saying, “It’s raining!  What are you doing?  You don’t want to get wet, do you?”  I can understand not wanting to get wet, but what entertains me more is their reaction to me.  


8)  Generous.  I am blown away by the giving spirit of people here.  I have been in some of the poorest homes I have ever seen…dirt floors, no plumbing or electricity, only mats to sleep on…but every time I am offered something, even if it’s just crackers and coke for merienda.  It’s quite astonishing and happens everywhere we go.


9)  I was told by many people that Filipinos are a happy bunch.  I don’t know why, but it always irritates me when Americans go abroad (like, to Africa, say) and come back saying, “They don’t have anything, they are the poorest people you will ever meet, but somehow they are still so happy.”  Bleh.  I think that is an ignorant outlook and many factors contribute to that mindset/observation, one being that Americans really need to justify poverty like that.  It is hard for us to see, so we pacify ourselves by focusing on how happy they still are.  Anyway, though Filipinos are a super fun lot, I don’t think it is really part of their culture to express negative emotion the way that we do.  For example, a woman was telling me a very sad story about losing her son, but she said it with a smile. 


10)  They praise my whiteness.  In a country chock-full of whitening creams and lotions, you realize immediately the pedestal in which they place whiteness.  I am not a troll, I realize, but I am told I am beautiful about 30 times a day.  Uhhh, I ain’t that pretty!  People stop me on the street to tell me, little girls pet my hair and call me Barbie, and the girls and women at the center tell me every time that I see them.  I am going to go back to Hawai`i wondering why everyone isn’t constantly praising me for my beauty!  😛  While it is flattering, it also saddens me, because it is strictly related to my whiteness.  I tried to tell a woman that works in the office with me how beautiful I think Filipina women are (and they really are!) and she scoffed at me, immediately saying, “We would all rather have your hair, eyes, and skin.  White women are the beautiful ones.”  I looked at 9 different stores in Manila for a simple lotion that did not contain a whitening formula before finding one.  I find this hugely depressing and sad.  Even today, as I lay in bed, deathly ill and looking like it.  All of the ladies in the center told me how beautiful I still am, even sick. 


11)  In relation to the above, I also think they give me too much authority (which I also think is based on my whiteness).  I have to be careful about how to express opinions because I feel they give what I think too much importance.  For example, my Practicum Instructor, who is a wonderfully sweet, funny, and smart lady and also in a high-ranked position at City Hall, told me that she would like me to observe her and her staff to see if they could be doing things better.  This threw me: I am supposed to be learning from her. I’ve even had people give up taxis or trikes for me, not knowing why initially, then realizing that (I think) it’s because of how I look.  This privilege is very, very odd and it makes me massively uncomfortable.  It’s also strange coming from Hawai`i, as my whiteness is almost a thing to sort of overcome, there. 

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