Having worked with foreigners for a number of years has often put me in situations where I have to explain the nuances of the Filipino culture. There were one or two instances when I felt that the comments on the Filipino way of doing things were somewhat harsh. Filipinos may be hospitable, polite and accommodating. But it is not at all acceptable when some observers are too quick to judge our culture.
We had a visiting professor from Central Europe who lived in an upper class subdivision in Metro Manila. One night, his neighbor had a party that annoyed him no end because of the noise that it created.
The next day, he came to our class and demanded that we explain to him why this kind of thing is allowed to happen in this country. Where he came from, noisy neighbors could be reported to the police. And the police authorities have the power to stop them.
When it was my turn to give an explanation (He asked each of his students.), I said that in my experience, it is part of the Filipino value of pakikisama or trying to get along with the neighbors. Whenever someone in the neighborhood throws a party which has a potential to disrupt the peace and quiet in the neighborhood, the neighbor may attempt to warn the homes that might be inconvenienced by this activity. Even without the warning, though, the next-door neighbors will try to understand that parties will not be held everyday and that a little disruption once in a while is acceptable.
After all, we all have to hold parties at some point, and we, too, would want to have this kind of consideration from our neighbors, when it is our turn to have a party.
I do not recall if the professor accepted our explanations but after some time, the discussion moved on to other things.
Anyway, that Westerner stayed in the Philippines long enough to get well acquainted with the Philippine culture. All I remember is that he complained about everything in the Philippines at the start.
When time came for him to leave some years later, he had a hard time parting with our beloved country.
This one really riled me up. Another visitor from Europe who has been here for only a short time and who probably did not read up on the Philippine culture was joining us for dinner one time.
He made this declaration: “You know, I can’t understand why Filipinos have a hard time deciding on things, on anything at all.”
I asked, “Could you be more specific?,” flashing my Philippine Airlines smile to hide my annoyance.
He said, “When I ask a Filipino, where do we eat, what movie do you want to watch, what do we do after dinner, they simply throw back the question at me. Filipinos say, “It is up to you. What would you like?” “Can’t Filipinos make up their minds?”
Upon hearing that, I felt my face turning red from irritation. But, I attempted to politely tell him that that is part of having good manners in the Philippine culture or kagandahang asal. In this part of the world, we put a lot of value on interpersonal relationships.
Personal preferences may be put aside for the sake of harmonious relationships. We do not want to create the impression that we impose our will on other people because this smacks of ill-breeding or improper conduct.
It is very insensitve and unfair when people come to the Philippines and judge our culture by the criteria that they use in their homeland.
It is only when the visitor comes to our shores with an open mind do they begin to allow themselves the opportunity of enjoying the experience to the fullest.
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