I’m used to a very different type of person in the United States than what I experienced in the Philippines when I visit in October 2015. Growing up and living entirely in the Northeast, each day of my life I encounter someone who gives me the middle finger. It’s just the way things are here. We’re angry because of the four times a year the weather changes. We’re also not too keen on how many people there are around us at any given time.
The Northeastern United States is a miserable place in spite of all of the money we have. Yet in the Philippines where the average person doesn’t have nearly as much as a lower-class person here does, everyone is so damn polite.
Customer service is seen in the United States as a job nobody wants to take on. I don’t get angry when jobs are sent overseas because of how unwilling Americans are to take these gigs. I work in a customer service field and I’ll tell you, I’m completely not prepared. Something about the American society tells us that we’re too good to work to provide customer service for others because it’s borderline slavery or at best a poor butler relationship. It’s completely untrue and even in knowing so we look down on those occupations because at a young age we’re expected to do a lot more than help others…as silly as it sounds.
In the Philippines, everyone seems to take pride in their work. It’s rather impressive even if at times you know they’re faking it. At the grocery store every girl working at the check-out counter was uniformed in their looks and movements. It was almost freaky in a way and reminded me of some dystopian future. The downside to this was the lack of personality from everyone as they practically felt robotic with their words. Surely they curse when they stub their toes. I have no doubt they had an insulting remark on the tip of their tongue quite often.
This was beyond the grocery store too. Every place I went the workers were attentive. It’s not just because they thought I was a wealthy white man either, which they did. They were doing it because their jobs meant something to them.
The closest to someone insulting me in the Philippines, other than Jenny, was at the airport when I first arrived. Looking for the airline where I was set to transfer, in a scramble where I wasn’t sure I’d make it 45 minutes ahead of time, a group of security guards laughed at me as I passed them for the third time oblivious to the direction I should head in. It’s hard to tell you how old they were. Dressed in nice clothing with large guns, their leader’s braces threw me off as he had the face of a child yet the responsibility of a man hired to kill on demand. It was clear to them I was a lost American. Rather than kindly point me in the direction I needed to go they decided to tease me a bit.
One of them, the guy with the braces, called me over and asked where I was trying to get to. I told him the airline’s name. He told me I could pass, but not until after asking me if I could speak Tagalog.
“I know a few words,” I said before proceeding to impress them with the small handful of phrases I do know like “mahal kita sobra” which means I love you very much and “pass me the halo-halo” which means pass me the halo-halo.
Braces boy told me I’d need to learn how to talk to girls if I was going to survive in the Philippines. Little did he know I was hours away from proposing to my girlfriend. In a strange country where the only thing I knew how to do was tell someone I loved them very much or order a dessert, I couldn’t outright show him my East Coast personality and drop an F-Bomb. He had a gun, remember?
The security guards laughed at me and my lack of studying the language. They gave me the word for beautiful, maganda.
Of course, unfamiliar with the language, I thought they said Manananggal. These two have a far different meaning. And when they ordered me to tell a group of female flight attendants that they were maganda, I thought they meant something completely different.
If I remember the story correctly, as told by Jenny, a Manananggal is a mythological monster famous in the Philippines. She splits in half and flies through the air to eat children. The only way to kill her is to find her lower half, which stays at home like a slacker, and pour salt inside of it. Basically, a Manananggal is an older woman who needs to watch her sodium intake with the added eating children problem.
No clue as to what the word even was for beautiful or the gross salt monster as I refer to it as whenever asking Jenny for the spelling, I mumbled something with a hard M at the front to appease the security guards. I did mention they had guns, right?
Everyone else in the Philippines was a lot nicer than this crew. The ticket counter people at the airport were more than helpful as was every single person I frantically asked directions from. Even the grumpy guy at the airport who gave me very little information as to when the next bus was to take me to my terminal was apologetic when the bus arrived 30 minutes late.
Unlike the reputation Los Angeles has from those living in the Northeastern United States, the Filipinos aren’t known as phonies. There’s a genuine politeness to them. It’s hard to really indicate as to why they are being truthful and everyone in Hollywood isn’t other than stereotyping. I think a lot of it has to do with Filipinos growing up with less and being grateful for what they do have. They’re not as fame hungry as everyone in the United States is. To them, fame and success is further out of reach. It’s a big reason why they love their stars. Filipinos actually appreciate the small things in life.