I started writing this post…oh…back in March, and it’s since been wallowing in a sad sub-existence in my drafts folder.
(Hence the random nature of my article themes. This challenge is basically 12 months of thoughts crammed into 30 days).
Anyway, in Feb/March I spent 4 weeks in the Philippines with Rotary International on their ‘Group Vocational Exchange’ program. I had never experienced a culture like it before. If you’re thinking of going and want to fit in with the locals, here are my recommendations.
How to be Filipino
1. Plan your day around meal times
“Filipinos love to eat” is an understatement. They live to eat.
You know how we (Australians) will often “catch up for a coffee” or have business meetings “over coffee”? In the Philippines, business meetings are always done “over lunch”.
And they’ll bring out food even when it’s not lunchtime.
I remember, on a visit to the Chief of Police, we were chatting away when they brought out coffee and an array of local cakes. Then they brought out a prawn salad. Then they started ladling out bowlfuls of pad thai noodles.
It was 10.30am.
When I remarked about the amount of food, the Chief of Police smiled and said: “This is morning tea.”
2. Spend half your day in traffic
I’ve never witnessed traffic as bad as in Manila. It takes at least an hour to get anywhere, even if you’re only going around the corner.
Unfortunately, they don’t have a very effective rail system for public transport, which means the streets are packed with cars, motorbikes, jeepneys (the most common form of PT) and buses.
One of the Rotarians, a real estate agent, told me he can only plan for one appointment a day because of the traffic. He said that if he has a meeting in the morning (over an early lunch, of course), he physically can’t make it across town for a meeting in the afternoon.
I wondered how the locals managed to be productive.
Turns out, a lot of business owners have drivers to take them to and from meetings. And while they’re in the car, they work.
I had to adopt the ‘car as second office’ mentality too. When we were picked up from our host homes and taken to our various meetings/activities, I learned to bring my laptop to write and prepare for my presentations on the go. I even recorded a podcast episode during one drive home!
3. Aim to please
All the Filipinos we met were incredibly hospitable. At first I thought it was a Rotary thing, but then I was told no, it’s a Filipino thing.
We were completely spoilt for the 4 weeks. We were housed, fed, taken to restaurants, shows, tours etc. And everyone was so willing to help. Any time we had a concern or a question, they were happy and willing to listen.
I also felt incredibly special every time I spoke at a university. I was often met at the schools with commercially-printed banners saying “Welcome Christina Canters – The C Method!”
One school even prepared a traditional dance for me – I was so touched, I actually welled up (and believe me, I do not cry easily!)
4. Get a videoke set for your house
One thing I share with Filipinos is a love of singing.
After I gave a presentation on entrepreneurship and communication to a group of 500 graduating business students, one girl stood up and said “Miss Christina, you write in your bio that you like to sing. Can you sing us a song?”
All the students began cheering in unison. I couldn’t believe it. Where else would you get asked to sing in a lecture??
(For the record, yes, I did sing…and I ended up singing in most of my following presentations. Somehow, I don’t think it will have the same impact here in Australia…)
Anyway, videoke is an extremely popular pastime in the Philippines, whether it’s out at a bar or in your house with friends. They even busted out the karaoke at Rotary meetings and the Rotary conference. Can you imagine that happening here?? Not on your life!
5. Carry toilet paper with you at all times
I had a newfound appreciation for toilet paper when I came home. Do not take it for granted, people!! In the Philippines it is very rare for any establishment to provide toilet paper – even if it’s a nice restaurant.
6. Take copious amounts of photos
Oh my goodness, the photos. Click, click, click, selfie, selfie, selfie, pose, pose, pose, smile, smile, SMILE!!
It was ongoing and constant. I’ve never seen people take so many photos in my life!
But hey, it meant I didn’t have to post anything to Facebook…it was all done for me :)
7. Develop a mega sweet tooth
Filipinos LOVE their desserts. We were very fortunate to be able to try many of the local delicacies, including cassava cake, sponge cake, little coconut things and fried banana (my favourite).
But if you don’t like sugar in your drinks, beware. The coffee is served very sweet, and if you get a fresh fruit smoothie or juice, they usually add half a cup (yes, that’s correct) of sugar syrup to the mix.
Can can order smoothies with “no sugar”, but be prepared to receive some strange looks.
8. Outsource your chores
Not only is the Philippines a great place to outsource your business admin to, the locals also outsource their housework.
All the families I stayed with had help with laundry, cooking and cleaning. Oh, how I would love to do the same! (All I have to do is make a bunch more money or move to the Philippines…I wonder which is easier?)
9. Don’t wear your ‘outside shoes’ inside
It’s common in Asian cultures to have a weird phobia of dirty feet. If you have Asian friends, you may notice they always have a little shoe rack next to the front door, where you place your outside shoes and switch them for flip flops or slippers.
It’s the same in the Philippines. I remember taking my shoes off at the front door of my host home and walking barefoot to my room. My host mum gasped and ran over to me, clutching a pair of slippers. “Here, wear these!” she said. “Oh, I’m fine, I don’t need slippers,” I replied. “No, the floor is dusty!” She insisted, “You must wear these!”
So if you want to be a great guest, always be aware of the appropriate footwear for wearing in one’s house :)
10. Show respect to your elders
In Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, they say ‘po’ at the end of a sentence or phrase to show respect.
For example, you’d say “Magandang gabi” (which means “good evening”) to a friend, but you’d say “Magandang gabi po” to an elder or to anyone whom you’d like to show respect. And I noticed the students would use “po” with me, even in English. They’d say: “Thank you po!” and “You’re welcome po!” which I thought was lovely.
I was asked what the English equivalent of “po” is, and the best I could think of was: we just pronounce our words properly! Would you agree?? For example, if we’re in a formal situation or need to show respect, we say “yes” and “no” instead of “yeah” or “nah” or even “aww…yeaaahhh…naaahhh”.
And even then…
Anyway, I wish we did have a “po” equivalent. Someone’s gotta teach them kids some respect…