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Becoming One With Where You Live (part 1)

I have been living in the Philippines now 15 months and I hear comments about and from Foreigners living here. Today at the Palengke I thought about how we are looked at and felt by the local Filipinos.

Every Sunday morning we get up early and go to Agdao Public Market. There as at a lot of  open parking areas there is a “parking attendant.” At Agdao there is a man that will show you where to park, will watch so you do not bump the curb and helps you when you back out. For this, when we leave we give him 15 pesos (.30 USD).

Today I had to wait for a spot, so Elena got out and started her shopping. After about 10 minutes a car pulled out and after I parked I started looking for Elena. We have a routine so I just had to follow her path. I first went to the pork stall when Elena usually buys. The manager  Myrna saw me, smiled and pointed that Elena had moved on. I next went to the stall we buy our chicken. Again as I was noticed I got smiles and good mornings, we asked each other how we were and then they pointed in the direction Elena went. Then to the root vegetable section where again I was greeted with loud “Hello Sir, how are you today.” They then pointed to Elena’s path but then joked and called out “Sir, your wife is here.” When I returned wondering how I missed her they pointed to a girl at the stall across the way, which they always joke with about me. Finally I found Elena at the vegetable stand Elena get the rest. With her was our little friend BeBe.



Bebe is a 12 year girl that will find us to help us carry our bags. She is a cute girl with a sweet smile. During the week she goes to school, but Sundays goes to the market to make a little money to help out her family. Then a few others we know came over to share the burden. Today we had Bebe, JoyJoy, Roxanne and a little boy that I did not get his name. We were like a parade as we moved around the market to finish our shopping and would talk and joke with me while we waited for Elena to purchase something. Then off to the car to load the trunk. Bebe knows to put the fish and meats on the plastic and orders the other kids where to put their bags. For this Elena gives them each 10 pesos. Bebe carried so much, Elena gave her 20 pesos and the increased smile was so sweet.


Why this long story? I have learned to enjoy going to the market, and enjoy the recognition from the vendors as I feel the friendship. There have been times as we arrive to an area one of the stall workers would be eating and they always offer a plate of rice and whatever item they are having for breakfast. Also if I take my camera out, the vendors and their customers will move together, smile and ask their photo taken. I know some will say they are not “friends” but to me, someone who is nice I will use that word. Maybe they are contacts or acquaintances but I use friend.jack-fruit-girls

Some Foreigners complain about how they are treated by Filipinos. They complain how in many places foreigners are charged a higher price than locals, looked at like a stranger or even insulted. I have experienced some of these problems too, but I try not to dwell on them.
We need to realize there are many cultural differences, life differences and most of all, language differences. But if we walk around angry or better then the locals, we keep these feelings. For me, I enjoy meeting and greeting people in all walks of life. With this, in the mall or out somewhere, these people will see me and come over to say hello.

I hope someday to learn Bisaya and to have better conversations and get to know everyone better, but for now I enjoy the friendship they offer.

43 Responses to “Becoming One With Where You Live (part 1)”

  1. Anthony says:

    So true, also i wonder why most foreigners i come across at the various wet markets, malls etc, Half seem to avoid eye contact. I always, like you am friendly and forth coming to the foreighners and locals alike. I feel as a foreigner a responcibility to show that i am not the “rude American”. Many in the Talisay tell me thats what they like about me. We are in their country,their customs,food,etc. P.S. Tagalog then Bisayan a true challenge. I thought learning to hit a golf ball was tough enough.HaHaHa

    • Bruce says:

      As one foreigner has said over and over, a lot of men who were socially inept at home, come here to get a “fine” young lady. The problem once here they still do not know how to meet people and be sociable. So they walk the mall, avoid eye contact and if you say hi, they mumble hi and shuffle off. Someday I will try to play golf here, or some facsimile of the game. I went to a driving range once but need more time to find a swing. Maybe we can make fools of ourselves together.
      About the language, right now I am learning expressions. At home we joke “Elena, sus. Gin no o ko” or Sag pa cacarone” Ask your wife what they mean.

  2. Mindanao Bob says:

    Hi Bruce – I am glad to hear that you are starting to open up to the idea of learning the language! In my experience, learning the language will really open up the people to you to a huge extent, and make true friendships even better.

    Good luck!

    • Bruce says:

      I am not giving up the idea. I want to but first need to get used to how to prononuce letters and a few words. Bebe’s colum is helping too. Some time in the future I will take the plunge, now just wetting my toes.

  3. twopenneth says:

    Foreigners esp Americans are very lucky in the Philippines because more than the few indifferences some of you experience in my country, the Filipinos look up to the Americans/white people and are more open than any country in the world. Maybe it was the history of colonialization but it has proven to be an advantage rather than the opposite to foreigners visiting our country. And I am so glad that you are taking the initiative to immerse yourself in our culture. Filipinos appreciate that even better. Thank you for your respect.

    • Bruce says:

      Thank you for your appreciation. I try to be objective toward the Filipino. I have heard Filipinos would prefer taking a class from an American that a Filipino. They feel we are more knowledgable. But there are negative feelings about foreigners too because of all the occupation. Look at the Filipino First Law, the way a foreigner cannot own land, can only own and profit 40% of a corporation and other things I will not mention.

  4. Rochelle says:

    Hi! I had fun reading your post including the comments. I’m a Filipina from Davao. I’m glad to know how foreigners like you feel about us, our language,our culture. We are actually very hospitable but we’re normally not bold enough to make the first move when we meet visitors from other countries. The truth is, we like to be friends with you. It’s sad that you feel you get insulted by some locals sometimes. I guess they don’t mean it that way. Generally, we Filipinos are warm and friendly but a little too shy (some can’t even establish eye contact with you, right?) But when they get to be at ease with you, you’ll see what Filipino hospitality is. Enjoy your stay in the Philippines!

    • Bruce says:

      Thank you for reading my article and your comment. I agree, most Filipinos are very hospitable. I see this, no matter where I am, if I say hi to someone and they are eating, they offer some of their food. If you are at their house, no matter how meger their food supply, they offer to feed you.
      About the friendliness. Once you break the barrier and say something to them, they will talk to you and then appologize they have to go back to work.
      I am at Gaisano Mall often and since I am a smoker, I will spend time under Gerry’s Grill to have a cigarette. People sitting there or walking by will look and smile, but will not say hi. I am very approchable and will chat with anyone.
      P.S. it is not a stay here, Davao is now my home. If you see me, come over and say hi.

  5. The part about foreigners avoiding each other is a thing I have seen on most Philippine expats forums online. For example, there is a thread about it on the Dumaguete forum which I joined recently. There are many theories about why it is like this, but I have noticed it too during my now many travels around the Philippines. There can be a handful of reasons that causes this, but the one Bruce mentioned above, I have never heard before. That is what I like about you Bruce, you seem very straight forward and always speak out things openly as it is. That is usually the way to go.
    When travelling around Mindanao in December 2008-January 2009 I met quite a few expats married to pinays. Had many nice dinners with couples, which I enjoyed a lot. I am very interested in learning more about the country, so I enjoy it a lot to meet and talk to expats. I especially almost always feel that Americans is easy to get to know. Of course that is a big generalization, but during my 17 years of travelling the world, that is one thing I found.
    I think one of the more important part in this, is to be open oneself and try to be positive about meeting others in the same situation. Just to greet someone should be something most people can handle!
    I feel that here in Sweden where I live, the people can be very cold compared to the Philippines. Especially during winter:)

    • Bruce says:

      It is true, I say things like I see them. That has gotten me into trouble in my life, but one thing people will learn about me, I do not lie. My motto has been, if you do not want the answer, do not ask the question.
      There are many reasons why foreigners and locals are not friendly and open. It might be language, shyness, or just not interested to meet people. I try to be nice to everyone I meet.
      I hoped to find a couple to become closer friends with, share dinners and then play cards or something to bring the couples closer together, but that has not happened yet.

  6. It is really lovely when you get the feeling that you are getting along well with the locals. I find that an easy thing to do in Asia. I think foreigners here in my country dont have an easy time mingling with locals 🙂

    • Bruce says:

      We have not yet become closer friends with any Filipino couples, I think it is the natural shyness and the language. I think here as in Europe is the language.

  7. maria says:

    how about a picture of you and elena at the market?

  8. Jade says:

    Hi Bruce,

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I am a Filipina who’s married with a dutch man – we hope to live soon in the Palawan.

    What a great site you have, I enjoyed reading this post. You made me miss Philippines even more.

    “I have experienced some of these problems too, but I try not to dwell on them.” – I like what you said here, this is good. I used to visit expat forum but I have noticed that people there are always bitching about something. Nothing is ever good for them.

    Looking forward to reading more posts about your experience in the Philippines from you.

    • Bruce says:

      I have used Expat Blog to find other expat bloggers. It started as a marketing tool to get visitors, but only comment on blogs I feel I would return and read. I hate the 00:00 on site and 1 page view meaning that only do it for a credit.
      I am glad you enjoy my site and will continue to visit. Do not hessitate to comment and also you can ask for things you feel I can post about.

  9. johnray says:

    Bruce, I am glad you are very positive with your outlook here in the Philippines. I think the longer you stay the more you will enjoy it. As for the foreigners not owning land, this is because of our history. When the Spaniards colonized the Philippines, they issued these land titles to their citizens. What happened was, Filipinos where driven out of their own lands and became servants to these Spaniards. So if somebody tries to change that law…I think there will be mass chaos..hehehe..

    • Bruce says:

      John Ray,
      I hope to enjoy more since I see no reason to return to the US. I understand the land laws and the reasons, but with that and the 40% of corporations, the Philippines is losing out on alot of foreign investments and jobs for the Filipinos. Look how the economy of Viet Nam, China and Thailand is doing.

  10. LITO P. says:


    Hi Bruce, I admire your willingness to blend in with your new home and I hope you will succeed. Yes, Filipinos are very friendly and hospitable. We were taught in elementary school that we are one of the most hospitable people in the world. Many Filipinos, as hosts, would go into debt just to offer their best for their guests. Sad to say, I like the intention but not the means. Anyway, since you are learning Bisaya (Cebuano), I can tell you of a cebuano word (there is also a Tagalog equivalent) that has no equivalent in english, so far. I don’t know if you knew this already. The word is “ikapila”, and the Tagalog equivalent is “pang-ilan”. For example, I will ask you in Bisaya: “Ikapila nimo ni nga biyahe sa Davao? Then you would answer the number of times you traveled to davao like; “this is the third time” (assuming it is your third time). In English, these are the questions you use to get that “third time” answer. 1) Is this your first time to travel to Davao? Then you would answer, “No, this is the third time”. 2) How many times have you visited Davao? Then you would answer: “I’ve been there twice and this will be the third time? 3) So, what is this, your second time (2 questions involved) to travel to Davao? Then you would answer: “This is my third time”. This “ikapila” word can be used in asking one’s sibling position in a family. The car that you have now as to wether it is your fifth car or whatever, you can be asked: “Ikapila nimo na nga auto?”, and many more.

    By the way, Speaker Nograles is one of the advocates (if not the primary advocate) of the idea about allowing foreign investors to own land in the Philippines which I believe he is trying to accomplish by ammending the Phil. Constitution. I am not sure ,though, about the 60/40 thing.

    • Bruce says:

      I have heard how Filipinos will blow a whole weeks salary to host a dinner. This is also why some wait years to marry or months to baptise their child. Just to cover the cost of the party.
      Right now I am learing a few words and most are joking comments. On my monitor is (excuse spelling, I wrote it phonetically) Gin no O ko. I also know Sus, and Sag pa cacarone. hahaha
      I look foward to the Speakers work on this matter, but will the money people let it pass? The 60/40 thing is true, a corporation has to be 60% Filipino owned and 60% of the profits go to Filipino.

  11. LITO P. says:


    The thing that I wanted to suggest regarding the wedding requirements in the Philippines is this. First, we know that the requirements are; first of course, you need to secure that certification from the States that you are legally capable to marry. Then there is the one day family seminar with your fiance(e) by a marriage counselor appointed by the local government. After the seminar (with your certificate), only then can you apply for a marriage license at the city hall with your fiance(e). Then you will wait for 10 days at least, because they will post it at the city hall for public to know that you are getting married and to make sure that you were not married before and nobody (strange spouse) is looking for you.:) Then, once you get your license that’s the only time you can make definite plans for your wedding. I mean, it is nice that the government is doing everything it can to make the marriage strong and uphold it’s dignity. But, I think, they promulgated these guidelines without considering that a lot of Filipinas are marrying foreigners. Think about this, I don’t know about other countries, but here, most working Americans, can only secure a leave of absence from work for 2 weeks (you know that). If he has those 2 weeks to process everything by law, they can be married in the Philippines the fastest on the 10th day and have 3 to 4 days of honeymoon, which is sad. So, what normally happens is that they file for a fiance(e) visa for the filipina(o)s and have their wedding abroad. Imagine if they can make the arrangement easy for foreigners to marry their Filipina(o) sweethearts in the Philippines. Because, they cannot stop that tide, they might as well get the best out of it. What I am talking is like this, a foreigner goes to the Philippines to marry his/her sweetheart there so, he/she might take with him/her family and friends to attend the wedding. That means a huge increase of air travel to the Philippines, hotel occupancy, restaurants, etc.. In general, increase in business activities in the Philippines not to mention the additional flow of dollars and the exposure of the Philippines to more tourists. In general, it is a potential for a huge growth in tourism. The US immigration law (if the law has not changed) has made it easy (shorter wait time) for spouse visa applicant to go to the US. It used to be at least 18 months but now it can be done in 6 months or maybe even less. My point here is they should waive some of the requirements to make it simple like: maybe, just have the Filipina(o) attend the seminar for the two of them and allow the application of marriage license prior to the arrival of the foreign fiance(e) so that things can be scheduled that a wedding can take place as soon as 2 days after the fiance(e)’s arrival. These things I believe don’t need for the constitution to be changed, just the guidelines. I know that I cannot solve the economic problems of the Philippines but at least, I want it to improve, because first of all my families and friends are there too. And, it does not need to be me to write to Cong. Nograles about this if the idea is viable, anybody can. It can be you Bruce. I am sure he will listen to you.

    • Bruce says:

      Well, now I do not need an article, you told it all. 🙂
      I know what you mean about the time constraints, that was my problem too, only 2 weeks vacation and when I visited Chrsitmas time, the govt. office close for the holiday season.
      The 10 days reminds me of the Roman Catholic “Bans” and posting of the upcomming marraige. I did hear of a man who’s fiancee had connections in the courthouse and had a judge issue some kind of “heartship” decree so they could marry in 2 days. As they say here, “all laws are negotiable”
      I try not to get into political business. I do not want to insult anyone in power, or anyone else for that matter here. Remember, even with my 13a residency, I am here with the permission of the Republic of the Philippines and they can take it away if they so chose.

  12. ceblogger says:

    our family once hosted an american from Minnesota and he lived with us for a year. He was not used to the attention given him but he tried to blend. That was more than twenty years ago, and he’s now back in his homeland. He said he cherished very much the experience. One thing he disliked about marrying a filipina then, is that, he was like marrying the whole family. We told him that it’s not always the case, but it’s just part of the culture.

    He eventually married a korean living in the US.

    • Bruce says:

      I know the feeling. I have 3 nieces in nursing school living with us and any time the family is in town, they sleep here. Elena has informed them I am not a “Rich Foreigner” and cannot support them.
      For me, I am also lucky. With many foreigners supporting their wives family, I get support from the brothers of the nieces. They also refer to me as their dad.

  13. johnray says:


    Yes but no matter how good your reasoning will be the mass will be your enemy if one tries to change that law… for now..we can only blog about it..hopefully they will change their minds.

  14. Hi Bruce
    Everything in this post is my reason for moving to the Philippines. I think you can guage how well foreigners are treated in a country by how many expats live in that country. The Philippines has to be the leader!

  15. I have been travelling to all countries in south east Asia (except east Timor and Brunei) and also to a few in south Asia (India and Sri Lanka) during 18 years. There is only one country in which I have been invited to stay in a familys home for a week and that is the Philippines! It was even when their home was extra crowded with relatives, during new years! I will never forget this, I am thinking of a way how to make up for this. It was really touching.

  16. don m. says:

    I got merried in the pi in the space of two weeks and in the church at that. The priest held the paper work until I could sent a copy of my paper work from the church showing I was Catholic. We had a two day honey moom and didn’t see each other again for six months. That was fifteen years ago. I had to go back and go to the embasy in manila to finish the paerwork after those sixs months and she was able to come here after one more month. About seven months in total time from the wedding. I think we bent a few of the rules. He he.

    • Bruce says:

      Thanks for visiting and commenting. I hope you continue to enjoy.
      I have heard of rules being bent here. You were lucky. I wanted to marry Elena on a visit, but with govt offices closed for holidays and time constraints I had to wait until I moved here.

  17. Hi Bruce. Thanks for checking out my blog. This is the first post I read, and it’s funny, I just posted a little bit on getting used to the new life style. The new surroundings.

    I can’t wait to read more: why are you there? Is your wife local or with you from the states?

    I’ll

    Hablamos pronto. (I think that makes sense… I’m still trying to learn Spanish!..)

    • Bruce says:

      Thanks for visiting and enjoying. To answer your questions in reverse order, my wife is Filipina. I had wanted to bring her to the states but with the start of the economic crisis, I lost my job as the manager of the architectural department of a national home builder/developer when they laid off 97% and then went bankrupt. I could not find another decent job so I moved here. Hola amigo

  18. Tom Martin says:

    I think that a lot of people avoid eye contact and speaking not because of being rude, but being shy. I know you and I know you have a gift for meeting people and no one is ever a stranger to you. That is not the case with many of us. I for one am very shy. I tend to wait for someone to speak first, knowing that is not the right thing to do, but tend to be afraid of speaking first and offending someone or being ignored or appearing pushy. It would be nice to have your outgoing personality, but it is not easy for everyone.

  19. laagan says:

    I believe that the main reason why you are having a good time living in the Philippines is that you respect our culture. Thank you for doing that and I hope that the other “bitching” foreigners will learn from your example.

    • Bruce says:

      I try to be respectful to all and when upset with something, I try to keep it inside or reply calmly. “bitching” people will never change, but that might be why Filipinos like me since I am not loud and complaining. That just adds to the distance of both our peoples.

  20. Lian says:

    Hi! I came across your blog while looking at Blogger’s Choice Awards. Anyway, it is very interesting to read of your perspective on living here in the Philippines. And the title to your post is moving. It is true that to experience the best no matter where you are – you have to be one where you live.

    I live in Luzon, in Batangas province. But I know many people who live in Davao, people I met when I studied in Manila for college. Wishing you and your family all the best. God bless. Mabuhay!

    • Bruce says:

      I am glad you found my site and enjoyed it. As I answer, I feel the best way to live somewhere is to know the people and understand and learn their culture.
      I hope you will continue to follow my site and comment. Maybe pass it along to your friends.

  21. audrey says:

    HI1 Bruce,
    This is my take on why some locals are worried to greet or communicate w/ some foreigners in the Phils, some of us are very shy as you all knew already but i guess the one other reason is that they’re not sure if foreigners will greet them back, some locals find them not approachable but i know Filipinos are very friendly and willing to communicate, one poster was right that MOST PINOYS never take initiatives when greetings foreigners, it’s our culture but if we think that those foreigners are friendly we always greet and smile w/ them.

    • Bruce says:

      I do notice Filipinos who know english enjoy saying hi to me. I try to talk slowly when I communicate until I learn their level of understanding. I have met many nice Filipinos and enjoy when they approach me when out to say Hi again. Just today, a young lady I met at Field of Dreams walked up to me in the market to say hi. I remembered her face but apologized for not remembering where since I have met so many people. One day a lady looked at me and exclaimed, “Your American in Davao”

  22. audrey says:

    Hi! Lian,
    Im from BATANGAS too, glad to see some of my kababayan here, this is a nice website so i will surely beomes a frequent visitor here, This is my 2nd post here and i find this site very informative and educational, eveytime i read everything about our country , the more i find myself a stranger in my own country since i work outside the Phils. for half of my life so reading info about my hometown was really a big treat for me. Kudos to you Bruce!!!

    • Bruce says:

      See through here you can find your kababayan. Maybe one day I will need to create an “American in Davao Forum” for all the meet and stay in contact.

  23. audrey says:

    Hey Bruce,
    That’s a good idea, to meet all our cyber friends face to face, they called it ( EB)” eye ball” , i didn’t know what it means before but thank’s for my friend who told me about it.That will also give me a chance to visit Davao or Cebu if it will push through so i hope it will materialize someday.BTW, i have also alot of American friends and been visited Hawaii for 3 times and got a chance to have my first experienced of American hospitality, they’re also friendly and kind, some of them already visited the Phils and eager to come back again, i will surely recommend your great site to them…..

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