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Whose Culture is Correct?

The other day I received a comment on the article “Jobs and Self Improvement in the Philippines” that disturbed me.

At first, I was going to delete it. It had nothing to do with the subject of the article and it upset me with the content. Someone, who found it somewhere else, submitted it. There was also a link to the site, but did not even work. I am not sure if he agreed or diagreed with the content.

The subject was about an Expat who lived here and saw a Filipino boy with his feet and slippers on the table. He tapped the boy with his cane and told the child get his feet off the table and act like a human. He also stated he would be even more violent if he were not on his meds.

Now I do feel there are certain social graces all people should follow, but the attitude of this man and the language he used was totally uncalled for.

As I have stated many times, the culture here in many cases is very different from what we believe in the States. Respect is in both countries but shown differently. Family dynamics is different also.

There are times I am out and hear a foreigner arguing loudly, or complaining about how things something here. Nothing is going to change and all it does is make the Filipinos upset with them and will have future defensive feelings from all foreigners. I remember a while back, I brought my car into the dealership for some bodywork. The service writer told me it would take three weeks to get the part from Manila. I said ok and was glad the car was operable and could use it during the wait. When I returned to leave the car for the repair, the service writer said to me “Sir, what is wrong with you?” I was confused and asked what she meant by that. She replied, “Most foreigners get upset and argue when they have to wait for a parts shipment and you never complained.” I then told her “I understood it is expensive to keep a stock of parts and it takes time to ship things.”

What I have tried to do is learn and understand the culture here and understand and accept them. If it is something I have a big problem with, we try to find a happy medium in our home. Outside the house, I keep my attitude to myself and just tell myself, it is not my country or customs.

Now, as we live here we see things that we know, could be done better, faster, and easier and more efficient.  However, we have no power to change them.  In addition, Filipinos are defensive when a foreigner tells them they know how to do it better.

Yes, the Philippines is a Third World Nation but it is still their country. Many who have knowledge of how things are done in other countries say the Philippines is 20 years behind in many ways. Again, it is not our country. The Filipino people need to want to change things and they need to be the ones to change it or ask for help changing it.

Even we, in our own country have, at times, trouble with new ideas. My mom has a problem with change and technology.  Once at her job as a secretary, her boss bought her a word processing system. It looked like a typewriter and had a screen. She would ask if he could just get her a manual typewriter. I had giving her an old computer for her to learn the internet, emailing and word processing.  After many attempts to teach her, we ended up tossing the machine in the dumpster.

I was on computers from the DOS era and from the years using the older word processors, I still use <ctr> c, v and x instead of right clicking and using the copy, cut or paste from the menu. When I am asked why I use a slower way to do something, I reply, I can do it the old way faster than having to stop and use the new way.  It is just as with learning languages, the mind is open to new things when we are young. As we get older, it gets harder to learn.

To live here, we need to show our new neighbors we are here to get along and not show off that we are better, richer or smarter than the people who live here. Accept and be accepted is best for all. Offer to assist but do not force changes. Just as with the expat community, we are all different in age, background and finances. To make friends, do not try to act better, smarter or richer than each other. We need to assist where we can and accept assistance if needed and offered.

22 Responses to “Whose Culture is Correct?”

  1. Gene says:

    Hi Bruce,

    I agree with your assessment of life here but only up to the point where human decency and sanitation concerns become involved.

    Street (drinking) parties seem to be the norm here and that’s fine. But we had many of them right next door to our place. After a few drinks during each of their parties these “?people?” decided that our gate was the perfect place to urinate and even vomit time and again.

    After many attempts to get it to stop I simply gave up on the passive and understanding attitude.
    Some very fine copper wire just inside my gate and one inch above the ground plus a 12 volt car battery got them to see the light very quickly. I doubt they ever understood what really happened but it must have put the fear of God into them and it was problem solved.
    Kind of like an electric fence around a cow pasture.

    Sometimes change is good. And where health and sanitation issues are involved, forced change is also necessary…

    • Bruce says:

      There is a friend here who imports electric fence transformers and insulators. He installs it with 3 wires above the fence and gate to stop people from climbing over.

  2. Steve in Davao says:

    Bruce good article, something to ponder as we move about and interact with our host nieghbors.

  3. alan cline says:


    Just a note that the e-mail link you received is apparently making the rounds as i also received as it appears someone has a personal vendetta going in regards to the subject of the link .

    On your other observations you are right i think in regards to the culture being slow to adapt or change and that will probably never change . But i do wish the local supermarket could make at least one of the 17 check out lanes “express” or 10 items or less . 🙂

    • Bruce says:

      Here the market we go to has a “Senior Citizen” line and there is a section for baskets only. But just like everywhere, things run slower. I have been offered and accepted when asked, when I buy a carton of cigarettes and allowed to get ahead of someone with larger purchases.

  4. The truth of the matter is this sort of thing happens daily in some form. At the end of the day we moved to the Philippines and things we see we may not agree with sometimes but there is a way to go about it. Putting feet on a table etc. should be explained rather than threatened. It also doesnt state that it was the foreigners house. If it wasnt its none of his business.

    Regarding urinating on the fence I would discuss it with the neighbour directly or with your wife/someone who knows the neighbour explaining why they need to stop. E.g. Its poisoning the plants etc. It stinks in the morning.. I have had a few minor disputes over the last couple of years and all have been resolved by either indirect or direct discussion explaining why its a problem.

    Culture may be different but a lot of people simply dont understand the issue unless you spend time explaining it. Like the “Hey Joe`s!”. Which even when replied to that im British and from the UK. I was asked where in the U.S. is the UK.

    • Bruce says:

      To most Filipinos, peeing on a wall or fence is normal. Is it us to tell them it is not? We are in their land and have to understand their norms. As you say, if you explain, most will understand and go pee on someone else wall.
      With the lack of knowledge of the world and countries, we need to be used to it. When I mentioned what part of California was Florida, I said the extreme eastern part.

  5. Riza says:

    Hi Bruce, it’s been a long time since my last visit here. I liked when you said

    “Yes, the Philippines is a Third World Nation but it is still their country. Many who have knowledge of how things are done in other countries say the Philippines is 20 years behind in many ways. Again, it is not our country. The Filipino people need to want to change things and they need to be the ones to change it or ask for help changing it.”

    Four years ago, I had an american customer who asked where I was, and when he learned that I’m from the Philippines, he asked me if we had toilet seats and such, i even heard him say “hey (insert friends’ name)! they have computer in the philippines!” My two eyebrows raised in surprise and amusement!

    To be honest, I do miss the bayanihan, the singing at the rice fields, the seranades, and the fresh morning breeze. I wish a lot of times that it’s still the days when I was still young.

    • Bruce says:

      Hi Riza,

      I have missed your visiting and your comments. I hope all is well with you and your kids.

      As you see I try to describe the culture here, not to complain, but to explain to others that do not understand the differences.

      • Riza says:

        Actually Bruce, you have a real good point in here. For me, I’d rather be told straight-out than make me believe everything is alright. Anywho, regarding the technology or being 20 years behind, no need to worry about it anymore, because as you can see, we are catching up. Twenty years ago (or so) you guys were having problems (hippie times) with your young people, and notice that Filipino youngsters are slowly catching up with this trend (not exactly the hippie thingy, but I hope you know what I mean). Also, we are now becoming a cashless society like the US, and I’m guessing by 2012, Americans will have those chips inside their forearms.

        • Bruce says:

          The fear here is the credit card offers. The interest rate is astronomical. My nephew got a Mastercard and the yearly intrest is 42%. In the US I had a 6.99 interest rate.

  6. don m. says:

    my plan was to teach everyone there to speak english so I can talk to them. Maybe you don’t think this is such a good idea? haha

  7. Gene says:


    That electric fence idea is worth thinking about. That would help secure the area above our gate as well. Living in a resettlement is a far cry from a subdivision or where you are too for that matter.

    I should state again here for the benefit or your other poster. We did try talking to the neigbors about the urinating and vomiting at our gate etc MANY TIMES. We are on the Barangay Police and had the PNP pay them a visit also.
    But when drunk, whatever brain they may have goes down the sewer. It is not possible to reason with a person when they are drunk. (And in some cases-even when sober.)
    So a little bit of direct current did the reasoning and effected the desired change. And fried two eggs also I would suppose…

  8. Hi Gene,
    then they left you no choice.. at least you tried to reason. But its a bit like dealing with pub drunks if living next door difficult to get them to stop vomitting/urinating in the neighbours gardens without Police control and making someone who is “sober” responsible.

    • Bruce says:

      It is one thing reasoning, it is another making neighbors mad at you. I knew of someone threatened by locals, but after knowing him, I think they were smart to try to get him out of their neighborhood.

  9. Evelyn says:

    bruce, is that legal ?the elecric fence you are talking about?
    i’d like to have one,too..hehehe

  10. Tom says:

    Till they figure out they can cut the wires. I still like broken glass and rusty nails. 🙂 Been tied up a while hope you didn’t miss me. 😎

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