Friday, July 6, 2012

"Hey, Joe Am. what gives you the right . . ."

". . . to judge us Filipinos when the U.S. is such a mess?"

Ah, my. The alien-killer question.

Well, for one thing, it is not a competition or a comparison. If my subject were the U.S., indeed I 'd have plenty to criticize, especially the bitter and manipulative American political scene. I do get off some pot shots now and then when I can relate it to what is going on in the Philippines. But if I wrote about the U.S., then my main interest, my passion - advocating for a progressive Philippines - would be a complete failure, a wash out. And my readership would be mainly white people in the U.S. in whom I have zero interest.

Emotionally translated, I suppose that alien killer question really means "Uh, Joe, please shut up. You are making me uncomfortable here."

My response to that is, "this blog is not about YOU, it is about US".

New visitor Cha dropped off a note the other day explaining why Filipinos so seldom say "thank you".

"Thank you" is simply not taught in a lot of families. It is assumed that a thank you for something given is automatic and need not be stated.

That made me sit up and think. It was one of those light bulb moments. And I suspect it will dramatically change my view on what I have been characterizing as Filipino rudeness.  It was paradigm shift of the 10th order. Bam, right now!

As an outsider, I can see many differences in culture between America and the Philippines. They are starkly clear.  I think some Philippine characteristics are good (Fiestas are good) and some are bad (roaming dogs). But I think we outsiders oftentimes don't have the required framework to COMPREHEND that a difference has a legitimate reason for being.

Like the "thank you" matter.

OF COURSE someone would recognize that they were given something, or granted a courtesy. OF COURSE they appreciate it. And both parties in the transaction recognize the passing of the gift and the appreciation without verbalizing what is common sense. There is no need to grovel and get smarmy.

So I, as the alien, come off stupid and needy because I insist that a "thank you" be verbalized. And I compound the problem by being arrogant and critical of "rude" Filipinos. That brings an unnecessary and unkind tension into play.  I agree, I am the limited one in this interaction. I did not grow up here. I don't grasp the NUANCES of being Filipino, nuances that are  perhaps shaped by being the sixth child in an eight-child household. I was the second of four, and got plenty of attention.

Well, we can debate whether or not a thank you should be verbalized or not. Bottom line, it doesn't matter. Because in the Philippines it IS NOT verbalized as frequently as in the U.S. The gratitude goes unstated. And it is a "no harm, no foul" situation.

So to myself, I say, "move on, Joe." Stop being so needy as to require a verbalized thank you. Just assume the gratitude exists.

My, I came to that realization and the whole panorama shifted about six kilometers to the left. The rudeness I have been seeing went away. On the road, in the store, at the bank. It made for a peaceful drive to Tacloban today, instead of a tense drive.

I have been the rude one for trying to hold other people to my cultural standard and claiming they fell short. No, I fell short.

Thanks, Cha, for that enlightenment.

Having said that, I do think there are cultural practices in the Philippines that are harmful to Filipinos, and being an outsider helps me see them. It would be good if the culture changed to get rid of certain practices. Like allowing those roaming dogs to kill motorcyclists and pass fleas or rabies to the kids. Or burning carcinogenic plastics in the city. Or being compliant with employment practices that do not promote skill, but favor friends and family. Thus chasing talented people overseas where they can EARN proper reward for their talent.

But, indeed, as an outsider, I have no right to condemn that which I don't understand, and which is doing no harm.

Ignorance is not a good platform from which to judge others.


  1. Did you notice that in most powerpoint presentations made by Filipinos, the last slide is usually a big "Thank You"? Indeed, in scientific papers and presentations, the last section is an acknowledgement. But that section usually extends gratitude to those who helped the study or made the presentation possible. Do not hit yourself too hard on insisting that we say "Thank you". We need it. And we need to learn what it really means.

  2. From: Island jim-e (aka: the cricket)

    1. Joe....wake up please...rude behavior,
    the absense of good manners and character are
    symptoms of a sick society. If no one teaches
    the children the children grow up to be real
    nasty mean SOB's. If no one instructs the
    children they have learned no discipline and
    society suffers. Good instruction, teaching,
    administration,management and stewardship is
    lacking in all aspects of PH community! I
    am sooo tired of hearing dribble, lame
    excuses..."sooo very sorry sir...!" BS
    is BS is BS....if it is not right...not
    correct in any language it is WRONG!

    2. Culture is composed of the remains of
    the day, rituals, superstitions,ignorance,
    fears, and ways and means that people have
    been able to find to define their survival
    pratices(expressed by music, art, theatre,
    entertainment, etc.) a historical heritage of
    what activities are distilled from time and

    3. The so-called present "culture" of the PH- factor is one of chaos produced from the lack of good and proper guidence caused by the rich and powerful manipulation of the ignorant for
    their benefit! So we have a dark age
    nation still marching to the tunes of the
    "church", "patrons" and "greedy"! The
    results/fruits are obvious...just look around
    to find a few examples...bad drivers, a
    infastucture in collapse...too many mouths
    to feed, no future income opportunites on
    too little productive land space....!

    What to do? A fresh coat of paint can only
    cover up the rot, decay, rust, and bad
    construction pratices...What happens when
    the government, church and rich folks run
    out of PAINT!

    I still have some some hope that even a
    simple realization and expression of gratitude
    like "yes, thank you" American Joe for a good
    blog spot, or yes, thank you for stopping
    to help me change a tire or Yes uncle for the nice present you gave me for my birthday...this simple expression and recognition ...if learned now before it is too late!

    A simple exhibition of acknowledgement...a
    expression that leaves a sweet impression and
    taste in the soul/spirit and is a credit to
    both parties....learned manners, ethics, morals
    and the seeds that are sown on good soil can
    cause a community to grow with success and
    flourish....This simple courtsey "THANKS!"...
    might provide some hope of success for the
    rainbow islands tomorrow!


  3. A very humbling moment Joe. I could used a sip of SanMig.

    However, Mr de Dios is right. We all need to learn how to say thank you, so dont be too hard on you.

    Its Jack

  4. Well now, I see y'all are not going to let me get away with slacking off, eh? You are arguing for the "high road" of expressing gratitude, three for three. One of the images I did not grab for this blog, because it ran counter to the grain of the argument, went something like "Rude is what weak people do to pretend they are strong".

    How about if I practice being considerate myself, advocate for spoken and acted-out courtesy, but don't come down too hard on people who, as kids, were never taught expression of gratitude?

  5. Of course we cant afford to let you get away with slacking off. It is what you called responsibility, remember?

    Oh by the way, looks like you forgot to recognize two people who talked about the now famous "thank you."

    The thank you issue was first brougt up by Greg Jul 2, you responded the same day, followed by Anon/Jack Jul 3, and Cha didnt come in the picture until Jul 4.

    I still believe that we need to continue advocating thank you's as a gratitude and being considerate as you stated is a plus.

    Its Jack

  6. A very sincere thank you, Joe, for this piece and hats off for showing how big of a man you really are!

    And yes to everyone, we do need to say thank you. It makes for more civility and respectability in our dealings with each other. So, go ahead and say thank you to someone the next time you get the chance.

    "Be the change you want to be", that's my take on this.

    A pleasant weekend to you all!


    1. Very nice take on things. "Be all the change you want to be." Instead of laying things off on others, live it! May the idea become contagious.

      A pleasant weekend to you, too.

  7. I just follow a simple rule and it keeps me sane: Don't expect anything from anyone.

    I don't expect thank yous. I don't expect people to show initiative. if they do, then fine (with a silent thank you).

    I'd rather have people surprise me with kindness (or its opposite).

  8. I'm not too hot on this one, joe. Don't rely on assumptions all the time, especially in cases like this. Too airy-fairy. And ain' lt it funny in a country where most people are hell-bent on enforcing the will of the Bible, not a soul can even muster up a "thank you" ?


    1. You know, "Kid", you have an excellent confrontational style. Most people would say "Joe, you are off base" and make me the culprit. You take on the responsibility yourself. "I'm the one who may be off but I don't like this one." Is that a studied technique, or natural?

      Yes the difference between Christian morality, as Christ would put it, and day-to-day lifestyle is . . . ummmmm . . . amazing.

    2. well, it's more or less learned. i have no problem accepting the fact that i might be wrong, though, and i'll apologize when necessary.

      exactly. it's almost the definition of hypocrisy


    3. No. Courtesy. Diplomacy. Harmony. Good "learning."

  9. .... "not a soul can even muster up a thank you".

    Really? How many Filipinos do you know?


    1. Cha: enough to have to say "you're welcome" to my fellow countryman whenever i do a favor for him/her. though i wasn't necessarily being literal, i was just saying that to highlight the disconnect.



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