One of the things you are going to miss after transplanting yourself to the Philippines is the efficiency of First World postal infrastructures and the convenience of easy online shopping with companies like eBay and Amazon. Although the Philippineshas a postal system (called, not suprisingly, Philpost), it comes up wanting a bit in the areas of reliability and dependability. If you’re sending a letter or postcard out of the Philippines, you won’t experience too many issues. If, however, you are looking to receive a package from another country, you will most likely find that it won’t arrive. And on the off chance that it does show up on your doorstep, it will probably be extremely late, opened, and or/ subject to the Byzantine tax/duty fee schedule here that can be just as expensive or more expensive than the actual items worth.
To get around this, there are a number of forwarding companies that one can utilize to get packages delivered safely to the Philippines. One of these – by way of example – is www.myshopping-box.com. Myshoppingbox allows you to order items from eBay and Amazon and have them delivered to the company’s warehouse in Californiawhere the items are reboxed and then forwarded it to the Philippines via courier. The cost of such service depends on whether you wish to receive the items quickly via air delivery or more slowly via transoceanic shipping. I’ve not personally utilized Myshoppingbox, but it has gotten excellent reviews from other expats here in the Philippines.
Ebay also has an Ebay.ph site, and it is worth your while to sign up for their services. The number of available items is not as expansive as that in the West, but if you dig around you can find some good deals. EBay Philippines is also an excellent way to avoid the import and tariff fees that you would experience if you had a package shipped from a Western (foreign) Ebay site.
Balikbayan boxes are another good way to ship things to the Philippines. These are large boxes that are transported to the Republic via vast cargo ships. Each big box costs about $80 USD to send and takes about 4-6 weeks to arrive (depending on where it’s coming from). I have a couple of videos concerning balikbayan boxes on my Youtube channel. You can find them here and here.
Balikbayan Boxes – great way to ship stuff to the Republic
Local shopping – short of the mega-mall behemoths you will encounter in Manila and Cebu – boasts rather limited offerings. Most of it is imported from Chinaand the quality of the items leaves something to be desired. That said, the stuff is remarkably cheap, so if something does fail, it’s not that much to replace it. Premium Western goods here typically come at a correspondingly premium price, especially when it comes to imported foods. Name brand TV’s (Toshiba, Sony) are about 150% the cost in the West, so if you already have a nice television, you might want to consider sending it via a balikbayan box service (present cost, about $170 USD for a 50 inch flat screen TV).
Romantic relationships in the Philippines are approached VERY differently than they are in the West. This is an aspect of the cultural and religious factors here which will be discussed further in the last section this series. There is no actual “dating” in the Philippines like there is in the West. Instead, Filipinos generally rely on an old fashioned (and inherently charming) system of “suitors” and “courting.” In its simplest terms, what it comes down to is you are either “uyab” (term for either boyfriend or girlfriend) or you are not. Believe me when I say that this will cause a great deal of confusion and frustration when you arrive in the Philippines. Again though, you have to keep in mind is that you are a stranger in a strange land and it is your responsibility to conform yourself to the local cultural mores.
Warning: This could be you.
That said, when your excessively gwapo self does arrive in the Philippines you will most likely find yourself inundated with a great deal of attention from the fairer sex. You will also find in short order that they are very approachable. Remember, though, that the vast majority of women here are not open to casual dating. The woman providing you with their phone numbers will each be expecting you to properly court them (and only, exclusively them). If your intention is to be a player, you’ll find that this won’t be a very effective strategy. Except for the larger cities (where there’s literally millions of people), your foreigner self will stand out, everyone will soon know you, and you will find that information gets shared at a remarkably fast rate – something that is known as the “coconut telegraph.” And all the women seem to know each other. The ladies here also have a remarkable skill in discerning whether or not you are being honorable in your intentions. But we’ll get into more of that in a later post as romance in the Philippines requires an immense amount deal of space and and time.
The Filipino artist, Mikey Bustos, has an amusing take on Filipino courting techniques that you can see here.
There are over 120 regional dialects spoken in the Philippines. This is largely a result of the heterogeneous nature of the 7,000+ islands prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 1700’s who sought to unify the country into a more homogenous whole. At the present time, Filipinos that you will meet will generally know at least three languages: Filipino/Tagalog (the “official” language of the Republic), their local regional dialect (Cebuano here in Negros Oriental/ the Visaya region), and – to a lesser or greater extent – English, which is a carry over from their time as an American territory during the first half of the 20th Century.
Filipinos generally understand English better than they can speak it. Or, at least this is what they tell me. Some will actually get embarrassed when trying to formulate proper English grammar (nicknamed “nosebleed” from their brains having to work so hard) which kind of takes me by surprise as this embarrassment is coming from a people who speak AT LEAST THREE LANGUAGES. Heck, I only speak one and I tend to have problems with that most of the time. Levels of English proficiency will vary wildly. Most private schools (and all colleges and universities) still conduct classes only in English but a good number of smaller provincial public schools just use Tagalog and the local dialect. The individual Filipinos interest in English TV, movies and books also has to be taken into account. Not to fear though – generally Filipinos will understand enough English to help you out or point you in the right direction.
On the topic of pointing you in the right direction………
Filipinos employ a wide variety of non-verbal cues when speaking. If you ask what direction something is in, they will nod their head upwards in that direction and indicate it with a pursing of their lips. Eyebrows are also a very real part of the culture – the most common one is a quick rising of the brows to indicate “yes”, but there are a myriad assortment of other “eyebrow communication” that Filipinos employ that I have yet to fully understand. Filipino’s will also typically widen their eyes and hang their mouths open by way of asking you to repeat yourself or clarify the issue when they didn’t hear you. Finally, the gesture for “come here” is actually reversed in the Philippines, being the gesture for “go away” that we employ in the West.
You can see a good example of pointing with your lips at Happy Slip’s site here.
The English spoken in the Philippinesis refreshingly antiquated: It’s as if the language veered off its evolutionary path after the Americans left in the 1940’s. It’s actually very charming hearing terms and words such as “scold, suitor, courting, disco,
One final note: The proper term for “napkin” in the Philippinesis actually “tissue.” If you ask for a napkin, they will think you are asking for a sanitary pad and expected hilarity will soon ensue. Even though I knew about that beforehand, I still made that verbal faux paus on more than a few occasions as old habits are rather hard to break.
Ah, culture. I purposely saved the best for last as the intricacies of Filipino culture is definitely one of the things that makes this physically beautiful country so cerebrally fascinating. Truth be told, I was never much of a world traveler. Now that I am actually immersed in a foreign land, however, I can truly understand why human beings are so keen on traveling to other countries.
Eating with your hands: Yep, victual consummation with you meat paws is totally acceptable here in the Philippines. I first saw this at a local eatery chain called Mang Inasal where local peeps were literally digging into plates of pa’a (BBQ chicken). At these “restos” you will always find a sink area where you can wash your greasy, rice-stained fingers off after your meal.
Get ready for greasy meat paws!
Mmmmm….. cuts down on having to wash forks and spoons.
So yummy kaayo!
Respect for elders: Typically when a young person encounters an older person, they will grasp the older person’s hand and bring it to their own forhead as a sign of respect. Regard for elders is very high here and is an integral part of the Filipino social system.
Walking arm in arm: You will often see friends (more often female than male) walking around with their arms around each other’s shoulders.
Personal Space: It really doesn’t exist here. Filipinos are naturally more social than Westerners and will often pass or stand very close to you. Bumping into each other is a regular thing and you won’t often hear anyone say “Oh, excuse me.” It’s a bit disconcerting at first and takes some getting used to, but again, you’re in their country, so it’s best to just hakuna matata and accept it.
Being Alone: Need some personal space? Better chose a different destination, my friend. Going out to eat by yourself is the best example of this, and you just might find a Filipino saying “Are you alone? Oh, how sad……..” I had heard about this before coming here, but when it happened to me, I still got a laugh out of it. Again, Filipinos are very social and eating alone (unless it’s a quick bite at a carrenderia) is socially disconcerting to them.
Music and Dance: Singing and dancing (and all the arts, for that matter) are a huge part of the local Filipino culture. Videoke (karaoke) is massive here and most Filipinos are vey good at it. If you have never tried it, I would recommend finding a soundproof private room (like I did) and picking a few easy songs wot practive with. My favorite two are Hound Dog and Satisfaction by the Stones. Easy vocal ranges on both tunes, and it sounds a lot better when you get up and put your hips into it. Dance is also big here, and you will often see dance groups practicing their routines in public parks. The singing and dancing come best together during local fiestas, which are regular explosions of sights, sounds, and shimmying dance moves.
Saving Face: The Asian concept of “face” is alive and well in the Philippines. Often if you ask for directions and the Filipino does not know where it is, they will point down the road with the lips nonetheless in lieu of saying “I don’t know.” People also have a hard time taking blame for things and it’s not recommened to directly blame someone for a bad act – better to dipolmaticially give them a way out and rectify the situation in another way. When locals have issues with one another they will sometimes utilize a third party to negotiate the issue instead of having to directly confront each other.
Have You Eaten: You will often hear this term by way of greeting. It is customary to offer guests something to eat. This is a cultural thing and you are not expected to actually say yes and eat all their food. Same thing goes for drinking, although if you refuse, the offering party will be a bit more insistent, depending on how much they have already had to eat.
A cute video entitled “You Know You’re Filipino When…” can be seen here.