Culture Shock!

Chocolates at WowPhilippines

If you’re following my articles, I’ve just landed, found my luggage and have met my Filipina girlfriend for the first time in person outside the airport. Which leads us to the next part of my wonderful adventure…

After a long welcoming hug and kiss, I realize I am surrounded by a large group of people. Who are they, and what do they want?

It turns out that it has been a long time tradition of loading as many people as possible into a van and coming to greet family and visitors at the airport. It’s not just a tradition, it’s almost a cult following. I joke, of course, but it is something that they take a lot of pleasure in doing. I am greeted by the entire city where my wife is from. Ok, ok, I am exaggerating a little. But, compared to the U.S. where you’re not allowed to go and sit anywhere near the airport it’s a huge difference. I welcome the experience, after all, they are all her family, and I have the honor of meeting them for the first time. I shake their hands, give hugs, and we quickly start to make our way to the van. I stop… WAIT!

I have to exchange money. I was told to exchange money at the airport by her aunt. So, we go back, explain to the guard I forgot to exchange my currency, and he politely lets me past the gates. I get the exchange and find I am suddenly carrying 1000PHP bills!! What in the heck!? I think they’ve made a mistake! No, I knew the exchange rate was going to give me a large amount of currency, but I never thought I would get a 1000Php bill. I never saw one before. In the U.S., the most is 100USD bill. Anyway, I stuff the money into several pockets of my shorts, and head for the van.

Van

Van

We load up, and we’re off. Manila at 2am was crazy. I’d hate to see it during the day! Does anybody follow driving laws? Are there driving laws? I don’t even see street lane markers! It’s a free for all! Man, give me an American junker from the 70’s and I would take it on! I’d still probably lose, but it would sure be fun! We leave Manila pretty quick and we’re on two lane roads, meaning one lane each direction. I learn they have hired a driver that is used to driving in Manila and back and forth from Pangasinan. Excellent, we are in GOOD HANDS! Or so I think. I didn’t know that you could get three cars wide in one lane in a blind curve. This master driving wizard has shown me a new skill! After I finish praying, and finally saying screw it, it’s a good day to die, I give up watching the driving, and concentrate on learning more about my girlfriend, and everyone that is in the van. Tagging along for the ride is the driver, the van renter and family member, two brothers, an aunt, a cousin and last but not least, her mother. I get to my luggage from over the back seat and pull out some gifts I brought. Nothing major, just some t-shirts that have “Detroit” written on them. As if I’m proud to be from there. Hey, it’s an important city, but nobody really likes the place. But, I digress.

Learn Bisaya/Cebuano
View from inside the van!

View from inside the van!

We drive for what seems to be an eternity. I’m tired. I’ve been on two planes totaling 18 flight hours, 3 hour lay over, two hour security lines in Detroit, and now five hours of driving. I’m staring at her Aunt’s house. I get there, unpack, and collapse on the bed. I awake to crowing chickens, and beautiful sunshine. Man, it’s cold. This aircon works great! I gather my things for a shower and open my bedroom door to go to the bathroom. (I know… it’s a CR) Wow. It’s hot out here, and I think they have an indoor mister because I’m getting wet. I head to the shower, clean up, change clothes, and get ready for the day. I’ve slept two hours and feel like I could run a marathon… or at least walk one. What the heck? Where is all this water coming from? Answer? Me! I didn’t know I had so many pores, and that they could give so much water! Seriously, I’m going to spend the next ten days wet from my own sweat? It sure looks like it.

I come into the living room and everyone is there. Did they wait for me while I slept? How did they know I was awake? Ah… texting, the Philippines life-line. So, they’ve come to take me shopping at the big mall!! AWESOME!!! I hated the malls in the U.S., so I’m sure I’ll just LOVE these!! It actually wasn’t bad. I think we got there before too many people were there, or it was just big enough that there didn’t seem to be many people. Either way, it was a better experience than in the Detroit area. Then it hits me… people are staring at me! Is my zipper open? What is it? Oh… I’m the white guy in town! It also doesn’t hurt that I’m 6’-0” tall and over 300lbs.

Mall

Mall

I later find out that I also look like a wrestler that wrestles in the Asian wrestling circuit. So, maybe they’re thinking I am him. Either way, I’m a celebrity whether or not I want to be. No big deal, and you know why? Because they are being so nice to me! I’ve never had so many people be nice to me! So, at this point, I’m loving life and enjoying the attention. After buying a large amount of groceries to stock up the refrigerator at her aunts house, we get everything boxed up and we get ready to go. We push out the cart to the curb where our driver is waiting. The parcels are loaded, and we’re ready to leave. Or so I think. I notice a couple walking past me with a cart. They’re staring as if they’ve seen a ghost. They keep pushing their cart as they stare. These people were so intent on looking at me, that they pushed their loaded shopping cart right off a two foot edge. That woke them up from their dream state! So, the guy gets down there and tries to pick up the cart, but it’s loaded with packages and can’t budge it. At this point, I was working out and had no back injury, so I thought I would help him out. I lift the cart, with packages, up from the ground and set it back on the ledge. Their jaws drop, and I load up into the van. We’re off, and I got a kick out of seeing the expression on that man’s face. It was priceless, and I’ll always remember it!

So, this cart full of groceries which would have cost me easily $200USD only cost me about $60USD. I was happy about that too! I know that once we get to the Philippines, we’ll be eating from the market more than the mall grocery, and should save me even more money.

It was this first trip that I realized that I was someone, and something the people here seemed to rarely see. A very large white guy, with blazing red goatee. They didn’t run from me in fright, or say things to hurt my feelings. They welcomed me into their stores, into their homes, and into their lives. That’s VERY different than what is done here in the U.S. Culturally, it was one of the best experiences of my visit. Acceptance by complete strangers.

There’s more to come, so look for my article next week! Until then, Paalam, ingat, and God bless!

Post Author: Scott Fortune (57 Posts)

At the time of this writing, I am 42 years old. I’ve been married to my Filipina wife since December 2009. She is from the Province of Pangasinan, Philippines. I was born and raised in the Metro Detroit area in Michigan. I’ve worked in many fields throughout my short career, mostly in Architecture, computers, and law enforcement. I’m medically retired from the U.S. Government due to a back injury and look forward to our move to the Philippines. My interests here were yard work, guns, and hanging out with friends. But because of my back injury, I’ve had to shorten what I can do to just hanging out with friends. Not a bad thing when you’re retired, right!? Also, I’m sure I’ll find some new interests when I get to the RP. We don’t yet know where we will be moving to exactly, but I expect it to be on the main island of Luzon. I look forward to moving there, getting healthier, and experiencing island life.


Comments

  1. Miss August says

    When I first visited the Philippines after living in the US for over 30 years, (I was 18 when I left) I couldn’t believe how everything changed so much. Oh, the driving! I had to close my eyes when we were in Manila. I was so scared! :-)

  2. gerard says

    Hey Scott,

    I studied in the midwest when I first came here in the US – Milwaukee WI. I love that part of the heartland.

    Move as far from Pangasinan as possible..Davao maybe? Trust me. You will thank me for it.

    Good luck to you.

    • Scott Fortune says

      I’ve heard MANY great things about Davao, and so many other areas. My wife and I intend on traveling around and visiting some places, and some places, like Davao, may call out to us more than others. We’ll have to see when we get there. Thanks for reading my article. I hope you enjoyed it.

  3. Davao Dave. says

    Hi Scott.
    I am really enjoying reading your articles. You have a very easy to read fun style of writing. I’m already waiting for the next installment,eager to find out if you have stopped sweating yet?
    I believe the wrestler that you resemble is an Irish guy named Sheamus O’ Shaunessy.
    I have been married to my lovely Filipina wife from Davao for very nearly 17 years now. I remember when i arrived in the Philippines in late December 1995,i was thinking that i must make a good first impression on my bride to be. so after passing through passport control at Davao airport i dived into the toilets and did some badly needed running repairs on my hair and sprayed myself with something smelly. When i got outside the airport “Wow” the hot humid air hit me like a right hook from a heavy weight boxer. So with regards to the sweating,i know exactly how you were feeling Scott.I started sweating buckets straight away. That was the hair ruined,the deodorant was working overtime to keep me smelling sweet…ish. Did she care about me being a bit on the damp side? No of course not. She just offered me her handkerchief for me to start mopping up exercises.How cute was that? I’m guessing that back in the dim and distant past that was 1995 things were a little different. I went to take her hand,she withdrew hers as if she had been scolded with boiling water. She said that i had to ask her Mothers permission if i wanted to hold hands. I asked and permission was duly granted. My hand was so wet with sweat that we had trouble hanging onto each others digits. Damn that humidity!
    17 years and 3 wonderful sons later we are still happily married but sadly not living in the Phiippines. Our home is in the UK although my heart is always many thousands of miles away in Davao City. The Philippines is a truly wonderful country just as wonderful as the Filipino people who live there. I have always found them to be very warm and welcoming with a friendly smile never very far away from their lips,just as you have found in your experiences.
    You mentioned being woken up by the crowing cockrels in the morning. That’s for me one of the sounds of the Philippines i miss the most. One day we hope to return and make our home in the Philippines. Good luck Scott to you and your family. Keep the articles coming.
    Regards Dave.

    • Scott Fortune says

      Davao Dave, I’m glad to hear that you are enjoying my articles. You’ll have to wait until my next one to find out about the sweating situation. :)

      Your story about your trip brought back a detail I had forgotten. My lovely wife also tried to wipe up the sweat from my head with her handkerchief. It was so delicate though, it didn’t do much. But it was the most wonderful gesture to begin our journey on that trip there. On the second trip to the mall, I bought six or seven washclothes to carry around with us to help keep the sweat on the floor to a minimum. :)

      I can’t promise great reads every week, but I promist they will be true from my heart.

  4. Donna West says

    Well, I dont even need to say it, you know i love your stories. You have my heart pumping and my blood boiling to get to the RP and experience that feeling of being someone special. If they get a thrill from a big red bearded man like yourself than maybe this old overweight woman has a chance to get her share of positive attention too. I can hardly wait. How is the packing coming?

    • Scott Fortune says

      Packing? Wow. That is something that I intend on writing about soon. Let’s just say, nothing is in a box yet except the next Balikbayan box for my family over there. Including a nice bicycle with training wheels for my twin nephews. I hope they share well!

  5. Paul Thompson says

    Scott;
    When I was shipping out on ship’s the family would do the meet and greet at the airport. This is a trip that I’d make sometimes 4 times a year. In the early 90’s it took 5 hours to get home, so that meant it took them 5 hours to get to the airport. It seemed like it never got old for them as for years they (Brother-in-laws, Wife, Kid, Nieces, nephews and strangers) would fill the van and gladly make the trip. I’m thinking that if I didn’t have to do it I wouldn’t. After the 9 or 10th time I just shook my head and said; “It’s just the way it is.” Someday over a beer I’ll tell you about the time my plane landed 1 hour after Pope John Paul the Second landed. 18 hours just to get out of Manila. Oh joy!

    • Scott Fortune says

      Paul, I love the gathering of family to both welcome and send off a loved one! I think it’s a great sign of true family love. And they don’t seem to mind the five hour trip each way either. It boggles the mind to think if I could get that many of my family to come to greet me in that number once a year, let alone four times like yours did.

      18 hours to get out of Manila? WOW!! I think I’d just park near a good vendor corner and sleep when I could, and eat vendor food when I got hungry. Wait it out. Of course, if the van was packed tight with family, there’d be little room for getting comfortable, and then you’d have to feed them all! I used to get pretty stressed out in those situations, but it was always because there always seemed to be somewhere I had to go, or something I had to do. I’ve really relaxed a lot since retiring. I even drive the speed limit now!

  6. Robert says

    Hi Scott,
    I’ve enjoyed reading your story and it’s brought back fond memories of my first trip in ’93. Your Manila traffic experience was the same for me. I know I told my wife (to be) and her cousins… these people would all be arrested driving like this in Minnesota. Funny comment about the mister. I remember always feeling like I was the only one sweating. It’s hot and humid now in Minnesota but not the same as the Philippines, although I seem to adjust to it some after a few days there. The celebrity treatment is also something I couldn’t believe, never experienced that before.
    By the way, today (July 31st) is our 19th anniversary and I’m writing this while waiting for my wife to get ready to go out for dinner. Likely will be a little late, Filipino time! Looking forward to your next article.

    • Scott Fortune says

      LOL!!!!! Robert, I said the same thing!!!!!! “These people would be arrested for wreckless driving in the U.S.”! They said really? Yeah!!! This is insane!

      So funny you said the same thing!

      Congratulations on your Anniversary!!! HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO YOU BOTH!!!!!! 19th Anniversary!! What is the traditional gift for 19 years of marriage in the Philippines?

      • Robert says

        Thanks Scott. I can’t believe it’s been that long.
        I don’t know what the traditional gift would be. We always just go out to dinner, although she’s already hinting something will be different for #20.

        It seems like just the other day I was flying out of Minneapolis to meet my long distance friend, with no intention of being married. We mostly talked about our common bond (teaching) for the first couple days and next thing you know it’s 19 years and two sons.

        You have many adventures in front of you, especially with your move to the Philippines. I wish you both all the best.

  7. says

    I’m from Virginia, and I’ve traveled through Manila to Lipa City ten times over the last 3 years. I am always made to feel welcome and at home. Enjoyed the article.

  8. Mitch says

    Your writing brought a smile to me again, thanks. The wife and I take off in 359 HOURS , can’t wait…. I remember the “whole family outing” taking us back to the airport 6 years ago after a xmas visit. The only sad thing about these trips was when the wife was leavine a few years ago and did not have alot of “extra cash” on hand because she had just got done with her moms funeral expences….. hardly anyone in the family wanted to go since she could not buy that going away dinner for everyone…. I agree so much with what garard said “Move as far from Pangasinan as possible”. Yes you will thank him in the future…. Anyway, hope to read more, and I plan on sweating off atleast 15-20 lbs while on the road to a healthier and better life style.
    R/ Mitch

    • Scott Fortune says

      Mitch, I’m glad I made you smile. You, however, made me cry. 359 hours away from paradise!! I envy you! But, seriously, I’m happy for you too!!! I will start a countdown too, one day, but it won’t be anytime soon. The numbers would be too high for me to bare.

      My next article is in the que for publishing, so I hope you’ll find it equally amusing.

      Scott

  9. says

    I had an interesting first meeting with my future wife.
    I truly loved her at first site. We communicated via snail mail until the place I work for got so annoyed by me they paid me to quit.
    This was the mid 90s.
    Everybody told me to have a half dozen prospects lined up in case it didn’t work out.
    NOT ME. That isn’t my style. Thats lame. This ain’t a reality show.
    After approximately 18 hour flight. 3-4 layover in Manila. I finally get to Cebu.
    She was no where to be seen.
    Nothing.
    “I just got stood up in the worst way ever” I thought. I turn my back and wait for my bags.
    A luggage handler tells me 5 minutes later that my friend was there.
    She wanted to be sure she was the only one waiting to meet me so she hid. Very cunning indeed.

  10. PapaDuck says

    Scott,
    Thanks so much for again sharing your experiences. My drive from the airport will be much shorter, maybe one hour at the most to Cavite and not at 2:00am in the morning Thank God. I don’t have big welcoming parties at the airport due to my g/f does not really have any family, her parents have passed away and she has no brothers and sisters, only a cousin in her home province of Batangas. Take care and looking forward to your next article.

  11. MsSingkit says

    Hi there Scott, I just found this blog of yours and was fascinated with your experience. I’m a Filipina and I’m from Cavite. Yes people would really look/stare at you specially in provinces. Most people in the provinces aren’t used to white people or foreigners. But it’s not like they’re thinking something bad about you. They’re just amazed. :)

    The traffic and road rules are true. There’s always traffic specially to cities and particularly Manila. I don’t actually recommend my non-Filipino friends to go to Manila if they would pay a visit.

    Families and loved ones are very important to Filipinos. We would do everything for our family. A usual Filipina wife is very loving and really takes good care of her husband and their kids.

    There’s a lot more to learn in the Philippines and the Filipinos. I’d like to know what you would think about us so I’ll look forward to your future articles.

    Ingat!

    • Scott Fortune says

      Ms.Singkit, my next article relates some more about Filipinos, and some additional cultures shock I experienced, layed out in a more detailed and descriptive way. I hope you enjoy it as well.

    • says

      Ms Singkit, when I first came here in ’96 as a 26 year old I was shocked at the way people stared at me. I live in what use to be the biggest non-city in the Philippines, Bayawan in Negros Oriental. Now it’s Bayawan City so it has no “claim to fame” anymore. The nearest “big” city is Dumaguete which is about 2 hours away. It’s a slow, quaint little town that I’m crazy about. That being said Manila has always scared this hillbilly from KY.

  12. Mark G. says

    Another good read Scott. Many of the experiences you write about I have shared over the years.
    I met my wife for the first time in Cebu, where she was working at the time. I arrived at the airport after the long flight and a porter approached me and asked if I was “Mr. Mark G.” I said ‘yes I was’ and he told me that my friend, Ms. Cheryl, was waiting outside for me. He took my bags and directed me to the airport exit. There I saw in person, for the first time, the most beautiful smile in the world. I walked up and gave her a big hug, which emabarrased her to no end. She explained that was not really an acceptable greeting in the Philippines as we had not been formally introduced, despite the fact we had spoken every day for the last two and a half years, lol. I quickly apologized and explained that as a stranger in her country she would have to educate me on the customs and protocol. She’s a provincial girl and quite conservative in many ways.
    Now five years later we are married and have a beautiful little boy. I’ve made that long trip three or four times a year over the last few years. Eventually they will come to the states to join me until my retirement. I know will definitely retire in The Philippines to enjoy the peace and quite, friendly smiles and laid back lifestyle.
    Keep writing, we’ll keep reading!

    • Scott Fortune says

      It sounds like she is aware of some of the ways some guys might treat their Philippine experience. I’m sure more than one guy has shown up with multiple Filipinas lined up. I was like you, and went with only one on my mind and in my heart!

      • says

        It’s 3am as I write this from my Vasayan home. Just can’t sleep. Another romantic rain storm. I’m so glad I didn’t take everyone’s advice and have 5-6 to pick from. You wouldn’t do that in the US, why there? I would never want a woman who felt like she “won me” besides I’m not too much a catch.
        I can’t wait to retire and live here permanently. 2 months is simply not enough time.

  13. Bob New York says

    I enjoyed your article Scott and with such a favorable attitude as reflected in your experiences so far it should go a long way for you in The Philippines. It’s not perfect but as I have found there are so many enjoyable things there. You may also recognize many things that you have read about here on ” LIP ” if you are a long time reader, some not yet experienced situations could make you smile and take it as humerous instead of discouragement. One of the most memorable for me was my first experience with the yes means no and no means yes dialog. I went to a well known take out place late in the evening to get a coffee to go. The place had just closed its doors when I arrived. I knocked on the door and was told they were closed. I asked ” could I at least just get a coffee to go ? ” The waitress replied ” Yes Sir, we don’t have any coffee. Ordinairly this might have discouraged me but as soon as I got out of sight of the place I broke into hysterical laughter. Why laugh you may ask ? I had read about things like this right here on ” LIP ” and when I experienced it ” Live ” after a few moments I thought to myself ” WoW, thats something right out of ” LIP ” !

    My last transportation to get where I am going, when I arrive is a 90 minute taxi ride. I pay more attention to the scenery than the actions of the driver, but when they do turn a 2 lane road into a 3 lane I think to myself, to them this is normal so they probably know what they are doing.

    I look forward to your next article Scott.

  14. Scott Fortune says

    Funny story BobNY!!! Yes, we have no coffee. I love it! I’m not one to trust others to drive here in the U.S., so when they driving was crazy there, it really made me uncomfortable. But then I figured, if I die, at least I’ll die happy knowing I just met the woman of my dreams!! :)

    • Mark G. says

      Growing up in the Boston area where ‘Offensive Driving” is an acquired skill I appreciate any skilled drivers. I applaud the driving skills of the average Filipino driver. I tell folks in the US that the traffic lane markings in Manila are only a suggestion. The Victory bus drivers however are possibly the most skilled drivers I’ve ever seen, lol. I closed my eyes more than a few times on the bus trip out of Baguio as they wound thier way down the mountains.

  15. says

    Hi Scott. I really enjoy reading your easy going writing style. My husband and I are also planning on moving to the Philippines (we’re from Toronto – so not that far from Detroit) but not for a few more years. I can really relate to the ‘quicksand’ you talked about in your other article. I’ll be following your stories with great interest.

    • Scott Fortune says

      Maria, Toronto huh? If my memory serves me correctly, the french isde of my family first migrated there in the 1700’s and built some of the first catholic churches. I don’t know much details about it, but I’d always wanted to go there to see the churches my family helped build. LaVoy was their names.

      The Philippines will welcome you when you are readya dn able to come there. :)

      • says

        So you have a little french in you, huh? I sucked in french class! That’s awesome that your family has some history here in Canada. Now I have to check out the LaVoy name.

        • Scott Fortune says

          You would think that with my french blood that I would attempt to take it in high school when it was offered, but alas, I took Spanish. I didn’t study much and failed the course. LOL! But, to do it over would be a great thing! I’ve started to learn tagalog, and am picking it up pretty well. If I only had the drive to do it EVERY day I would be speaking it in no time!

      • AlexB says

        Hi Scott,

        Enjoyed reading your post. First time in the Phil? Sounds you might just fit in. Good luck and hope you get used to the heat quickly. I’m also in Toronto, and as far as I know the older Catholic churches are right downtown. The original spelling your ancestors’name might be Lavoie.

        Alex

        • Scott Fortune says

          Right you are Alex! The original spelling was indeed Lavoie!! They probably made the change when they came to the U.S. I can only assume that you are familiar with the name Lavoie in Toronto, or are you a Catholic church history buff? Either way, thanks for the response.

  16. Henry Lamkin says

    I was thinking about my first arrival as I read your account. 1000PHP bills good luck trying to spend those outside of a mall or Manila. What I mean is where I live no one would be able to make change. (lol)

    • Scott Fortune says

      I never had any problems spending the money in the big stores and was sure to have smaller bills and coins when we went to vendors, etc. But you’re right, I don’t think many vendors would be giving change for a 1,000php note.

  17. says

    Scott where is your wife from in Pangasigan? My wife is from San Fabian, we have a house in Mangaldan. I know that drive well, it brought a big smile to my face thinking about my many trips there.

    • Scott Fortune says

      My wife is very close to Mangaldan, in Mapandan. She used to go to San Fabian for the beaches. In fact, I plan on spending a lot of time on the beaches of San Fabian when we move!

      Are you there now, or still living in the U.S.?

      I haave been looking at as much information as possible regarding the area of San Fabian and surrounding areas, and believe that Rosario may be a nice area to move. Theoretically, based on location, and what is around there, plus their raised elevation. But I won’t know for sure until we get there and take MANY, many drives to look around. I’d like to be near the beach, but not on it. Plus, Mangaldan has flooded so many times. We have friends that lost family members to the flood in 2009. So, while I do like the area, I want higher ground if it is available.

    • Scott Fortune says

      Mike, I am sure you are right!!! I am keeping myself open to the many things Filipino, both what would be considered good and bad by a typical American. I’m trying to get a change of life, so I welcome now experiences. If they’re bad, I will consider it an educational experience. :)

  18. DanielY says

    A good way to start “Life in the Philippines” !!!
    Keep your sense of humor, and take the good times with the hard times.
    Remember, you are now a Bonafied Alien in another culture and climate. Sweating is good for you. Just drink more water and don’t forget salt intake.
    Welcome to the Philippines !

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