What is “pasalubong?” It is a travel gift. In other words, if you travel from a far away place, you are kind of expected to bring your close friends and family a gift of some kind. I am talking about Filipino friends and family, of course.
For example, if you come from the USA to visit family in the Philippines (or close friends) you are kind of expected to bring something that is “from the USA” to share with your loved ones when you arrive. Same thing if you were to come from Europe, Australia or wherever. In fact, if you live in the Philippines and let’s say you needed to travel to Manila or Cebu to take care of some business, when you return to your home, people will be expecting pasalubong, or a travel gift.
A lot of times, I get e-mails from people telling me that they are coming to the Philippines for the first time. They are coming to visit a girl that they have come to know on the Internet, or for business, or for whatever reason. They ask me what they should bring as a gift for somebody that they are close to. Well, of course it varies, but I’ll give you a few ideas.
I can remember the first time that I came to the Philippines, which was in July 1990. There really was no publicly used Internet at that time (although the government and military used the Internet already), so I had nobody to really ask what I should bring as gifts, I was in the dark, although I felt it was appropriate to bring a gift for my girlfriend (Feyma) and her family. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I was really unsure, though, what would be appropriate. I was living in Washington State at the time, right on the border with Oregon (near Portland). One of the first things I decided upon as a gift was a coffee table book which was a photo book of the Pacific Northwest. It was quite a beautiful, and expensive book, and I thought it would be a nice way to show off the area where I lived. I also brought other gifts that kind of showed off my local area, things like Seattle Mariner’s baseball caps, shirts that said “Seattle” or “Portland” on them and that kind of thing. All of these kinds of gifts were greatly appreciated, and made a good impression on my in-laws to be.
Of course, all through the 90’s, we made a number of trips to the Philippines to visit Feyma’s family, and we always brought pasalubong when we came. After we were married, though, I let Feyma worry about what the right gift was, I figured she would be better at knowing what would be most appreciated.
Over the years of living here in the Philippines, though, I have come to know what I appreciate receiving from people who come to visit. While I don’t “expect” people to bring me anything, it is always a nice gesture. I want to make it clear that I am not asking anybody to bring any of the things I mention, I am mainly just telling you the kinds of things that I, and other expats I know appreciate, because I get the question pretty regularly from people wanting to know what they should bring for friends and family here.
One of the reasons that I decided to write this article is because a friend came to visit us a few weeks ago, and the gift that he brought was highly appreciated. I had actually never met this fellow in person before, but I knew him from his participation on this site. Anyway, when we met, my friend pulled out a bag and gave it to me and said it was for Feyma and I. He brought four gifts, actually, and all were quite useful. First thing I pulled out of the bag was a bottle of Excedrin pain reliever – not just any bottle, but the super big Industrial Sized bottle with like 1,000 capsules in it! Wow. It was funny, because earlier the same day, Feyma and I had been talking that we were out of such a pain reliever, and that we needed to order something from the States. There are such pain relievers available here, but they are only available “by the piece,” not in a big 1,000 piece size. By the piece, also, they are much more expensive here, and also the biggest problem is that the pain relievers like this here seem to be not very effective compared to what you can get abroad. Second thing I pulled from my friend’s package was a bottle of Excedrin PM. He explained that he wanted to give us something for daytime or nighttime! Next, I found that he had given me two of the long lighters that you can use to light a candle or a BBQ grill. You know, the long metal thing with a plastic handle, with a trigger that you pull to make it light a flame? I don’t know exactly what to call it, but I have never seen anything like that here, and even the matches here are of poor quality so this was greatly appreciated. In fact, we use the “lighter sticks” every single day! So, these gifts, while just simple every day things were greatly appreciated.
Another time, a few years ago, a friend from Canada brought me some black licorice. He knew, because I had once written, that licorice was a favorite of mine, and something that is quite difficult to find here, or it was at that time. Now, it is more available than it was at that time.
Towels are always appreciated here, because the towels here are of very poor quality, and usually are not even absorbent of water! It’s like you wipe your body with the towel and it only smears the water around, but doesn’t soak any up. So, I have brought towels over here in the past for friends, and they were always loved, and very well received.
So, if you are coming over and want to share a small gift with friends or family, these are the kinds of things that are always appreciated. Something local from your area is always a nice touch that would be highly valued. Think about it and you can find something unique, or an everyday thing that just is not available for purchase here!