It’s hard for me to decide exactly what this article is about. I have in mind a few different thoughts that are seemingly unrelated, yet I believe that for the terms of this post, and for my thinking, there is a relationship between my thoughts. Let’s see if I can write my thoughts down in a way that both makes sense and also relates a couple of seemingly unrelated things. I hope I can succeed in doing that.
A few days back, I was reading a blog of another expat. Normally, if I write about something that I read on somebody else’s blog, I will link to the article, but in this case I am not going to do that. Why? Because what I say may be deemed by some people to be negative about that person, or what he wrote. What I will say is not intended to be negative at all, only to ponder and consider his thinking and relate it to what I think. Because of the possibility that some will think it negative towards the other person, I will not name him, although if he reads this, I am sure he will know that I am talking about him, and other readers here may feel the same. That’s OK, but please know that I have no ill feelings toward the person who wrote the other blog post.
The Skin Tax Issue
Anyway, as part of that blog post I was reading, the writer was talking about the “skin tax” in the Philippines. For readers who may not know what I mean when I say “skin tax,” let me clarify. Many expats call it a skin tax when foreigners are charged a little more here in the Philippines, simply because they have “white skin,” or skin of some other color, and thus are obviously not Filipino. Yes, the skin tax exists. To me, it is a relatively minor inconvenience. I rarely feel that I get hit with a skin tax at all. Most of the time, I feel that if I go to the market, or elsewhere, the prices I am charged are pretty much the same as what Feyma would pay. I know that from time to time I pay a bit more than she does, but it is such a minor amount that it just does not bother me. You can bet, if I go to the market, I negotiate on the price of almost anything I buy, and I feel that I can get a pretty good price through such negotiation.
So, anyway, on this other blog post that I was reading, the person was talking about needing some repairs done at his home. He said that he had hired a certain handyman in the past to do home repairs, but that the repairman overcharged him, but that in the interim, he and his wife had found a new handyman to help at his house when needed. Anyway, this new handyman came and did some repairs, and wanted only a very small amount of money for doing the repairs. The writer remarked that his wife was going to pay the handyman more than had been asked for (I would guess, based on what was written, that she was going to pay him about double of what he was asking). When the writer heard about this, he pitched in even more, and paid the worker double what the wife was going to pay, making it, I believe, about 4 times the price that was asked for by the handyman. What he said in his article was that because this new handyman was obviously giving a very fair price, he was kicking in some extra money for him… basically because he was so honest.
So, as I read this, it got me thinking. I hear this same logic from a lot of foreigners who live here. They find a Filipino worker who is charging them a very fair price for work that they have done, but since they are so honest in their pricing, they are given a bonus. Think about it. If the worker had simply charged the higher price (which he got in the end anyway), the foreigner would likely complain that he was hit again with the Kano Tax, or the Skin Tax. But, since the worker did not apply the Kano Tax, they go ahead and give it to him as a reward! Does that make sense? To me it does not.
If it is offensive to be charged the supposed “Kano Price” for some work done, or for some fruit at the market, some fish, or whatever, then why would you give that same amount to a vendor or worker who is asking for half or even a fourth the price? If you were going to pay that anyway, why complain about getting hit with the foreigner price? I don’t know, it seems to me nothing more than creating something to worry about and fret over, even to raise your blood pressure, when in the end you were planning to pay the same amount anyway.
Caution: Left Turn
Now is where I am going to take a quick left turn. It will seem that I am veering way off topic, but stick with me, I’ll come around full circle and hopefully tie these things together.
Durian is Delicious
If you have been reading my site for long at all, you know that I like durian. Durian is the King of Fruits. It is, in my opinion, delicious. A lot of foreigners, and a few Filipinos even say that it stinks. I used to think it stinks, but now I love the smell of durian. I am not joking, I really do love durian. A lot of foreigners tell me that they don’t like it. Know what I tell them?
It’s OK if you don’t like durian. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it, no problem.
So, if I told you to not eat it if you don’t like it, would you be offended by me saying that? I doubt if anybody would, because it is not intended to be offensive at all, it’s just saying that it’s no problem if you don’t like it, because you can eat something else instead. Have a mango, rambutan or a banana instead, and enjoy life. No biggie.
Do you like Adobo?
What about if you go to a restaurant in the Philippines, order Adobo, which is almost officially the national dish of the Philippines. You are served your adobo, and you don’t like it. It doesn’t taste quite right to you, and you think you know why… it needs more garlic! Would you get up from your table at the restaurant and walk back to the kitchen and tell the chef that his adobo is terrible? Would you take it upon yourself to show him how he should cook adobo? I doubt if you would. After all, he is a Filipino, cooking the Filipino National Dish, and you are a foreigner tasting it for the first time. Odds are that he knows how to cook adobo, and you don’t.
Is all of this related?
So, what do all of these things have to do with each other? Now, it’s time for me to tie them together!
A while back, John Miele wrote an article entitled “If you don’t like it, then leave.” Basically, John talked about how a lot of foreigners complain about the Philippines, and to make a long story short, he suggested that if you don’t like the Philippines, just leave and go live somewhere else. A lot of people got angry about John’s article, as is evident in the comments on that article.
Now, let’s look at the points I made above in relation to John’s article.
- Regarding the skin tax, or the kano tax, i.e. paying a higher price than Filipinos pay. As I pointed out above, I hear a lot of foreigners complaining about this skin tax. I also hear a lot of the same foreigners talking about paying more to a Filipino who does not overcharge them. In effect, they are volunteering to pay the skin tax, as a reward to the Filipino whom they consider more honest.
- As I said, I like durian. I said that if you don’t like durian, don’t eat it, have something else instead. I don’t think that is offensive. But, on John’s article, he said that if you don’t like the Philippines, you should not live here, it is best for you to go live in a place where you will be happier and like the place. Really, John and I are saying the same thing, just about different subjects.
- Regarding the restaurant example where you were served adobo that you did not like, let me explain how that works in. I hear a lot of Americans and other foreign nationals here who complain about different aspects of life in the Philippines. They sit around with other foreigners and say that they want to teach Filipinos how to do things correctly, so that the country can prosper and improve. Since they are foreigners, they believe that they know better than Filipinos do. Let me give a clue here… this country belongs to the Filipinos, they run it the way that they like. When they go abroad, they might think that the way we run our countries is not proper either. I won’t speak for other countries, but if you take a quick look at how things are going in the USA, I think it is pretty obvious that we are not experts and don’t have a paradise, in fact we have a lot of problems in the US right now. So, instead of going to the kitchen and telling the chef how to cook adobo, it might be better to either adjust to the taste of adobo, find some other food that you like, or go live in another country where you enjoy the food more.
My final thought on this is that if you come here to live and find that you don’t like it, if you sit with a group of expats and can only complain about how things are here, if you feel like the only way you can like living here is if you first “teach” Filipinos how to do things in a way so that you feel happier… well, perhaps the Philippines is not the place for you. You know what, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. There are plenty of countries in which I would not be happy living, but I am not ashamed of that. If you are not happy in the Philippines, why sit around and be miserable? If paying P5 extra for a kilo of carrots will get under your skin, well, you might be happier if you do what John Miele suggested a while back… leave. Paul Thompson also has a saying, he says that if you don’t like it here, he’ll be happy to drive you to the airport. I tell people that planes come and go every day. Nothing shameful about deciding to move to Thailand, to South America or Spain. How about the Azores or Malaysia? Do what it takes to be happy. If the Philippines makes you happy, then you will even be happier if you look for the positive sides of life here, instead of complaining about the few things that you find odd or uncomfortable. If you don’t like Adobo, order a bowl of spaghetti or a steak instead.
So, how did I do? I think I brought each point home to a point where you can see what I am talking about. Maybe you don’t agree with my reasoning, and that’s OK, but I hope that you can at least see the logic in my reasoning.
Wanna have a bit of adobo, and some durian for desert? Maybe we can hire somebody to cut the grass while we eat!
Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur who is based in Davao. Bob is an American who has lived permanently in Mindanao since May 2000. Here in Mindanao, Bob has resided in General Santos City, and now in Davao City. Bob is the owner of this website and many others.