Continuing this weeks series of articles about things I have learned about life here in the tropics, today I would like to look at culture. In the past, when I lived in the USA, I never really thought all that much about culture. These days, I have thought a lot about culture, and with all of my thought and learning about culture over the past decade, I now know that culture is very important, one of the most important things about living in a different country. In fact, I know that while I have learned a lot about culture, I have not even scratched the surface, and will probably never fully understand the culture of the Philippines.
There is indeed a lot to learn when it comes to culture. Some expats here will tell you that they fully understand the culture here. I have thought that myself many times. However, every time that I feel that I have fully come to understand Philippine culture, something happens that teaches me a new lesson. Because of this, I now accpet that there will probably always be new lessons to learn and new things to weigh and come to understand.
One thing that I hear from a lot of Americans that I meet is that “the culture of the Philippines is just like America.” I’m telling you, it ain’t so. Most of the Americans who tell me this are people who have been here on vacation a few times, or even more. Fact is, when you are here for vacation, you don’t get all of the cultural nuances. For one thing, people here don’t necessarily show you all the different facets of their culture if you are going to be here for two weeks or a month. Why? Precisely because you are only going to be here for a short time. For that amount of time, the local people can put up with you, and do things your way as much as they can. However, when you move here for good, it is you who will have to learn about their culture, and to some extent you will need to adapt it into your life.
If you are not living here, you cannot possibly understand this. I know that I never understood it until I lived here. And, you have to live here for a while before you realize it. You have to adapt, or at least try to adapt.
Foreigners have the reputation here that they get mad easily. It’s not too hard to figure out why people think that foreigners get mad. I mean, if you go to the mall, to a restaurant, to the Immigration office or any public place, it’s just a normal thing to see some foreigner who is yelling at somebody, throwing things, or whatever. I am not exaggerating either. Hey, I admit it, I’ve been there and done those things myself. I still do, but not as often as I did years ago. Want to know why foreigners are like that? It’s because of culture. You see, when you come here, and things are done in a way that is totally out of sync with what you are used to, it irritates you. When you get irritated over and over again, after a while your fuse pops and you do something stupid.
You know what? Every time I lose my temper like this, it only takes a few minutes and I am thinking things like “how stupid am I, I promised myself that I’d never do this again.” You see, though, culture is something that is in your blood. You grew up in a certain culture, and that is what you expect. Even if you learn about a new culture, that doesn’t make you part of the culture, and it doesn’t mean that you are ready to live that culture. It takes years to condition yourself. Some peole do better than others. In my early years here, I did not do well. I have seen a lot of foreigners who did worse than me, though, too.
I know that if you have never lived here, or in another country with a different culture, you are probably reading this thinking to yourself something like, “I will never do that,” but you will. You can’t understand until you get immersed into a different culture. And, I am not talking about immersing into a culture for a few weeks while you are on vacation. I mean being immersed in it for months and then for years.
I have learned in my time here that studying and observing how the culture works is very important. It doesn’t mean that you will be at peace with the culture, but it helps to understand it. If you study it and think about it, you will avoid making as many mistkaes. You won’t be perfect, but nobody is, so that is not what you should strive for.
Basically, culture impacts every part of your life, and it is important to remember that, and to try to adjust. This will be your most difficult thing that you will need to adjust to when you move to the Philippines.
Announcement: Because it is Holy Week, my regularly scheduled Thursday morning coffee session will not take place this week. I will be back next week though for those who wish to get together for coffee.