The Philippines is a very formal society, somewhat of a throwback to the way it was 50 or 100 years ago in the USA and much of the Western World. During the past decades, much of the world has become much more casual, yet the Philippines often seems to be stuck in the past in this respect.
Over the years that I have lived here in the Philippines, I have gotten used to the formality here, although it sometimes still makes me uncomfortable to some extent. In last week’s Podcast, Dave Starr and I mentioned this to some extent. When it comes to names, as a foreigner you will always be called “Sir” or “Mr.” Even if your first name is used, you will be “Sir Steve” or “Mr. Jerry.” There was a time when I would always tell people to just call me Bob, not Mr. Bob or Sir Bob. They would say “OK Sir” and just continue to address me in such a formal style. In recent years, I have simply decided to let them call me what they are comfortable with. If I am particularly close to an individual, I will invite them to call me “Bob” instead of the more formal name, and then I just accept what they choose to call me. If they accept the invitation that I have extended, I am very happy that they did. If they continue to call me in a formal way, I just accept it, though. It is what they are comfortable with, so if they are my friend, why would I want to make them feel uncomfortable?
This lesson in formality came back to me this past week when I was working on a little business project. Because of the websites that I operate (this one, Mindanao.com and others) I get a lot of requests from people for information on Hotels. People are always asking me to make a recommendation of what hotel they should choose to stay at. Because I do this so much (sometimes a half dozen people ask me this per day), I decided that I really need to work out a deal with the hotels that I recommend where they will pay me a commission for the referrals that I send their way. It won’t cost the guests anything extra, the hotel would just pay me a percentage, just like they do to a travel agent. I had one of my employees call about a dozen different hotels in Davao. She told the hotel people that we are already sending them dozens of guests every month, and we just want to formalize the relationship in some way, and to be paid commission for our referral. Each and every one of the hotels responded that they indeed were happy that we are sending guests to them, but we need to submit a formal proposal in writing for them to consider such an arrangement! In the States, you could just make the arrangement over the telephone and go on with business! It won’t happen that way here, though. I feel confident that I will be able to reach an agreement with the hotels in question, but it’s not just a matter of a phone call, I will have to go through a more formal process, write some letters, sit down for some meetings and such. I’m OK with that, it’s just a very formal way to do business for me!
So as I said in the title of this column and in the introduction, I am a rather casual person, as I think most Americans and other Westerners are. We have actually grown up that way, as our societies have swung to a more casual approach to life. I often find it funny, or uncomfortable when I am presented with such formality as I see here.
I’m getting used to it, though…