I mentioned in a post over the weekend that when we moved back to the Philippines life here was very difficult for Feyma. It took her a long time to re-adjust to living here. As I have said here before, Feyma and I made an agreement that we would stay here for a minimum of 5 years no matter what we thought of the place. It’s a good thing that we made that clear between ourselves, because Feyma was ready to go back after only a couple of months. Over the next several years, Feyma made a lot of comments to me about wanting to go back to the States.
The truth is that every Filipina/Foreigner couple that I have ever met who moved back to live in the Philippines has experienced the same problem. The Filipina wife had trouble adjusting back to living here, and actually wanted to go back to her husband’s country. Why is this the case? I can’t speak for every couple, but I can look at the things that happened in our case.
First, when Feyma came to live in the USA she was 22 years old. She was young and still naive, not being exposed to anything western except for TV. Back then there was no Internet, at least not for the general public. She saw shows on TV from the USA, things like Dallas or Knots Landing. She thought the streets were paved in gold, I think. So, when she came to the USA, she learned a lot. She basically grew up and became a woman in the USA. She actually became quite a sophisticated woman, quite worldly. Feyma was certainly not the same person who had left the Philippines in 1990. She was not the same girl that her family and friends had known.
In 1999 we came here for a vacation. It was our last time to vacation here before moving here for good. While we were here, I once asked her sister what she thought about Feyma. Her response – “she’s fat.” Well, I think Feyma weighed about 125 pounds at that time, so she was certainly not fat. Thing is, when she left for the States she was like 90 pounds, and was skin and bones. But, the response of her sister was fairly typical of her family’s feelings – they really could not understand who she was anymore.
When we moved here in 2000, the confusion in Feyma’s family only worsened. They really could not understand her thinking anymore. She was more American than Filipina. Actually, I would say that they didn’t like it, and they kind of fought against it. They certainly didn’t understand why Feyma didn’t like it that half the extended family wanted to hang around our house all day long. They didn’t understand it that she didn’t care for the fact that all these people hanging around would make themselves at home with our food and such. Some of these people we barely knew, but they considered it their right to practically live at our place. After all, that is indeed Filipino culture. Families are huge, with 2nd and 3rd degree cousins hanging around, and basically being part of the household. Feyma, though, had just lived 10 years in the USA. She had gotten used to having some privacy. Because of this, Feyma was really stuck in between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, she could let the family hang around, in which case neither Feyma nor I would really be happy. We wanted our privacy. Sure, family could come around, but only when we invited them. That is certainly not the way Filipino culture works. On the other hand, if she told her family that they were not welcome to hang around at all hours of the day, she would be a bad person in their eyes. She would certainly not be in the norms of Filipino society. What could she do? No matter what she did, somebody would be unhappy. In the end, she chose to tell her family firmly that they need to give us our own space, and come over only when invited, or if they call or text us first to see if it is OK. This was a huge shock for the family, and lead to a lot of hurt feelings.
Let’s look at another thing that happened to Feyma. When she was in high school, there were basically two cliques. There were the rich kids and there were the poor kids. Feyma was one of the poor kids. The rich kids and the poor kids really didn’t mix. Most of the rich kids barely even knew Feyma existed. After we moved back, Feyma found out that one of her good friends from high school was working at a local department store. Feyma went there to see her, but the girl was quite cold in her response to Feyma. After a while it came out that the girl was no longer comfortable talking with Feyma, because she was now “rich.” Feyma didn’t act any different with the girl from when they were in high school, but culturally they were no longer the same, and the girl had no interest in rekindling the friendship. Basically, this was the case with most of Feyma’s friends from school. But, a funny thing happened. The rich kids suddenly found out who Feyma was and that she was back in town. Hmm.. Feyma owned some businesses in town that were doing quite well, so they decided that they wanted to rekindle the friendship with Feyma. Funny thing was, there never was a friendship in the past, because they would hardly talk to her before. All of this was very hard on Feyma, and it took a number of years for her to overcome these things.
There are many other things that made life difficult for Feyma. Things like grocery shopping or any kind of thing like going to the bank and such are all much more difficult tasks here than back in the States. Feyma had grown accustomed to the good life in the USA, and had a hard time accepting that it was a different life here, one that she had left behind forever… or so she thought.
So, don’t be surprised if you move here and your wife has a hard time adjusting. You know, they say that the person who is most difficult for a smoker to deal with is an ex-smoker. Ex-smokers are often the most militant anti-smoking advocates around. I guess that it is kind of a parallel with Filipinas who move back. For Feyma, it took a few years, but she has really come to love this place. She, I believe, still has some desire to go back to the States, but only for a visit. I believe that she is very happy living here now.