A lot of things are very different between Philippine Culture and western Culture. Way different. Recently, I have come to the conclusion that there is one difference that accounts for many other differences at once. What is that difference? There is no “Personal Space” allowed for in Philippine Culture.
In the west, we assume that a certain “zone” around our bodies is our personal space. Depending on the social situation, the amount of space in this zone varies, but it is always there. Here in the Philippines, you rarely get any personal space, unless you go out of your way to create it yourself. And, if you do that, I believe that it can be looked at as being somewhat “bastos.” What is Bastos? That would be defined as being somewhat vulgar, or maybe even “against the norm.”
How did I come to this conclusion? Well, last week, a friend and I were swimming, as we do every morning. Something that happens regularly happened again. Somebody who was just getting into the pool moved into our “lane.” When we swim, we don’t do it for fun, it’s exercise that we are after. We swim laps, up and down the pool. The bottom of the pool is clearly marked with swimming lanes. The pool has 7 or 8 lanes, I would guess. Even if my friend and I are the only two people in the pool, invariably (almost every day) a new swimmer will get in and start swimming in the lanes that we have already been swimming in for some time. I happened to mention one day that there seemed to be no personal space allotted to us.
This statement started a conversation about personal space, and I thought of many other examples where there is really a lack of personal space allotted to people in this culture. Let’s think about it and see what I am talking about:
Bedspacers. Did you know that here in the Philippines you can rent space as a “Bedspacer?” What is that? Well, it means that you pay a monthly rental and in return you get a space in a bed to sleep. There may be 3 or 4 (or more!) others who sleep in that same bed with you, even though you don’t even know them! And, the landlord can rent out another space to somebody that you don’t care for or even like. In the west, a “bedspacer” would not even be considered! Heck, I don’t even know if it would be legal for somebody to rent out space in a bed to strangers! How would you like sleeping night after night with a group of people (in the SAME bed) that you don’t know?
Visitors to the house. As I have mentioned many, many times in articles here in the past, if you live here in the Philippines, expect a lot of visitors (unannounced often) at your house. People that you haven’t seen for years will just show up and expect to spend a night or two in your house. In the west, it would be common practice to call a few days or weeks in advance to ask if it would be OK to stay over. Calling in advance would be outside the norm here, in my experience. This is especially true for family members, and when I say family that can mean people that you have never even met in your life. Maybe they are like 6th cousins or whatever, but they expect to stay over in your house! This would never happen in the west. Again, I believe that this is a sign of a lack of personal space.
Things get done in pairs. Owning a business (actually several) here and having employees, I have noticed many times in the past that if I have a job that only requires one person to get it done, many times my employees will want to do it in pairs. As a very simple example, let’s say that I want a can of diet coke, and I send an employee to the convenience store (just one block away from the house). Next thing I know, two employees went on the trip. They didn’t want anything of their own, they just “needed” that second person in order to feel right about going.
This is a culture that is so different than what we are used to, if we are from western countries. I know that for myself, I value my personal space. I value being alone sometimes where I can just think, or reflect on what is happening in my life. I do not believe that these preferences of mine fit into the culture here. That’s OK, we are all different and this is just an observation that I have realized recently.
Certainly there are lots and lots of examples of this lack of personal space in Philippine Culture. Can you come up with more examples? If so, leave them in the comments, I’d be most interested to hear them!