A few months ago, John Grant wrote a column on this site about a journey that he took in a taxi here in Davao. It was an interesting article, and mostly talked about communication between taxi drivers and foreigners.
Mostly, I don’t ride taxis, I have my own car, so I generally drive myself wherever I need to go. From time to time, though, I do take a taxi, especially if I am going somewhere that lacks adequate parking or something of that nature. The last few days, I’ve been rather sick with a bad cold. I needed to go do a few things around town, but didn’t feel like driving, so I took a taxi instead. Given my recent progress in learning to speak Bisaya, I decided that for the entire day, whenever I rode a taxi, I would only speak in Bisaya to the driver.
Generally, when I take a taxi, the trip is much as John described – I get in the taxi, tell the driver where I want to go, and it’s silent for the rest of the journey until I pay the driver and thank him for his service. Sometimes it’s nice to have a peaceful ride where you can reflect or just relax. Other times, though, it actually feels lonely, or actually feels like you are an outsider. Being an outsider is not a nice feeling. There are lots of other times when, as a foreigner, you are sort of an outsider. Remember last time you went to a party? For the most part, you had a bunch of Filipinos all speaking in their local tongue, and you were left sitting on the sofa drinking some coke. Not too fun. Same thing if you go to the mall, or a restaurant, too many times, as foreigners, we are left out, not included in conversations, because we are outsiders.
Well, yesterday, when I decided to speak only Bisaya to the taxi drivers, it really opened up a new world for me. I was quite surprised at just how friendly the drivers were. I wasn’t just a passenger anymore, I was more a friend or a compatriot. I had to struggle a little bit to keep up with the conversation, but when these guys would notice that I was having a hard time keeping up with the language, they adjusted, spoke more slowly, even helped me by giving me the English equivalent so that I could understand better. I have to say, an outsider was the last thing that I was feeling in this situation.
If you are living here in the Philippines, I really encourage you to learn the language that is most commonly used in your location. Not only will it give you the ability to speak with a wide range of people, it will make you part of society, not just an outsider who is noticed on the periphery.