About 6 years ago, not long after I moved from General Santos City to Davao, I met a young man. He was the brother of a friend, and had just moved to Davao himself. This young man, his name was Omar, was half Filipino, half American. Omar had grown up in the USA, and had never been in the Philippines before, but had decided to come and live in Davao, and attend College here. I think it was sort of a combination of wanting to connect with his Filipino heritage, save money on college expenses and just get out on his own that brought him here. Frankly, having never been in the Philippines, Omar was quite confused about many aspects of life here. One thing that complicated his life here was that he looked to be 100% Filipino. Because he looked Filipino, people here treated him as a local, yet emotionally he was really 100% American.
This unfamiliarity with Filipino culture lead to a lot of misunderstandings for Omar. Not being able to understand the local language at all made life even more difficult, because since people thought he was a local, they would not speak to him in English. When he would try to explain that he could not understand, they thought that he was just joking, and some people would get mad at him. Because of this, Feyma always did a lot to help Omar in these situations. If Omar was out in public and had a language problem, he would always call Feyma on his cellphone and she would help him through the trouble.
One day, I was planning to take a trip out of town for one night. I asked Omar if he wanted to come along with me to see some other areas in Mindanao. He readily took me up on my offer, and was excited to get out of the City and see the countryside a bit. When we were ready to head out of town, Omar asked me if I would mind stopping at an ATM machine so that he could get some cash for the trip. Of course, I was happy to make the stop for him.
I stopped at a bank with an ATM machine that would work with his US ATM card. After a few minutes Omar came back and got in the car. I could tell that he was troubled by something, or had something on his mind. He wasn’t very talkative, and seemed to be focused somewhere else. I just let him have time to work out whatever was bothering him.
When we arrived at our destination for the evening, and we were having dinner, Omar opened up to me. “I want to talk to you about something.” I replied “No problem, what’s up?” “Well,” Omar said, “remember when we stopped at the bank? I checked my balance on the ATM machine, and it said that I have more than $25,000 in my account! Now, I was pretty sure that I had only $500 or so. What do you think I should do?”
Inside, I was kind of chuckling, but I didn’t let on to Omar about that. I explained to Omar, “you see, the ATM machines here don’t work in US Dollars, they are in Pesos.” “What do you mean?” Omar asked. “Well, Omar, when you do a balance inquiry, the amount is automatically converted from US Dollars, which you have in your account back home, into Philippine Pesos.” “So,” I continued, “If you have $500 in your bank account, and the exchange rate is P50 for every dollar, the balance shown will be P25,000.”
“Oh,” Omar said, “I thought that the bank made a mistake, or maybe my Dad put in money for my schooling or living expenses!” We had a mutual laugh, and enjoyed our dinner.
So, keep in mind, if you use ATM machines here in the Philippines, no matter where your bank account is, or what currency the account supports, the amounts shown by the ATM machine are in Philippine Pesos!