Have you heard of the Expat Enigma? Don’t worry, I haven’t either, in fact, I just made it up. It is, though a very real thing, something that just never really had a name until now.
Firstly, what is an enigma? Some people might not know, especially if English is not your first language. An enigma is something that is a mystery, puzzling, generally something that is not easy to understand. I suppose that there are plenty of enigmas about expats, we are a different lot after all. But, one comes to my mind that I want to talk about today. What is that enigma?
The Family Enigma
Going a little bit further, I’m talking about the Philippine Family Enigma. What do I find puzzling or hard to understand about Filipino families? Nothing really. The enigma for me is how foreigners often deal with their Filipino family.
It has often been said, and is generally true that when you marry a lady in the Philippines, you marry the whole family. It is actually also true, in my opinion, in western families, but in a much more limited sense. When you marry in the Philippines, it becomes incumbent on you to assist the family. If there is a family emergency, you will be expected to help the family financially. If you cannot help financially, you need to help in other ways, however you can. Generally, as expats, it is expected that we can help financially, though. The help, however, is not usually limited to you, all members of the family are expected to help in whatever way they can. Siblings of your wife are generally expected to help the parents, and the amount of help that they are expected to give generally is in line with their level of financial success. Those who are wealthier are expected to help more than those who are poor. That is to be expected, in my opinion.
What is the Enigma?
None of that is puzzling, though, it all is known or quickly becomes known to expat husbands of Filipinas. So, what is the Enigma?
Well, if you talk to foreigners who talk about wanting to move to the Philippines and you ask them why they want to move here, they will almost all say, in the top few reasons for moving, that they like the way that family is so important in Philippine culture. It is true, family is very important in the Philippines. Probably much more important than it is in the West. Don’t take me wrong, family is important in the West, but in a different way. Here, the extended family unit is much closer than most extended families in the west.
OK, what about the Enigma?
Yes, my friends, I am getting to that now.
After many foreigners have been here for a while, if you ask them about their wife’s family, they get started ranting and raving!
- They treat me like an ATM
- I’m not included in the family
- It’s all about money
- No matter how much I help, they want more
This kind of thing is rampant among expats when they talk. So, the enigma is that they first talk about how they long for the Philippine Family Values…. yet after they become more familiar with the way family works in the Philippines, they complain about it! 🙂 That, my friends, is an enigma.
I have to be honest
I must be honest. With my wife’s family, I have been very lucky. We have helped the family over the years. Feyma and I have been married for more than 23 years now, so we have a lot of experience at this. While in the States, and while living in the Philippines, we have helped financially and in other ways. But, you know what? I have never felt that it has been expected of us. It has almost always been a situation where we helped because we wanted to help. From time to time, we have been asked for help, but it was more “can you help with this” than “you will help.” It has always been our choice.
How to handle excessive requests
If you get what you feel are excessive requests for help, the best thing you can do is talk about it. First, talk with your wife, one on one. She should know the family finances and understand that some of the requests coming from her family may be excessive, or even unnecessary. Talk it over, and if she agrees that the requests have been excessive, ask her how it can best be handled with her family. The most likely thing is that your wife will tell you that she will talk to her family, and she will take care of it. I know this is how Feyma would handle it. She would consider it embarrassing to her and to the family if I go and try to put my foot down with the family It can be better handled by the wife, but first you have to make sure she understands that the family requests have been over the top. Listen to what your wife says. If she says that she wants you to go with her to talk to the family, ask her how you should handle the talk, what should you say in order to get through to the family while still allowing them to save face. Listen to her, and follow her lead.
So, avoid the enigma. Be firm, but polite. Don’t let money requests ruin your family relationship. After all, I bet that if you think back, having a close family life was one of the reasons you moved to the Philippines in the first place!