Helpful advice to an American would-be expat in PH
A young American recently emailed me asking for advice on how he might be able to fit in as a long-term expatriate in the Philippines.
The late Anthony Bourdain’s episodes on our archipelago apparently inspired him to sell everything he owns and cross an ocean to live with “probably the most giving people on the planet.” Here’s what I told my new friend Barry Klughless of Butte Hollow, Wyoming:
Dear Barry: Assuming you’ve taken care of all the legal requirements to live here for a long while, all you really need is an acute sensitivity to the social milieu to which you are adapting. Don’t make the mistake of judging us from your own culture’s standards. Be open and flexible and accommodating of your new environment.
There’s more to know about us than what Mr. Bourdain, bless his soul, was able to communicate. Given his medium’s limitations, the warm-hearted chef-journalist was able to share only an aspect of our culture, albeit a positive one.
First, let’s get the matter of language out of the way. You will absolutely have no problem being understood by us. English, although a colonial legacy, has been extremely helpful in bridging communication gaps among a people with more than 170 languages at its disposal.
With English, you will be understood by everyone, including pickpockets, sidewalk drunks, and the staff of the Presidential Communications Office. And if you’re lucky our new Senate president will even translate what you say into Tagalog. He loves translating things from the English.
But as someone who wishes to go native, you’re probably anxious to learn Tagalog, Cebuano, and/or Ilocano. Start with the swear words, beginning with the basic Tagalog equivalent of your Stateside “sonafabitch.”
The more pungent the swear words the better. You will be instantly embraced as an authentic, down-to-earth everyman who sleeps under a mosquito net. However, do not, I repeat, do not overdo it, or you’ll find yourself elected as a public official, which is illegal for foreigners.
As in any culture, you must be mindful of basic courtesies. Never call anyone an “imbecile.” That title is officially taken. Also, do not ever let the words “human rights” leave your pie hole. You’ll risk being mistaken for a homosexual U.S. ambassador or worse, a compassion-stricken nun. You don’t want to tempt summary expulsion. So, if you’re a bleeding-heart liberal get a moral bypass before you cross the Pacific.
As for religion, don’t be put off by intense displays of Catholic fervor, like the honest-for-real crucifixions in Pampanga, or devotional stampedes like the Quiapo Nazareno procession. Don’t feel compelled to attend Sunday Mass just because the churches are always jam-packed. That’s all crap deep down. You should hear our president’s religious insults. He’s better than the Anti-Christ, and poll after public poll shows we simply love the old rascal. What can I tell you? Our Tatay’s the real thing.
Now I know you’re coming here partly to enjoy our wonderful beaches and islands. Just make sure the ones you visit still belong to us. You may actually need a Chinese visa for some of them by now. So, double-check your location before you dive into the surf. Might as well add Mandarin to the Tagalog and Ilocano you’ll try to learn while you’re at it.
Also, the good news, Barry, is that our country is probably the only place in the civilized world today where one can still be a real man. I mean a real real man. Here, you can kiss any woman you fancy on the lips in public without warning. I kid you not.
In fact, you should smack a wet one on Presidential girlfriend Honeylet’s lips and watch the crowd hoot and go wild with approval. Tatay President will be in on the joke for sure. Go ahead, have more fun; it’s part of our culture. So, before coming over, hone your inner lout to a fine edge and get ready to be a wolf-whistling, rape-joking, swaggering macho. Our people will absolutely love you for it.
I think that basically covers all you need to know for a smooth transition to Philippine living. You’re good to go for the next four years.
And oh, don’t let the impression of widespread criminality discourage you. Being of Caucasian persuasion, you will never be mistaken for a ransom-ripe Korean businessman by our cops. However, to ensure personal safety, don’t ever try to sing “My Way” in a karaoke bar.