The Very First Question I was Asked when I First Visited the Philippines: “Kayo po ba ay Mayaman?”

I am probably one of very few Western husbands of a Filipina who learned Tagalog before ever setting foot in the Philippines.

I got to know my wife back in the year 2000 and in March 2001 I set out on a project to learn Tagalog and I went about it very eagerly, to the point that, the first time I visited the Philippines, I was already quite fluent in Tagalog.

This stood me in very good stead because, as Filipinos say, “hindi ako maibebenta” or, literally, “I could not be sold”, in the sense that no one could try to fool me by speaking to me in the local language, because I could understand it.

And because I could understand it, on the very first day I arrived in the Philippines, I went out of my wife’s house and started walking about in the barangay and, one of the very first things I heard was the whisper of a child in his mother’s ear: “nanay, tingnan mo: ang isang Amerikano!” or “mother, look: an American!”.

A young lady came up to me and asked me: “sir, kayo po ba ay mayaman?” meaning “sir, are you rich?”.

So it dawned upon me that Filipinos who have never left the Philippines assume that in the West everybody is rich.

A lot of people asked me “sir, pakisuyo, tulungan ninyo ang anako ko upang makarating siya sa bansa ninyo para magtrabaho” or “please sir, help my son to get to your country to work there” as if I had any power over the Italian Embassy or over the Italian Immigration Office and could, somehow, help people to get an entry visa to come to my country.

But even if I were in the position to get Filipinos to come to my country all I could accomplish would be to help them understand that most expectations that Filipinos have about the West are not realistic at all and that “money in the West does not fall from the trees”.

Actually, one of the first things that Filipinos notice, when they come here, is that here, in winter, there are not even leaves on the trees so how could there ever be any money?

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