One of the hallmark traits of Filipinos is the fact that they spend long hours chit-chatting or, in Tagalog, doing kwentuan.
Life in the Philippines, especially in the kabukiran, is rather idle and people spend a great deal of time engaging in idle conversation.
Filipinos are very social and they are, by and large, much more extrovert than introvert.
They grow up in house compounds where the whole extended family lives and guests come and go all day long and “halika, kwento tayo” (“come in, let’s chat”) is the typical Filipino invitation.
Filipinos, as I’ve said many times, watch a lot of tv and, generally speaking, Filipino TV programs are mostly concerned with arousing curiousity about the latest gossip, scandal and what celebrities like Manny Paquiao or Catriona Gray are doing or not doing. You just have to watch Pinoy TV for 5 minutes and you will notice it immediately.
So they have a strong tendency toward sticking their nose into someone else’s behavior and gossip.
Someone said that, because tsismis is a word that was borrowed from the Spanish language, as there is no native word for gossip, Filipinos take it lightly.
I am not sure if the fact that Filipinos do indeed take this habit lightly can really be chalked up to the etymology of the word, but what I know for sure is that, for the average Filipino, gossiping is not that much of a problem.
Tsismis can take many forms: it can be a light sticking of one’s nose into the affairs of others, not necessarily with the intent of slandering them, or it can build into a more malicious intriga that can lead to paninirang-puri or slander.
A foreigner’s perspective on tsismis
What is my opinion as a foreigner about this Filipino trait? Here is what I have to say about gossip:
I remember the great psychologist Dr. Wayne Dyer saying: “tell me what you are for and I will tell what is going to expand, tell what you are against and I will tell you what is going to expand”.
In other words if a person is against something or someone, he or she cannot be for something.
If we focus on what others are doing (by gossiping about them, especially if this is done to ruin someone’s reputation) we are automatically shifting our focus away from what we should be doing, therefore we can hardly be creative or have a plan for our own lives.
Filipinos put a lot of focus on what others are doing and tsismis or gossip keeps them too busy talking about other people and causes many of them to have little time and energy to come up with a higher vision or purpose for their own lives.
I think that even harmless tsismis which is mere sticking one’s nose into someone’s affairs without the intent of harming them (especially the personal affairs of celebrities), is still a waste of time, focus and energy.
And, of course, intriga and paninirang-puri are even worse:
it has been said that there are two ways to build the tallest building in town: one way is by actually building a house that is taller than the others while another is by tearing down all the other buildings. A person can either show up as the builder or the wrecker. I often see Filipinos as people who are more concerned with “wrecking” than building (and the crab mentality is a strong evidence that this is the case).
Paninirang-puri often creates enemies and friction between families and clans.
So Filipino people, instead of focusing on how they could improve themselves, tend to focus a lot of their energy on what others do.
On a large scale they tend to blame the government and corruption instead of asking themselves how they could personally contribute to improving the community and, on a small scale, they spend a lot of energy and focus on criticizing others and other families.
How tsismis may impact the life of a Filipina’s foreign husband
Because, as the husband of a Filipina, you will inevitably be having a lot of interactions with other Filipinos, you might find yourself in a position where you have to behave in a certain way not to be judged and become the object of tsismis.
I’ve found myself in the position of being the object of gossip because, at the beginning of my relationship I didn’t have a car and I would always hear the whispers of the tsismoso who would say that I was the “ Italyano na walang kotse” (which is something that Filipinos frown upon as they have a strong car culture).
So, one of the things you should expect, if you marry a Filipina, is that you will hardly be able to enjoy total intimacy with your spouse, rather you will have to constantly watch out for what other Filipinos have to say, as if they were watching you, waiting for you to make a wrong move and use it as an occasion to tsismis.
You will likely find yourself in a position where you are constantly being observed (and all the more so if you live with the extended family) and where you have to take into account that every move you make could elicit tsismis.
Filipinos, as I’ve said many times, see themselves not as independent agents but as part of an intricate network of connections where it is almost impossible to do something or express an opinion without being judged thereby becoming the object of tsismis.