Is the Philippines a Western Country in South Eastern Asia?

(I have slightly modified my previous post entitled “The Misleading Western Veneer of the Philippines” and I have replaced it with this updated version)

Many foreign visitors who set foot for the first time on the archipelago easily and quickly jump to the conclusion that the Philippines is a Western country because of its palpable Western veneer.

Yet this Western veneer can be rather misleading.

The reason why I am using the expression “misleading” with regard to the Western veneer of the Philippines is because, basically, when I first met my wife I had a vague idea that the Philippines was an ex Spanish and US colony and that Filipinos are usually fluent in English, and so I kind of fell into the trap of assuming that I wouldn’t have to work really hard at building rapport with my wife’s culture precisely because I thought that the Philippines was essentially a Western country or, at least, a country that was heavily influenced by its former Western colonizers.

Yet, before long (and I mean less than three months into the marriage) I started noticing that my wife was akin to us Westerners only on the surface and I started noticing a bunch of things that set the Filipino community very far apart from the West.

For example, as I have already mentioned in one of my posts, I noticed that both my wife and her friends and relatives would hardly associate with local people and that 99,9% of my social life was only taking place within the context of Filipino social gatherings.

My old friends hardly existed for my wife and I had to really insist to get her to spend an evening with my former friends.
This isn’t just my wife’s mentality but rather a very widespread trait of the Filipino community here in Rome: they basically form a very closed sort of “enclave” and they almost only socialize with other Filipinos. The gap between the Western veneer of the Philippines and the actual reality became more evident to me the first time I set foot in the Philippines.

When I got out of the N.A.I.A. airport I found myself almost immediately on the Roxas Boulevard (which is very close to the airport) and because it was 11 pm the boulevard was full of neon lights. A view of the Makati City Skyline from the EDSA Avenue (the “Western veneer” of the Philippines)
I had visited quite a few cities that have some American style skyscrapers and neon lights before but nothing like what I saw in Manila in terms of the amount of neon lights and skyscrapers and the size of the shopping malls. A typical house compound in San Ildefonso Bulacan where relatives live in close proximity (the reality behind the “veneer”)
So my very first impression of Manila by night, with it’s buildings entirely covered with neon lights, those massive fast-food restaurants, malls and skyscrapers (and the contrast between these things and the various Spanish-style Christian churches that I was noticing along the way) plus the huge karatula, most of which written in English, was that I had really landed in a Western country.

But when I arrived in San Ildefonso, Bulacan (my wife’s town) an entirely different reality revealed itself.

For example I noticed that my wife’s house compound was structured in such a way that the entire extended family lived in very close proximity and, as I walked along the M. Valte Road, I observed that, more or less, all compounds were structured in a similar way.

So I became aware that Filipinos have a concept of what constitutes a family that is miles away from the Western idea of family.

When I was in my mid-twenties my parents were eager to get rid of me and wanted me to find work and my own house as soon as possible, while in the Philippines parents expect their married sons and daughters to build their house in the family compound and never leave.

My brother lives 50 km away from me and we only see each other four or five times a year while my wife and her brother call each other every single day. Although my mother is invalid she prefers paying a katulong to getting a bigger house where my wife and I could live close to her and give her some assistance while my wife’s mother lives with us.

So, yes, the Filipino concept of what constitutes a family is one of those areas in which the contrast between the Western veneer of the Philippines and its actual mentality is quite striking.

So, if you are contemplating the idea of marrying a Filipina, don’t assume that you are going to marry a Western woman.

If you assume that you will pretty soon discover the truthfulness of what the “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says: “The Western visitor (or anyone who has long term relationships with Filipinos) may find he is speaking the same language but not communicating at all. With a sinking feeling he realises he is not in America or England or Canada, but in an entirely different world. Feeling betrayed, the Westerner retreats into his own shell”.

To avoid finding yourself in the position described by the above mentioned book you need to operate from the premise that the various trappings of the Western world that abound in the Philippines only constitute a veneer and underneath this coating there is a culture that has a radically different concept of what constitutes a family.But the kin-group culture is just one of the many aspects that set the Filipino society very far apart from the Western model of the world.

In past articles I have touched on other areas in which the Filipino culture is a vast universe, underneath the “Western coating”, that a Western husband of a Filipina needs to explore with huge amounts of radical openmindedness if he wants to avoid finding himself in the position of “speaking the same language while not being able to communicate at all”.

7 thoughts on “Is the Philippines a Western Country in South Eastern Asia?

  1. How true, how true. I would probably have done the same thing your wife did, had Matt let us settled in New York. The fact that we moved out of the city and lived in the suburb in a town where there was no Filipino around made me more western than Filipino. My kids think I’m too Americanized now. Even my accent is different. I lost my Batangas accent.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s a lot of Filipinos in one area. In New Jersey where my two brothers live, there are lots of Filipinos and they socialize like they are back home. They celebrate all kinds of fiesta and church events there. I admire you for tolerating it. I don’t think my husband could do that. For a few socializing we do with some close Filipino friends, he grins and bears it but if it is too much, I bet you, my marriage will be in big trouble. As it is, we are fine. I will be married 50 years on May 29, 2020 if my husband’s health holds on.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. 99% of my social life takes place within the boundaries of the Filipino community of Rome and I mean literally. 50 years of marriage is a great accomplishment, congratulations! My wife and I have been sticking around for 20 years together so far…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you. My husband always said, if he does not make it to 50, he’ll be really pissed off. That’s his exact words. I’m keeping my fingers crossed since he is not well. You and your wife are very lucky to have each other. Filipino wives are the best. I keep on telling my boys to marry a Filipina. One did not but he seems to be happy with her. Her parents came from the same town we used to live before we retired South but he met her in California. They’ve been married 12 years. My other son fell in love with a Filipina when he went there but out of sight, out of mind. He is still single.

    Liked by 1 person

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