Posts in English, Tagalog and Italian About Interracial Marriage and About the Philippines and its Culture BLOG IN INGLESE, ITALIANO E TAGALOG SU MATRIMONIO MULTIETNICO E SULLE FILIPPINE E LA SUA CULTURA
Category: the Challenges of Being Married to a Filipina
The book says something along the lines of ‘a Westerner doesn’t hold back from telling it “as it is” if a CAUSE or a higher goal is at stake. For example a Western boss will likely not think twice before scolding a secretary for arriving late at work and even if she cries he will keep scolding her because the cause of punctuality is more important than her feelings and if she gets hurt so be it’.
Filipinos prefer keeping SMOOTH INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS and, more often than not, would rather sacrifice a cause than hurt somebody.
How does this knowledge affect your intimate relationship with a Filipina?
Often you have to put a “smooth relationship” with both her and her family above other goals and values.
For example, it might happen that your Filipina spouse will try to please both you and her extended family, even if this entails saying one thing to you and it’s opposite to her family, because SMOOTH INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS always take precedence, and I have seen it happening countless times.
So when your Filipina seems to be dealing with you in half-truths, as Filipinos often do, the question “are Westerners more sincere than Filipinos?” should be replaced with “how is she trying to move on the razor’s edge of trying to be both loyal to me and to her family or to other fellow Filipinos?”
Another thing to remember when the question “are Westerners more sincere than Filipinos?” arises in your mind is that probably us Westerners tend to be more straightforward in one to one relationships but in my country, as well as in most Western countries, politicians, business people, advertisers, car dealers and many others deal not just in half-truths but rather in plain lies.
Here in Italy politicians promise new jobs (like a former prime minister who promised 1,000,000 new jobs in few years), new infrastructures, better social welfare and lower taxes (which is a very tall order to fill, as social welfare is supported by tax payers) and many other things but once they secure for themselves their 12,000 € a month wage or above, all those promises turn out to be propaganda at most.
When you buy a second hand car here in Italy, car dealers or former owners sometimes lie on the actual mileage and some pass off cars with many miles as slightly used and mechanics sometimes do more repairs than what the car actually needs and if you don’t have some diskarte and have limited knowledge of how a car works, they will most likely cheat you (a mechanic tried to charge me 90€ to change two LPG filters that barely cost 10€ each).
So here in Italy, as well as in much of the Western world, people often deal in outright lies but often Westerners who interact with Filipinos get mad at their perceived lack of sincerity and so did I for many years.
Also the Tagalog language has a rather limited vocabulary to talk about such diverse concepts as “sincerity”, “faithfulness” and “loyalty” and, as I have pointed out in my article on the word tapat https://buildingfilipinowesternbridges.wordpress.com/2019/04/02/faithful-or-loyal-tapat-or-tapat/, they only have one word to talk about people who are merely “faithful” and those who are actually “loyal” (or people who show up as sincere without necessarily being truly loyal) and not just “faithful” and, therefore, the distinction between those diverse concepts is difficult to highlight in Tagalog.
So, sometimes, for the sake of being “faithful” (tapat) to everyone Filipinos may sacrifice being “loyal” (also tapat) to a higher cause. But that also happens in the West, it is just that we can be very good at saying things in somebody’s face in the name of loyalty to a higher cause like punctuality and so on but we are also very good at forgetting all about other higher causes (and even one to one sincerity for that matter) when money and self-interest are at stake.
So, are Westerners more sincere than Filipinos?
I have come to the conclusion that us Westerners, and particularly us Italians, have little to teach to Filipinos when it comes to sincerity.
My wife is Filipina and she comes from a culture that is all about pakikisama, a Tagalog term for togetherness.
I, on the other end, need, cherish and actually crave plenty of solitude and prefer associating with few selected individuals to having a lot of friends and going to large social gatherings.
I love solo hikes and I also love sitting alone on park benches or simply being shut away in my room to read for hours on end. And I love going to a cafeteria or a restaurant with maximum one or two very close friends and engage in deep conversation.
The Filipino culture is, on the other hand, all about large social gatherings, music, dancing and karaoke, chit-chatting and sharing.
The Filipino idea of togetherness fosters a spirit of bayanihan, a spirit of communal cooperation and help which is such that the whole community helps when of its member needs practical help.
So how can I, a very strong introvert, sit well with a Filipina who comes from a culture that is strongly oriented toward connecting with a lot of people?
Well, not only have I discovered that an introvert man can sit well with a woman who comes from a culture that encourages much togetherness but I have also found out that an extrovert person actually needs an introvert partner and that an introvert and an extrovert complement each other rather nicely.
Here are some reasons why I think an introvert like me can thrive in a relationship with an extrovert and make it work rather well.
Introverts are not hermits, they just prefer few and high quality relationships to many shallow ones
The Filipino idea of togetherness has a lot of great aspects to it, like the spirit of bayanihan that I have just mentioned.
On the other hand, because Filipinos definitely prefer large social gatherings to socializing with one or two people at a time, relationships tend to be rather shallow.
In my life I have always had very few friends but those people have been my friends for decades.
I have always preferred fixing misunderstandings and working on improving my relationships with those few people to running away from them when things don’t work out
There are people who seem to have plenty of options because they have plenty of shallow relationships with a lot of people so they always have someone else to turn to when they get upset with a particular person.
I prefer to maintain my relationships with the people whom I care about and make them grow to turning to other people when things don’t work out and this personality trait has stood me in good stead in my marriage.
I have been through a lot of misunderstandings and conflicts in my relationship (like all those who are in a marriage) but I have entered this relationship with the idea that there is no plan B. My wife is my best friend and the relationship has to work and I am committed to raising the quality of it every single day.
And, because I have very few friends outside the relationship, I can focus on my marriage without too many distractions from a lot of people who claim my time and attention.
Introversion Breeds Peace Within and Without
Because I need and cherish solitude I can easily leave the scene of a heated discussion without suffering too much because I can be just as fulfilled while alone as when I am interacting with my wife (or with any other person).
Also, choosing to deliberately isolate myself on a regular basis, by carving out moments in which I write in a journal, gives me the opportunity to reflect on what’s working and what’s not working in my relationship and come up with solutions I couldn’t come up with if I were always socializing.
Contemplation and inner work breed more self-control and peace of mind in general and create an internal environment that can hardly coexist with conflict.
An Introvert Gives Space
Because an introvert needs space he is also more likely to give space and giving space is vital in an intimate relationship.
I need a lot of space and I am willing to give my wife space, to the point that I am willing to allow her to spend even one or two months in the Philippines while I stay here (and this has already happened three times since we got married).
An Introvert is Rich Internally and Therefore is Less Clingy
A strong introvert doesn’t enter a relationship because he is desperate about finding a spouse.
As I have already mentioned, during my moments of solitude I can be just as fulfilled as when I interact with people, or, more accurately, I feel even more fulfilled.
I fully enjoyed my almost four decades of singleness (I got married at age 36) so I was not really clinging to the idea of finding a marriage mate, I could perfectly function alone.
And, because one of the hallmark traits of a thriving marriage is giving, those who don’t enter a relationship because they badly need companionship have more to give, or, at least, have less to take.
The Downside of Being too much of an Introvert
So, being an introvert has, without a doubt, stood me in great stead as far as my marriage is concerned.
Yet I must admit that sometimes I push my need to be alone too far and my being too much of an introvert borders on selfishness.
Not only does my wife connect with a lot of people to just socialize with them: in so doing she actually helps a lot of people in many practical ways, which is something that I definitely need to work on and that I am learning from my Filipino wife.
So I think that an introvert and an extrovert can definitely learn from each other and not view each other as incompatibile.
I am the most introverted person you can imagine, I am, in fact, the peak of introversion while my wife comes from a culture that is the polar opposite of it and yet we manage to function rather well.
My experience shows that a relationship between an hyper-introvert and an extrovert is possible and if I can be in a relationship with an extrovert everyone else who is in a similar position can.
So, yes, a strong introvert can perfectly be in a relationship with an extrovert and my experience is the evident demonstration that this is definitely the case.
(Even this post is part of my “spring cleaning” through which I am re-organizing my blog posts)
I am writing this article from the perspective of a Westerner who is married to a Filipina but I think that the core principles that I am outlining here apply to more or less all interracial marriages.
BE THE ONE TO DO THE FIRST MOVE TO ADJUST TO YOUR PARTNER’S CULTURE
The mistake that many Westerners who marry women belonging to another race make is assuming that, because their partner is the “immigrant”, she should adjust to the husband’s culture.
I used to assume that with my Filipino wife.
It may appear that, because Filipinos are so well-travelled (my wife for example worked in several Asian countries and in the USA before she came to Italy), they should easily and readily be able to broaden their perspective and embrace other cultures.
What I’ve realized is that, although they have moved their BODIES to a different country, their HEARTS and MINDS STILL LIVE IN THE PHILIPPINES.
They spend their free time chatting with their friends and relatives in the Philippines through Skype or Facebook and associating with the Filipino community in the country where they work and rarely do they widen out and make friends with the people of the host country.
Before I married my wife I travelled abroad less than my wife did, but, like most Westerners, I travelled moved by a spirit of adventure and a burning desire to EXPLORE OTHER CULTURES.
So, I’ve come to the conclusion that, although my wife is the “immigrant” here in Italy, I, as her Western husband, am in a better position to open up to other cultures because I have a background that is made up of years of travelling for the purpose of expanding my mental and cultural horizons while many Filipinos only move their bodies to another country but, emotionally speaking, they never really leave the Philippines.
LEARN YOUR SPOUSE’S NATIVE LANGUAGE
I went to great lengths to learn Tagalog, my wife’s native language, and here are some of the huge advantages that making this move has given me:
By marrying a Filipina I married (almost literally), the entire kin group. Therefore I have regular interactions with them. Even if my Filipina’s extended family members are fluent in English my effort to learn Tagalog is positively viewed by them as an effort on my part to go the extra mile to build rapport with them
Another reason is because 90% of my social intercourses take place with Filipinos only, and all the more so because I live in a big Western city where there is a huge population of Pinoy immigrants. Filipinos hardly widen out and have social interactions with local people (at least here in Rome). So, being able to speak my wife’s language well helps me to make the most of my social interactions with her fellow Filipinos.
Another reason is this: I have noticed that, unlike Westerners, who only like to gossip about other people when those people are not around, Filipinos like to whisper even in the presence of the person they are gossiping about, so if I can’t understand what they say I find myself in the awkward situation where I am not sure if they are talking about me or about somebody else. Because I understand their language well I avoid these situations.
Knowing my wife’s native language stands me in good stead when I visit her country as a tourist. I remember carrying way to much hand luggage when checking in at the Manila International Airport known as NAIA and I got away with it because I talked to the officer in Tagalog and he just smiled and let me go. Because I speak Tagalog I was able to walk the streets of my wife’s village alone and even take buses alone to go to other towns pretending that I was a mestizo (a Filipino who has Western origins) so that nobody would rob me or hold me up.
CHOOSE TO BE IN LOVE RATHER THAN RIGHT
In all intimate relationships choosing to be at peace rather than right is something that can drastically reduce conflict.
A relationship with a Filipina, and I assume with other women who come from developing countries, is full of situations in which a Western partner may feel justified to consider himself quote-unquote “right”.
My experience has taught me that if I want to fix all the infinite series of situations in which I am entitled to feel right I’d better choose another partner.
With a woman who comes from a country where people run their lives in ways that are “less efficient” than the Western ways the Western partner needs to view most of the situations that need to be “fixed” with a grain of salt and choose a more easygoing approach.
Being too rigid and too righteous hardly works with Filipinos and I guess the same applies to other races.
And, paradoxically, I’ve noticed that the less I put pressure on my wife to do the “right” thing, the more I am likely to get her to cooperate and meet me half-way.
ACCEPT YOUR PARTNER’S DIFFERENT WAYS
Many relationship experts talk about this idea of “acceptance” and they say that one of the major keys to a thriving relationship is accepting your partner the way he or she is.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you sit back and don’t try to do anything to improve dysfunctional situations that may arise in your relationship.
One who is in a relationship must obviously try to do what is humanly possible to take the relationship to a higher level, to make it grow, or better yet thrive.
However there are aspects of your partner’s culture, habits, values and so on that might never change and this is certainly true in a multicultural intimate relationship.
Certain ethnic groups, such as Filipinos, are so set in their ways and their values that trying to get them to change their core values about what constitutes a family and the role of the extended family, for example, can create a lot of friction and frustration and can get their Western spouses to “bash the environment that they themselves have to inhabit” (as the “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces, that I keep quoting in my blog, says).
Now this expression “bashing the environment that they themselves have chosen to inhabit” is very interesting because it points to the core dysfunction of many interracial intimate relationships (and of other kinds of relationships for that matter).
Bashing the environment that you have chosen to inhabit amounts to resisting reality.
The reality is that you knew that your future spouse was a foreigner, you knew that he or she had very different core values, but you decided to go ahead anyways and marry that person and now you are resisting that reality.
What causes much of our suffering is when we resist reality.
I remember hearing a nice illustration about poor conductors and superconductors: if current passes through a wire that has high resistance heat is generated and the wire melts. If, on the other hand, current passes through a superconductor that has zero resistance no heat is generated and the wire doesn’t get damaged. What damages the wire is not the current, rather it is its resistance.
Similarly what causes many Westerners to get mad at their Filipino, or otherwise foreign, spouse is not the fact that he or she is culturally different, rather is their resistance to their partner’s different reality.
REPLACE FRUSTRATION WITH CURIOSITY
Culture shock can eat away at your happiness and, ultimately, your relationship, if you, as the “Culture Shock Philippines” book says, EXPECT the other to accept and understand “the most basic things you act upon and you are comforted by”, if you, in other words, expect your wife to relinquish the cultural traits she has been acting upon, up until now, and she is familiar and comfortable with, to suit the Western model of marriage you are comfortable with.
It comes down to being a giver vs a taker in the relationship.
ACCEPTING people and their culture THE WAY THEY ARE is vital.
But for a relationship with a person who belongs to another race to THRIVE you need much more than just STOP RESISTING her culture.
You need to LEARN TO CELEBRATE THE DIFFERENCES AS EXCITING AND INTERESTING, in other words to not just SHIFT FROM FRUSTRATION TO ACCEPTANCE BUT FROM FRUSTRATION TO CURIOSITY. If you stop RESISTING her culture your relationship may “FUNCTION” but if you want it to “THRIVE” you have to go way beyond mere (and perhaps reluctant) ACCEPTANCE.
It has been said that “WHEN YOU CHANGE THE WAY YOU LOOK AT THINGS, THE THINGS YOU LOOK AT CHANGE”.
Your relationship with your foreign spouse will not CHANGE WHEN SHE CHANGES and parts with her culture, it will CHANGE WHEN YOU CHANGE THE WAY YOU LOOK AT IT.
Your relationship is not the way it is, it is the way you think, the way you PROCESS the reality you experience.
How did I shift from frustration to childlike curiosity? By deciding to TURN THE VERY THINGS THAT USED TO CAUSE FRUSTRATION INTO AN OPPORTUNITY TO STRETCH THE BOUNDARIES OF THE “LITTLE ME” WHO WANTED SOMEBODY ELSE TO FIT INTO “THE MOST BASIC THINGS I WAS COMFORTED BY” and I started asking myself new questions such as: “what’s great about the kin-group culture?”, “what can I learn from it?”, “how can I turn the challenges of dealing with my foreign in-laws into a great opportunity to raise the level of my emotional intelligence, become a better communicator?”, “how can I learn to view this situation as an incredible opportunity to get better at building rapport, learn to give my wife space, learn to yield?”.
An intimate relationship with a Filipina is NOT THE WAY IT IS, IT IS THE WAY YOU ARE.
We see our reality, including our relationships through a filter and the filter is HOW WE DECIDE TO PROCESS OUR REALITY.
By asking myself new questions and by shifting from frustration to curiosity everything changed and it changed fast, no more “groping for a bridge”.
DISPLAY THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TOWARD THE EXTENDED FAMILY
Many people who come from developing countries have a very strong relationship with the extended family which we don’t have in the Western world.
I spent the past ten years living with my wife’s extended family (which is one of the few here in Rome that is not so big).
In dealing with my Filipino in-laws I found myself in the situation described in the “Culture Shock Philippines” book: “what choices do I have….when the queasy feeling of uselessly groping for a bridge begins to make me tremble and I find myself utterly sealed away…. what do I do?”.
I found out that the answer to the question is: YES I DO HAVE A CHOICE and the choice is to shift my thoughts about the kin-group culture.
Dr. Wayne Dyer, a famous psychologist, in his book “The Power of Intention” said something that I find very useful:
“What you feel is wrong or missing in these relationships is an indication that something is amiss within you, because broadly speaking, anything you see in anyone else is a reflection of some aspect of you—otherwise you wouldn’t be bothered by it, because you wouldn’t notice it in the first place…… If your inner speech centers on what’s annoying about them, that’s what you’ll notice. As much as you’re inclined to blame them for your annoyance, it’s yours, and it’s coming from your thoughts. If you make a decision to put your inner attention, your life energy, on something quite different, your relationship will change. In your thoughts, where your family relationships exist, you’ll no longer be annoyed, angry, hurt…………………Being authentic and peaceful with your relatives is only a thought away”- from Wayne Dyer’s “The Power of Intention” chapter 9: “It is my Intention to: be Authentic and Peaceful with all of my Relatives”
Since “Being authentic and peaceful with your relatives is only a thought away” I asked myself: “what taught can I dwell upon to improve my relationship with my Filipino wife’s extended family?”
And the idea that I decided to adopt and operate from is: instead of just accepting the kin-group as an inevitable price to pay to have a Filipino wife, I made an effort to learn to appreciate the differences between the Western concept of family and the Filipino one as exciting and interesting.
I keep dwelling on the idea that here in Italy many elderly people often die alone and forgotten while the Filipino in-laws culture or extended family culture is such that this kind of scenario is highly unlikely.
So, by dwelling on this kind of thoughts, I made the mental shift that was necessary to embrace my wife’s kin-group culture.
Being in an interracial marriage is very challenging but many Westerners make it more challenging by “bashing the environment they themselves have chosen to inhabit” when their foreign wife doesn’t adjust to their ways.
I have decided to try a different approach:
Instead of assuming that because my wife is the immigrant in my country she is the one who should adjust I have made the first step to be the one to fully inject myself into her culture.
Yet, I have discovered that simply being intellectually curious about her culture is far from being enough so I have made an earnest effort to learn how to love and appreciate, or at least accept, the ways of her culture that are inimical to the ways I am comfortable with.
I think that, after 20 years, I have come to grips with what it takes to make an interracial marriage work and I am now enjoying the fruit of my labor.
An interracial marriage can be tricky but it can definitely function if the Western partner is willing to work really hard to let go of much of his mental barriers and stretch the boundaries of his cultural comfort zone.
(I am re-writing and updating some of my old posts)
One of the things that someone who wishes to marry a Filipina needs to know is the difference between the stereotype image of the submissive Filipino wife and the reality of the Filipino husband who plays the macho but ends up being put under his wife’s dress or under the saya.
The stereotype image of the submissive Maria Clara and the modern Filipina
Maria Clara De Los Santos is the leading lady and fiance of the leading character Crisostomo Ibarra in the novel Noli Me Tángere, written by the Filipino National Hero Dr. José Rizal.
While Crisostomo Ibarra was studying in Europe, Maria Clara was sent to a convent school, where she received rigid education under the Catholic religion.
This character has become the ideal image to describe a traditional woman in the Filipino culture, a woman who is shy, demure, conservative, one who never speaks out and who is supposed to be an obedient and respectful daughter, a good wife and mother.
However, my experience tells me that if you marry a Filipina, chances are that you will share your life with a woman who has very little to do with the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara.
I’ve been in a relationship with a Filipina for 20 years, I’ve been to the Philippines a few times and I have daily contacts with the Filipino community of Rome and I’ve never really come across a Filipina who corresponds to the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara.
Many of my wife’s female relatives are teachers, engineers, college professors while, often, their husbands barely work and mostly do menial jobs like driving tricycles or magsasaka (farmer).
One of my wife’s cousins teaches in a school in the Sierra Madre Mountains and her husband’s “job” is to take her there with his motorbike and, when the lesson is over, take her back home.
Most Filipinas who live in Rome were the first ones to arrive here and few years later they petitioned their husbands who, more often than not, earn even less than their wives, provided that they find a job.
Most Filipino food stalls or grocery stores, as well as Filipino restaurants or catering services, here in Rome are run by Filipino women
The largest multiethnic food market in Rome: most Filipino stalls are run by women
The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces talks about “the Filipina’s remarkable skill as an entrepreneur. Almost every Filipino wife is involved in some business ‘on the side’—whether it be a small store, a kiosk selling drinks and snacks, selling paintings through friends and contacts, a cake shop or perhaps accepting orders at home, etc.—and what’s more, doing very well at it. Many big businesses are run by Filipino women. Filipinas figure prominently in the business world. To give some examples: the Philippine Women’s University was founded by a Filipina the Filipina’s remarkable skill as an entrepreneur. Almost every Filipino wife is involved in some business ‘on the side’—whether it be a small store, a kiosk selling drinks and snacks, selling paintings through friends and contacts, a cake shop or perhaps accepting orders at home, etc.—and what’s more, doing very well at it. Many big businesses are run by Filipino women. Filipinas figure prominently in the business world. To give some examples: the Philippine Women’s University was founded by a Filipina and is still run efficiently by Filipinas; one of Makati’s biggest and most popular department stores is owned and managed by a Filipina; the two biggest bookshop chains are owned and were built up by two Filipina sisters”
So, as it turns out, quite often Filipino women have more “power” than men and, definitely, have very little to do with the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara and, actually, the Philippines has already experienced having two female presidents (Cory Aquino and Gloria Arroyo) while here in my country this is still taboo.
My wife left the Philippines in her early 20’s and learned very early in life what it is like to be self-sufficient thereby developing a very strong character, while in my early 20’s I was still relying on my father for support and I live in a country where, sometimes, even in their 30’s and 40’s men still live with their parents as the cost of living is too high.
Under the Saya
So, far from being women who are shy, demure and submissive, many Filipino women are actually in a financial and psychological position to put men ander da saya, including Western men.
“Ander da saya” is the Filipinized term for “under the saya” or under a woman’s dress. Many Filipino men are in subjection to their wives.
Filipino men like to play the macho.
They act like machos when they drink, drive or get involved in suntukan and awayan (fights).
Yet, speaking of the role of the husband in a Filipino family the “Culture Shock Philippines” book says: “every Filipino husband strives to give an impression of, for fear of being called ‘under the saya’—henpecked. This threat is real because Filipino wives are very dominant and, though they may appear quiet and submissive before others, are very skilful in manipulating their husbands to get what they want. Because the wife runs the household, she considers it her territory and the husband does not have much say in household issues. He gives his opinion only when consulted”
An interesting play on words for these men who play the macho when they drink or drive (or drink and drive) but get constantly henpecked by their wives is machunurin, a combination of “macho” and masunurin (submissive).
Men in the Philippines also call themselves tigasin or strong when, in fact they often end up being tiga-saing (a play on words for taga-saing, the one who cooks rice), tiga-salok ng tubig (one who gets water), tiga-luto (the one who cooks) etc.
Being aware of the huge difference between the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara and the actual modern-day Filipina is something that one who wishes to marry a Filipina definitely needs.
Many modern Filipinas have a rather strong personality, they certainly have no inferiority complex toward men and know how to get what they want.
So, be prepared, don’t expect a shy Filipino woman, rather get ready to deal with the exact opposite and look for ways to avoid being put under the saya.
My wife is Filipina and Filipino people have a lot of interactions with foreigners.
Millions of Filipinos live and work overseas and many Filipinas marry Western guys.
Why OFW should know the structure of their own language
I think one of the reasons why OFW struggle with the local language is because they don’t know the basic structure of their own language, or at least the structure of the English grammar, if they prefer to communicate in English, as many Filipinos do and as my wife does.
For example my wife has been working in Italy for 20 years. She is very fluent in Italian and knows a lot of words but she just cannot write a letter, an email or, sometimes, even a text message in Italian without making big mistakes. And it is more or less the same with most Filipino immigrants whom I know.
Whenever my wife or any other Filipino whom I know need to fill out a form in Italian or write something they ask me for help.
I have only spent few months in the Philippines but I can write in Tagalog and if I lived in the Philippines I wouldn’t need any help to fill out forms, write letters or do anything else that entails having a “formal” grasp of the language. I am not perfect but I can manage.
I am not trying to brag, I am just trying to make a point.
The reason why I have learned Tagalog relatively quickly and the reason why I can speak, read and write in this language is because I know the structure of my own language.
One who knows the structure of his/her own language can more easily learn another language to the point of being able not only to speak it but also to write in it, and one who lives overseas needs, as I’ve said, to be able to fill out forms, write resumes and so on, otherwise he or she will always be relying upon local people for help.
A Filipina married to a Western guy can become her husband’s native language teacher if she knows the structure of her own language
One of my favourite topics in this blog is the Tagalog language and its grammar.
The reason why I am taking this topic very seriously is because communication is the key to a happy marriage and, as we all know, most relationship problems stem from poor communication.
Communication in a multiethnic marriage, like mine, is even more difficult. The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says that native English speakers (or other Westerners who are fluent in English) who interact with Filipinos, who are, in many cases, rather fluent in English, can find themselves in the odd position of “speaking the same language while not being able to communicate at all”.
Westerners who want to have a thriving long-term relationship with Filipinos can’t rely too heavily on the fact that many Filipinos are fluent in English.
To really penetrate the Filipino culture and deeply understand the mentality a Westerner who wants to marry a Filipina or do business in the Philippines or have any other kind of long-term relationship with Filipinos needs to learn Tagalog (in my opinion at least).
The problem is that when I decided to learn Tagalog all that my wife was able to do was teach me a bunch of words but I needed more than that. I needed to understand the structure of the language and, neither my wife nor any of her friends was in the position to really help me because, although they can speak the language they suck at teaching it because they themselves don’t know the structure of their language.
And it is pretty much the same here in Italy: most people here can speak Italian but they have a very poor knowledge of the structure of the language and so they can’t teach their own language to others.
I know Filipino immigrants who have been working in my country for over 30 years and they still can’t write a complete sentence in Italian without making mistakes and I know mixed Filipino-Western couples where the Western husband is neither trying to learn Tagalog nor is his wife actively trying to teach him or even able to do so.
This explains why I think Filipinos who want to live overseas or marry a foreigner would be in a better position to communicate effectively in a foreign environment if they first learned the nuts and the bolts of the basic structure of their own language.
(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”.
(I stumbled upon this old post that I had not categorized when I created it so I am reposting it)
The Philippines has so many remote islands, jungles, rough roads and so on that the opportunities to experience adventure at its peak are endless.
I’ve had the chance to visit remote parts of the Sierra Madre Mountains where there is not even a trail and where the NPA hide.
Yet, scuba diving, bungee jumping, driving a jeep on a rough road leading to some remote waterfall, hiking in a jungle etc are certainly not the only ways to experience adventure in the Philippines.
You don’t by any means need to go to some remote area to experience adventure: just try driving in Manila during rush hour (that in Manila practically means almost any hour) where cutting in lanes and tailgating is routine or even in the province where buses overtake cars or buses in a curve and you have to resort to your best driving skills to avoid a crash, or try walking alone in some slum area like Tondo or Quiapo (I’ve experienced Quiapo by night) and you will experience “adventure” in the real sense of the word.
But even more adventurous is being married to a Filipina as the various aspects of culture shock that I’ve abundantly touched on in this blog can turn your relationship into a real “adventure” that can cause other kinds of adventures like swimming among the sharks or hiking in a trail infested with cobras or pythons to pale in comparison.
You will find yourself dealing with mainit ang ulo, hinanakit and other highly emotional traits of Filipinos or moving on the razor’s edge of trying to budget your money while sending substantial amounts to relatives in the Philippines (not my situation but it can happen to some) who expect help and those things definitely qualify as “adventure”.
But if you are willing to view the bumps on the road, the challenges and the obstacles as an opportunity to step up emotionally your relationship with a Filipina will definitely offer you an opportunity for an exciting adventure, a ride second to none.
So here is my top five list of adventures one can experience in the Philippines:
Tondo by night
Quiapo by night
E.D.S.A. Avenue at rush hour
Your Filipina’s relatives who ask for money
Your Filipina’s mood when she is having buwanang dalaw (menstruation)
I remember getting up one morning at 4 am to go from San Ildefonso, Bulacan to Tagaytay.
Here in Italy people get up that early to avoid being stuck in traffic and all you can find on the road at 4-4,30 am is few people who work night shifts and little more.
Sure enough, even in Bulacan, the National Highway was clear at 4,30 am and so was the North Luzon Expressway. But when we got to the toll gate and entered the E.D.S.A. Avenue……… naku po(gi) grabe ang trapik! (“my goodness, traffic was a heck of a mess”).
It took us more than 5 hours to make it to the South Luzon Expressway as traffic was not moving an inch on the EDSA but, once on the South Luzon Expressway traffic was smooth again and we made it relatively quickly to Lake Taal.
But why are cities and even much smaller towns in the Philippines so jammed with trapik?
One reason is certainly the cronic lack of adequate infrastructures but, as a foreigner married to a Filipina, my idea is that way too many Filipinos often use cars, tricycles and jeepneys unnecessarily.
The palengke of Barangay Pinaod where my wife is from is only situated less than 500 meters from my wife’s house and yet people would rather flag down a tricycle than walk.
My idea is that one of the root causes (besides of course lack of an adequate rail system) of the trapik and usok (“smog”) problem lies in the deep-seated car culture of Filipinos or, more in general, the sasakyan (any means of transportation) culture.
I am one of those who used not to have a car and I had no desire whatsoever to have one, I walk a lot and I love biking.
Yet, after marrying my Filipina, things changed for me because of the car culture of Filipinos (at least the ones I interact with).
I remember being repeatedly told by many of my Filipino friends “Italyano ka, bakit wala kang kotse?” (“You are an Italian, how come you don’t have a car?”). For them mayaman (“rich”…..well, I am not rich but many Filipinos here only have dealings with their rich employers and so in their mind all Italyano are mayaman or rich) equals dapat may kotse (“you have to have a car”) and if you don’t you are tanga (“very stupid”).
Not all Filipinos have a car here but the ones who don’t have one are simply the ones who, right now, can’t afford one but, as soon as they can, buying a car is their number one priority, also because here trains and buses don’t take you to every single corner of the city and you can’t avoid walking at least few hundred meters to get to the bus or metro stop and we don’t have any tricycle service here…
As for me, simply going out for a walk with my wife (as I used to do with my old friends) doesn’t compute, going out equals going to a restaurant (or anywhere else) always by car.
So the strong car culture of Filipinos (or sasakyan in general) and lack of willingness on the part of many to walk even a short distance is largely responsible, I guess, for much of the trapik and usok in the Philippines but it seems to me that wherever they go Filipinos carry the car culture with them.
I have noticed that there is a debate going on in the Philippines about modernizing jeepneys, some would like to modernize them, some resist the change, but modern jeepneys don’t have wings and can’t fly and, even if they introduced electric jeepneys they would still jam the roads.
And maybe building new skyways invites even more cars.
I am not an expert so I can’t suggest long-term solutions but I think kaunting lakad (“a little willingness to walk a bit more”) would help reduce usok and trapik at least to some extent.
As for me, the bright side is that I can at least rely on the diskarte (“ability to creatively fix things”) and the bayanihan spirit (“helping one in need”) of most of my Filipino friends to fix my car at almost zero-cost….
My personal experience teaches me that, whenever possible, it is cheaper and easier to marry a Filipina in a Western country than it is to marry her in the Philippines.
The only instance in which your only option is to marry a Filipina in the Philippines is when she lives in the Philippines and there is no legal way to get her to a Western country.
If she lives in the Philippines and she doesn’t meet the requirements to get an entry visa to a Western country or she was a clandestine immigrant in your country and she got caught by the police and expelled, and therefore it is very unlikely to get her to return to your country in a legal way, your only option is to marry her in the Philippines.
Yet, based on my experience (both with the Italian and the Filipino bureaucracy) I’d say that the option to marry a Filipina in the Philippines can be complicated and, obviously, more expensive so, whenever possible it is much easier, if one has the chance to do so, to get legally married in a Western country and this can generally be done by either marrying one who already lives in the West (legally or illegally) or by finding the way to help her get a fiance or a tourist visa.
If a Filipina does live in a Western country as a clandestine immigrant, generally speaking it is not a problem to marry her.
Let’s say that undocumented Filipinos here in Italy (and Filipinos in general) are not viewed as a threat so it is highly unlikely that they get expelled, let alone physically deported (I mean put on a plane at the expenses of the government that can barely afford to deport those who pose a real threat).
Here in Italy marrying an undocumented Filipina is very easy and the authorities never ask an illegal foreigner to show her permit to stay in the country while going through the legal process of marrying a local citizen. All they need is their passport, their birth certificate and the certificate of singleness and that’s it, no one will ever impede the marriage if a Filipina is an illegal immigrant (which happens very rarely by the way here in Italy as most Filipino workers do have a permit to stay).
What about helping her to get an entry visa to your country to marry her where you are and avoid the hassle of going through the Filipino bureaucracy?
As far as I know, US citizens can bring their Filipino fiance to the US by means of a fiance visa but here in the E.U. this is apparently not possible.
As far as I know this kind of visa expires after 90 days which, I guess, is too short a period of time to get to know a Filipina properly, given all the things that a Westerner needs to weigh, like the relationship with the extended family, the fact that her relatives might need financial support, having or not having children and so on.
What’s possible here in the E.U., at least theoretically because European embassies are very strict when it comes to issuing Shengen visas, is to apply for a tourist visa, but that would also only be valid for 90 days.
So, getting a Filipina to a Western country either through a fiance visa or a tourist one to eventually marry her in a your country is the easiest way to avoid extra bureaucratic issues but it doesn’t give you much time to get to know her properly.
You can of course visit the Philippines multiple times as a tourist and go there back and forth multiple times, if you are retired or otherwise have no work obligations and have the money to do so, and that would, of course, give you more time to evaluate whether to marry her or not but for common mortals who need to work and cannot take much vacation time this can be hard.
If a Filipina was expelled from a Western country or there is otherwise no legal way to get her to come to a Western country to get married, the option to marry a Filipina in the Philippines is the only one available.
As I’ve said earlier, marrying my wife here in Italy proved to be a very easy, cheap and straightforward process.
Marrying her in the Philippines would have been way more complicated for me.
The main reason, at least based on my personal experience, why it can be very difficult (or even impossible in some cases) to marry a Filipina in the Philippines is because the Philippine Government requires all foreigners to provide a “Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage” from the embassy of the country where you come from and in some countries (like mine) this certificate is not easy to get.
This certification affirms that there are no legal impediments to the foreigner marrying a Filipino.
I have read somewhere that the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines provides U.S. citizens the opportunity to sign an “Affidavit In Lieu of a Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage,” a self-certification that the U.S. citizen is free to marry in the Philippines.
The Italian Embassy does not provide the opportunity to sign said affidavit and, as a result, an Italian who goes to the Philippines to marry a Filipina in the Philippines has to get there already having that certificate.
The big problem is that very few government officials here in Italy know that this kind of certificate even exists.
After having been told by the Italian Embassy in Manila that, if I wanted to get married in the Philippines (an option that I was considering at that time), I had to produce the Certificate of Legal Capacity, I went to the local town hall asking for the certificate and they said “what is that? We have never heard of that!”.
I called back the Italian Embassy explaining the situation but they insisted that there would have been no way for me to get married in the Philippines without that certificate.
I went to the town hall multiple times and I even, eventually, bumped into an official who admitted that he had heard about that document but his colleague (the one in charge) just didn’t want to help, she maintained that they have never issued that kind of certificate, they knew nothing about it and therefore there was nothing she was willing to do to help.
So, the bottom line is that I had to discount the possibility to go to the Philippines to marry a Filipina, namely my wife. I could have hired a lawyer and eventually found the way to get that certificate but that seemed to be too much of a hassle.
I did everything in Italy and it cost me nothing, the legal process was fast and smooth and I didn’t have to produce any “Certificate of Legal Capacity”, just my passport, birth certificate and few other things.
So, if you choose to marry a Filipina in the Philippines because there is no other legal way to do it in your country, before getting too emotionally involved, make sure that your country’s bureaucracy doesn’t get in the way and that you can easily get all the papers that the government of the Philippines requires.
Also make sure that, if she was previously married, her previous marriage was legally annulled (there is no divorce in the Philippines, there is only the possibility to annul the marriage).
So, before exploring the possibility to marry a Filipina in the Philippines, consider first (in my opinion and based on my personal experience as an Italian) if there is a possibility to avoid going through all the complicated bureaucracy and get her to your country and marry her there and only, as a last resort, do it in the Philippines.
Getting married in Italy was no-cost and easy for me.
Of course I don’t know the bureaucracy of each Western country so you’ll have to find out for yourself depending on where you live.
Marrying a Filipina is already a challenging experience, it can turn out to be an amazing relationship but there are many cultural challenges that are going to arise, so I recommend avoiding unnecessary legal complications if possible.
The Philippines have a hot and humid tropical weather and quite a few people there seem to be a little hot tempered or, as they say in Tagalog, mainit ang ulo.
Emotionalism is one of the hallmark characteristics of Filipinos and….of women in general.
Many relationship experts have come to the consensus that the best way to deal with emotionally charged people and situations is by keeping one’s cool and by keeping on showing kindness so that strong emotions will slowly but surely melt away.
Like many concepts that relationship experts across the planet talk about, even this concept of treating with kindness a person who is treating you lousy is nothing new, in fact it is very old.
A passage from the New Testament reads “do not render evil for evil…but keep on conquering evil with the good”.
A similar concept can also be found in the words of Socrates “then we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to anyone“, providing further evidence that human psychology was designed in such a way that loving relationships (not just romantic relationships but all kind of human interactions) are only possible when one of the two partners breaks the pattern of anger by raising above it to the point of showering it with kindness in circumstances in which showing kindness is a very counterintuitive move.
It has been said that success comes from counterintuitive moves, we succeed in every aspect of life including intimate relationships by going against the grain, by going against what our psyche naturally wants to do.
What our psyche naturally wants to do when someone lashes out is to vent back but that kind of behavior only calls forth further anger.
The Philippines is one of those cultures where, generally speaking, people quickly overreact when provoked and there are drivers who carry a tubo or a knife in case someone cuts them off.
So a Filipina comes from that kind of environment where the degree of emotionality is a little higher than in other countries. Yet there are cross-cultural gems of wisdom, that can also be found in modern psychology and relationship coaching, that can make a world of difference.
Indeed success in anything in life comes from counterintuitive moves and one of the most effective counterintuitive moves is conquering evil (well, an angry spouse is not “evil” but the pattern of lashing out creates pretty lousy situations) by raising above it and becoming masters at showing kindness in an emotionally charged situation.
Indeed the One who created human psychology knew better and I can say from personal experience that this principle does indeed produce amazing things.