How the “Western Veneer” of the Philippines might cause a Western Male to Jump to Wrong Conclusions about his Filipino Wife

Each time I land in Manila, I can’t help but notice that much of the city doesn’t look anywhere near the typical “Asian” city.

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport is very close to the Roxas Boulevard and, if you arrive there at night, you immediately notice the shining neon lights and the massive “karatula” (or billboards) that seem to have very little to do with Asia, because most of the ads, as well as the street signs, are in English.

The first time I visited the Philippines, I had already been married to my wife for 5 years, so I was already very well aware of the cultural differences between my culture and my wife’s. Nevertheless I could not help but put myself in the shoes of a Western man who visits the Philippines for the first time, perhaps looking for a suitable wife, and has no clue about what the Philippines and it’s people are like.

In the Philippines, almost everyone speaks English, there are mega malls everywhere, huge fast-food restaurants, skyscrapers, a combination of Spanish Colonial architecture and modern American-style buildings and many young ones dress pretty much like Western rappers.

This might get a Western male, who sees the Philippines for the first time, to jump to the conclusion that if he marries a Filipina he is going to marry a woman who is basically just like us Westerners.

Nothing could be further from the truth! The reality is that, behind the Western “facade” there is one of the most entrenched Asian cultures.

The Western standards have only been “selectively assimilated” and hardly get in the way of Filipino traditions, such as the kin-group culture and other aspects of the Filipino culture and tradition that I’ve touched on in my previous posts

So, the fact that your Filipino wife’s country looks, under many aspects, like the West, shouldn’t trick you into assuming that you will experience the least amount of culture shock and that your wife and her family will smoothly adjust to your culture.

Instead of being misled by what the “Culture Shock Philippines” book calls the Western “veneer” of the Philippines, get ready for massive culture shock!

Will your Filipino Spouse Cry when you Die?

A few weeks ago I read a book by Robin Sharma entitled “Who will Cry when you Die?”. What the book is about is the idea of leaving a legacy, of touching other people’s lives to the point that many will cry when we die.

Obviously we all expect our spouse to be the first to cry and linger in the “mourning mode” for as long as she is alive.

Now, Filipinos do cry when a dear loved one dies, but they don’t seem to LINGER in the “beating their breast” mode.

Why am I jumping to this conclusion?

Some 15 years ago I went to a Filipino funeral. Scenes of intense mourning characterized the funeral but, much to my surprise, few hours later, at the house of the bereaved couple some kind of “party” took place where food was served.

Filipinos extend their hospitality even in this avenue. Their culture seems to dictate that people who sympathize and visit be treated as house guests and an “outsider” can’t tell if he is at a wake or at a party.

This experience, as well as many others, seems to tell me that Filipinos, by and large, don’t “linger” in the “sadness mode”.

This inevitably leads me to ask myself the puzzling question: “will my Filipino wife cry should I die”.

Of course she will cry but how long will she stay in that mode? Probably shorter than the average Italian widow.

My next question is: “does it really matter?” Should I to all cost strive to leave an “extra” degree of legacy and fret over the fact that I need to put forth extra effort to get my Filipino wife to remember me for life and never consider the option of remarrying?

My answer to the question “will she cry when I die?” is: “I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter”.

Rather than viewing my wife as my own possession who is supposed to never remarry and be in a constant state of bereavement should I die (which is the result of being a taker vs a giver in the relationship) I endeavour to personally cultivate self-esteem and I look within for validation without demanding it on some other body.

“Utang-na-loob” and how it may Affect your Marriage

Here in Italy there are Filipinos who have been working for the same employer for 20-30 years. Even if better job opportunities show up, many Filipinos, whom I know, prefer to stay with their “amo” (employer) because, perhaps, 20 or 30 years ago he or she helped them with their permit to stay in the country or helped them to petition their children.

There are Filipino women who, after marrying an Italian citizen, refuse to leave their employer, even though their husband has a good job and their Filipino wife could, theoretically, have more free time for the family or, even though, as wives of a European citizen, they qualify for the Italian citizenship that would allow them to find better job opportunities or go into business.

The reason? “Utang na loob”. Filipinos have a very strong sense of “utang na loob” which means “debt of gratitude”.

Somebody did them a favor 20 or 30 years ago and they feel obliged to repay this person for a lifetime.

This is the reason why many Filipinos stay with the same employer or send money home to support various relatives who, somewhere along the line, took care of them (perhaps their uncle raised them while their parents were working abroad and so on).

So, if you marry a Filipina you need to take into account that your wife may be paying back her “debt of gratitude” to her employer or to some relative in the Philippines.

This is one of the many aspects of the Filipino culture that you need to understand without judging.

The secret of an outstanding intimate relationship is giving, yielding, seeing things from your partner’s point of view and respecting what’s important to them.

You may not care about who did your wife a favor a few decades ago but TO YOUR WIFE IT DOES MATTER and a loving husband comes from a place of UNSELFISH LOVE AND EMPATHY that gets him to LEARN ABOUT AND RESPECT THE ASPECTS OF THE FILIPINO CULTURE THAT MAY, TO SOME EXTENT LIMIT HIS “ENTITLEMENTS” AS A HUSBAND.

Dealing with Laziness

One of the things that most caught my attention, when I first visited the Philippines, was that, although the town center or “Poblacion” of my wife’s hometown was situated only 300-400 meters from the “Barangay”, NOT A SINGLE PERSON WOULD WALK to the town center. They would rather shell out what little cash they had, to ride in a “Jeepney” or a tricycle, than walk less than 5 minutes.

I used to go jogging around the Barangay and people looked a me in sheer disbelief as if an alien from Mars had landed in Central Luzon!

Let’s face it: Filipinos are, by and large, lazy. They prefer riding in a car, even a car they can’t afford to properly maintain, perhaps a car that has tires that have been vulcanized 20 times, to walking.

Filipinos abroad are pretty much the same. Here in Rome many Filipinos whom I know, could perfectly walk or use public transit to go to work, but they often prefer to use their cars, even if gas is extremely expensive here and they do low-paying jobs.

They like watching much tv, spending time on social media, chit-chatting through their smartphones, eating out etc. and they seldom walk, go jogging, hike etc.

Like many Europeans, I am a cheap guy. I prefer walking, biking or riding on public transport, to go to work, to using my car. I love no-cost forms of entertainment such as reading, meditating, hiking. Before I got married I didn’t even have a car!

With a Filipino wife living a “low-cost” life is extremely difficult.

Not having a car or using it sparingly is almost unthinkable if your wife is Filipino, let alone just going out for a walk without eating out.

So, one of the things you should consider, if you are planning to marry a Filipina is this aspect of “laziness” that will force you to reconsider your habits, especially if you are a dynamic man who is fond of walking, jogging, hiking, biking and so on. This characteristic of your Filipino spouse will likely force you to have a car and use it even for the shortest ride.

But, again, because the purpose of my blog is to talk about BUILDING A BRIDGE with your Filipino Spouse, NEVER fall into the trap of becoming CRITICAL or JUDGEMENTAL even if your wife appears to be extremely lazy. Learn to focus on how this, like all other aspects of the Filipino culture, is a deeply entrenched trait of the Filipino society and learn to LAUGH AWAY at these attitudes and graciously dismiss the urge to give your wife a sermon with a smile.

You will never build a bridge by ATTACKING and CRITICIZING. The only way you can create a bridge is by constantly shifting your attention to what you appreciate in the Filipino culture and by being curious and fascinated instead of frustrated.

How the “Easygoing” Approach to Life and the Desire to get Instant Gratification, that is so Characteristic of Filipinos, may Affect your Finances and how you can Deal with it.

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Here in Rome, Italy, most Filipinos share their apartments with, at least, another family and yet they have the latest smartphones, a big flat-screen tv set, expensive cars, they eat out at Mc Donalds, KFC etc. and have social gatherings up to two, three (or even more) times a week. I’ve noticed that it is pretty much the same in the Philippines where I’ve seen many who live in the simplest home that you can imagine and yet they have the latest electronic gadgets.

In the last 20 years I’ve seen so many situations that have taught me that ONE OF THE MAJOR WEAKNESSES OF FILIPINOS IS THE DESIRE FOR INSTANT GRATIFICATION AND TOTAL LACK OF SELF-CONTROL.

This characteristic affects every aspect of their lives, their wealth, their health and their overall emotional state.

One of the payoffs of the fact that they seek instant gratification is that they SPEND MORE THAN THEY EARN AND GET INTO DEBT.

I come from a culture where saving up for the future and buying your own house is considered very important but I am in a relationship with a woman who comes from an environment where the concept of “first things first” seems to be totally absent.

How do I deal with it and how can you deal with this challenge?

Again, as I’ve already pointed out many times in my posts, the only way to enjoy this kind of relationship is RELINQUISHING RIGIDITY and BECOMING MORE EASYGOING.

Filipinos take things lightly, have an easygoing approach to life, they would rather buy the latest I-phone than pay the bills on time.

A rigid “first things first” and “long-term planner” type of man can hardly function in a relationship with another human being who has a much lighter approach to life and prefers to live AS IF THERE WAS NO TOMORROW AND ENJOY LIFE HERE AND NOW.

So, again, the key is to understand and accept that you are dealing with a LONG-STANDING DIFFERENT MODEL OF THE WORLD and try to look for things you can appreciate instead of feeling miserable and sorry for yourself because Filipinos always want to be on a high, have fun, enjoy life now, have parties on a weekly basis, eat out, have a fancy car full of bumper stickers and so on.

I’ve learned to mellow and just go with the flow. It has made my life and my relationship much easier and, by not arguing all the time and giving my wife space to be as she is, I’ve noticed that it is getting easier and easier to get her to start planning for the future and have a budget journal.

Visiting the Philippines with your Filipino Spouse

Westerners like to travel and the Philippines are the ultimate exotic paradise. When your Filipino spouse takes you to her homeland for the first time you may be super excited by the idea that white-sand beaches, rain-forests, waterfalls, coral-reefs and so on are waiting for you!

The challenge though, is that most Filipinos who go home don’t go there with the idea to show you around and take you to all the nice places. They want to spend most of their time with their extended family and you run the risk of being stuck in your spouse’s hometown.

Now, my wife’s hometown happens to be San Ildefonso, in the Province of Bulacan. Let’s say that I’ve been “relatively” lucky because, not far from my wife’s town, there are several rivers and waterfalls and there is a virgin jungle in the Sierra Madre Mountains. But, the first time I went to the Philippines, I had to struggle to get her to go farther away. I managed to go one day to the One-hundred Islands, one day to Tagaytay and….that was about it!

The second time I went, knowing that she would want to stay home, I made sure that I would spend one week in a sea resort FIRST and then we went to her hometown.

So, my simple suggestion is: when you book your flight to the Philippines don’t plan to go straight to your spouse’s village and then use it as your base to visit the country. This might never happen. Chances are that once you get to your partner’s village you’ll get stuck there because once your spouse is there she wants to stay there.

You’d better plan your holiday in such a way that YOU AND YOUR SPOUSE GO STRAIGHT FROM YOUR COUNTRY TO A NICE LOCATION IN THE PHILIPPINES SUCH AS PALAWAN, BORACAY etc. AND, ONCE YOU’VE ENJOYED BLISSING OUT ON SOME EXOTIC BEACH FOR A WEEK OR TWO, THEN YOU GO TO YOUR PARTNER’S PLACE and stay there, get to know your partner’s relatives, enjoy their company and become familiar with your partner’s birthplace.

This is, in my experience, the best compromise, and win-win situation, to enjoy your trip and avoid arguing with your spouse.