While I've been here in the Philippines, a common question asked of me is, “So how different are we here from what you know?” Or they will ask me, “So how do you find Filipinos?” They ask me to explain what I see as being different about people and cultures between America and the Philippines.
I often find myself groping for a response, and stutter something about people here being so welcoming and open, or coming up with minor responses, like not having hot water on tap.
The truth is, there are some pretty big adjustments to make. I will often sit in the faculty room and not understand more than one word in twenty as the teachers talk among themselves in either Tagalog or Ilocano. I can get tones of voices and sometimes enough loaner words from English or Spanish to get a sense of mood or the general topic, but I'm oftentimes cut out of the conversation in a way that didn't tend to happen in the US. I have gotten called a blond more times than I'd thought possible, and have started pulling up pictures of other YASCers and pointing to, say, Rachel or Sara and telling people here that that is blond, I'm a red-head.
I'm getting used to the idiom, “let's eat!” It means variable: it's a mealtime and you should go get your food, I've got a snack and you should get one too, I'm eating now, and finally, I'm eating now and I want to share my food with you. If you haven't noticed yet, food is very communal here, even more so than it would be in the US, and there really is the idea that everyone should come together and eat. And while everyone is eating, they should eat their fill! One of my first days at the school I went to the canteen and got what I considered a good lunch: noodles, veggies, even a bit of meat. I walked back up to the faculty room and the principal walked by and asked me if all I was eating was a snack!
So yes, there are differences in culture and lifestyle here, and I definitely am still not used to things like the traffic laws.
But what I keep stumbling when I try to explain it to my questioners is, the more I'm here the more it feels the same. There's some differences in culture and language, yes, and they are important to try to understand. But overall, I'm just reminded that people are still people, no matter where you are. Schools run on more paperwork than we ever want to think about, students will push limits en masse, but are really fun and normally quite sweet one on one, the faculty will alternately cheer one another on, play pranks on each other, and get irritated when the others have reserved the equipment that they wanted to use for their class. Teaching students overall is a mix between elation when they're doing well and obviously listening to what you have to say, and wanting to rip your hair out when you watch them ignore everything you say and set themselves up to fail.
Sitting out in the open and knitting attracts curious people staring and asking questions across the world, especially when you are knitting something complicated or impressive-looking. My sister's Christmas/Birthday present (If I get it done in time), counts as both, and is a definite magnet for interested students wanting to touch and look. A little yellow duckie filled with bubble solution will make one suspicious five-year-old light up and chatter like no tomorrow. The same bubble solution is the best cure ever for a bunch of antsy toddler to pre-school aged children who have traveled all day and are spending the night in a strange new place.
Weddings are a mix of excitement and stress for the bride's family until midway through the reception, which is when everyone has either a let-down or a melt-down, depending on age and personality. (Yes, the bride's family was spending the weekend in the other rooms at the hostel where I live. I spent so much time explaining to apologetic parents that I utterly got two and three year olds having issues with so much going on and overstimulating them.)
Funerals, even when you don't know the person involved and are coming along out of solidarity with other officials from the school, are sorrowful, and there is no one right thing to say to someone who is grieving.
There is more that unites us and our cultures than divides us. Americans or Filipinos, we're all still just humans.