Culture Gap

That’s what I call my new dilemma, challenge, obstacle, whatever you want to refer it to.  It has tiers too! The first tier is the language barrier.  This splits into two more separate issues. The first is my inability to speak or understand Visaya and Tagalog.  The second issue is that no one expects me to learn it in a country dominated by English.  It isn’t quite as bad as Singapore when I tried telling my new friends there that I wanted to learn Mandarin. They smirked at me and said, “Mike, we all speak English here.”  Here in the Philippines people are more socially soft.  Essentially they say the same thing, but it comes out like this,  “Mike, I’m sorry for me English, its not very good.” (in perfect English, mind you.)  Tonight I decided to pour out my heart before God and my readership about this issue specifically.  My two sons and I are missing some great conversations and it is painful to not be able to help them with their assignments either… I am supposed to be a business leader at some point soon; and speak behind the pulpit in a Filipino church so that rich and poor, educated and not, can understand God’s message.  It boggles my mind that I’m even facing this as a dilemma considering I grew up as a missionary’s kid.  I grew up in another country, but I’ve figure out quickly here that I took my parents protection for granted.

The second tier of this chronic, social illness lingering in my body is…hard to explain.  Many South East Asians are softer at their approach to problems and obvious weaknesses.  “Hey, Mike – we have no idea what you are saying to us…” This phrase will never come out of a Filipino’s mouth. It is also extremely hard for them to say negative things directly.  If you invite them to something, they will always say they will come or find a lousy excuse that they have something else to do. If they don’t understand you, there is a great chance they will just nod convincingly until you are done talking.  This becomes a bit of an adventure anytime you are telling a taxi driver to take you somewhere.  It is also an adventure in marriage, as my wife will agree to things just to keep the peace, not even registering what I’m asking at the expense of her or the daily agenda.  My kids have adjusted to me much faster than she. In business, its hard because people nod in agreement on meeting, or on whether or not something is a good idea, and I forget that they have a different way of showing these things, which are a complete mystery to westerners. I know the subtleties can go away once I know the language; and the frustrations will lesson, or take another turn down another alleyway.  I am wondering how to create business success despite not having a good grasp on it. God has certainly provide thus far with trusted people and timing that has always directed back to His plans; and giving credit to His care of us.

The third tier is the timelessness here. That’s right. People mentioned this in Spain, during my brief stay in Rota as well.  Maybe they got it from them, who knows? I had a long time joke about my Filipino friends in Singapore.  If you asked them where they were, they would text back, “OMW,” I always replied, “You are still in the shower, aren’t you?” Church starts at 9 am. The church is typically empty until 9:45.  Work starts at 7; that’s when my brother-in-law shows up to shower before he starts his work.  And he is a superb worker, so I don’t complain! You offer work to people who sit around all day; but as long as their needs are taken care of, many of them don’t see the need.  In many ways, I’ve learned that our Western culture is too productivity driven and we can learn something from our counterparts here; but what has happened is material wants have pushed predatory businesses on people here with cash advance loans, pawnshops, etc. The pace of living does not go up with the standard of living.  My challenge is this:  I want to know if this is culturally inherent or is just a matter of living standards.  More specifically, I want to be able to figure out the difference in each circumstance.  I’m falling more toward the “living standards” theory the longer I’m here, mostly because I’m realizing that Filipinos aren’t against productivity; but they have lived with gross amounts of inefficiency from their government and the low standards of living for so long.  They are very patient.  1 in 5 has to bath outside at the community spicket. 1 in 10 has to manually pump water.  Filipinos are flexible people and are working around the world, sending extra money home here; and they become indoctrinated into other societies values and that easy going simple life is gone.  I know its still in the back of their minds because they all retain their land here, wanting to someday come home with their savings.  It sounds to me like the ones that made it permanent in the U.S. or Europe are considered more successful than the ones that saved as a mariner or work in the Middle East and came home.

All these avenues should be overcome in time. I’m not very patient, so that’s probably the illness I suffer from, although its also why people need outside circumstances to bring about change in their life, me included.