Any foreigner, commonly referred to as a ‘kano’, as in ‘Amerikano’ but also just as easily ‘Australikano’, who has had anything to do with Filipinos and especially Filipinas will know that they often tell very implausible stories. In fact, some might say they wouldn’t lie straight in bed and couldn’t tell the truth from the television. I want to explore this facet of Filipino behaviour and see if we can better understand the phenomenon.
Fist of all, not everyone will agree with the statement that it is often difficult to get a plausible, understandable explanation of events from a Filipino. For the sake of the argument so far, bear with me and just accept the view, for the moment, that many Filipinos tell whoppers. Something happens and you ask for an explanation and what comes back simply doesn’t gel. It doesn’t make sense and you immediately get the feeling you are being lied to; taken for a ride, sold a load of baloney, whatever. You ask a few exploratory questions to clear things up and it just gets more and more confused, clouded and clearly inconsistent. So what’s happening here?
Lies or are you just confused?
First off, you may not be being lied to at all. It may be that you don’t understand the application or context of the words being used. Filipinos use English words in very specific ways; often the worst meaning of a word that can mean three different things will be the one they use. For example crony. There is no way you can use crony in the Aussie sense, as in ‘you and your cronies’, meaning mates, friends, and so on with the implication you are up to mischief, although it will all be in good fun. No. In Filipino use a crony is a political partner in crime. Period. Our Aussie way of throwing backhanded compliments simply falls flat in many other cultures, even those that speak English. So the words being used might seem to mean one thing to us but in fact mean something else to the Filipino.
Hiya, or “saving face”
Secondly there are all the people involved to be considered. Everyone must save Hiya, or face. Shaming someone, even inadvertently or simply by telling the truth and causing embarrassment is a major cultural sin. It goes against the core of Filipino cultural behaviour, the concept of ‘pakikisama’, or group harmony. It is better that everyone in the group feels good than just one person feels bad; even if they screwed up. Filipinos love to do things in groups, form groups, socialise in groups, live in family groups. Given the hierarchy of their society this pakikisama thing makes a ton of sense. So if something happens and you ask for an explanation, the explainer may take into account the potential for loss of hiya to someone involved in the story. It might be them, it might be you without your knowledge. The end result may be a lack of congruence that jars with us westerners and comes across as dishonesty, deceit and so forth.
The thing is, you may be getting told a pack of lies but, then again, you may not. It may be a case of leaving out the bits they think you don’t want to hear or simply not including anything that would make someone seem less than excellent. The worst thing you can call a Filipino is stupid and probing too deeply for the facts to be presented in a logical, rational, plausible way can give the impression you think the person is incompetent and lacking intelligence. They may be thick as two short planks of coco-lumber but that isn’t the way to get on with the locals.
Next time something happens and you want to get to the bottom of the story, say a relative of the wife has had an accident and needs a loan for medicine but the money you gave them the other week has gone because of the onngu (an evil spirit)…instead of launching into an interrogation, just sit back and let it flow over you. Take the story with a grain of salt and ask as few probing questions as you can. Give it a day or two, then mention it again, casually, and you will be surprised how much more information will surface. Don’t point out the blatant anomalies with what they told you the last time. Now, give it a few more days before letting it enter the conversation again and by now you might get the version closest to the truth. For one thing, enough time may have passed to ease any embarrassment. For another, whoever is telling the story may have been annoyed by being made to be ‘the one’ and is now ready to reveal all.
Living with a Filipina is a never ending adventure and life long lesson in doing things a different way. Our way works for us, but theirs works for them and is just as valid and often far superior. The whole point of marriage, surely, is a compromise and even more so when people from very different cultures connect. Getting the story straight is just one of the many aspects of married life and being married to a Filipina just makes it even more interesting; don’t you think?
Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, MA(Writing), Dip.Bus, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at www.streetwisephilippines.biz