There is an expression that goes around saying that “When you marry a Filipina, you marry the whole family”. I cringe a bit at the expression, because it’s something used by that very passive Australian man who accepts everything that comes from his new Filipino family without ever arguing. I think that everyone who knows me knows that I love the Philippines and Filipino people, otherwise why would I live here? And I try as much as I can to treat my Filipino family with kindness and respect, however it is a two-way street. I’m very patient and understanding, but only up to a point! Respect and understanding must flow both ways, or it ends badly.
But yes, if you do marry a Filipina, her family will play a part in both your lives because Filipinos are generally close to their family and their family members are rarely in the background. But this article is for the purposes of trying to help Filipinas AND their families to learn and to also adjust to the inevitable changes. Just as your family will be in his life, he will be in your life and their lives too. And as your husband, they need to understand and accept that their dealings with you are also dealings with him. And out of kindness and respect, you AND your Filipino family need to understand some important things about Australian men.
Australians want to be accepted
Australians are egalitarian by nature. It means we treat everyone as an equal, and want to be treated the same. The kindest thing you can do is to treat him as a member of the family, and not as someone different. Filipinos use the word “foreigner”. In Australia, this is an insulting word because it says that this person does not belong. If you have a piece of glass or a splinter in your foot, it is a “foreign body” that you want to remove. Call an Australian a “foreigner” and treat him as one, as this is how you make him feel.
Let me explain some of the things over the years that have made me feel unwelcome
• Filipinos who CAN speak English, speaking in Tagalog or their own dialect in front of me.
• Filipinos avoiding talking to me, or being near me, or even greeting me when they visit, and claiming that they “feel shy”. If you value the feelings of the Australian family member, you should make a strong effort to get over your shyness. Shyness is often just laziness.
• Answering my questions by speaking to my wife or another Filipino instead, because it’s easier for them. Also not discussing things with me that directly affect me.
• I get very little of this one, because I have a very loyal wife. But I know it happens where family members try to persuade the Filipina wife to do things (especially regarding money) without discussing it with the Australian husband.
My relatives are basically a good and decent lot, and we fortunately have few of the ones who constantly have their hands out for money. And most of those attempts fail, because Mila is a tough character. And they will do anything for us, and definitely never forget their utang. But yes, I felt like a foreigner when I first arrived on their doorstep many years ago, and I still do.
I will tell you what I particularly love about Filipino children here. They see me as who I am and barely notice racial or cultural differences. I have adult family members who know nothing about me, regardless of how many years I’ve been around. I have one brother-in-law and his wife who treat me as their brother, and this means so much to me. And the kids get me very easily.
But I also have relatives who will visit us, arriving and leaving via our back gate, and they can be here for several days without me even knowing they are here. I’ve since taken charge of the key to the back gate and made it clear that if they don’t have the good manners to arrive via my front door, to look me in the eye and to shake my hand (the men, that is), then I don’t want them coming here. They would never do that at a Filipino’s house. Shyness is no excuse for bad manners and a lack of respect.
Filipinos? How to treat an Australian in-law
This is for Filipino wives and family members – and this includes my own relatives!
• Treat him like a human being, and not as a foreigner. And get to know him and who he actually is! You may even make a true friend!
• Remember that despite his skin colour, his preference for English, his funny accent and his different customs, this is still your new in-law. He married your daughter/sister/niece. Give him the acceptance that is his right.
• Wives? Your loyalty and your duty is to your husband and new family first. Don’t allow any relative to try to undermine that, and shame on any relatives who do anything that will weaken their marriage!
• Speak English! There is nothing that excludes and isolates somebody like speaking in a language that they do not understand. Even if your English is poor, show some respect! No Australian will ever laugh at your poor English skills, which will always be better than his Tagalog skills! He knows this too. The brother-in-law I mentioned? He has just average English skills, especially now that he lives in Spain. But he will still sit next to me, and he will always greet me with a hug.
• Wives? Your husband is not balato* for your family to share in. Keep money out of it, or it will go sour very quickly. Speaking for myself, I’m generous when it comes to welcoming guests (if they don’t arrive at the back gate!) and I’ve been very forthcoming when genuine emergencies happen. With the kids, we are especially generous and kind. But I find attempts to take advantage of us very hurtful when it comes from those who should be family.
• And don’t judge him according to Filipino standards. Something he does may be bad manners by Filipino standards, yet perfectly normal for an Australian. Be assured that this works both ways, and hopefully he is also trying to understand Filipino differences without judging. Try to look for the intention behind the action or behavior. Are his intentions good? If so, let it go!
(*“Balato” is a Filipino tradition of sharing winnings and good fortune with handouts to other family members)
Try it! Your lives will be much smoother and everyone will get fair treatment. I’m sure you all want this.
PLEASE NOTE: This is an update of a 2016 article