This is an area where old-school Australians and Filipinos are very much on the same page. We have different terminology, but it all comes down to much the same. A decent Aussie doesn’t forget when he owes someone, whether that’s money or a favour. When you “owe someone”, you don’t forget. And the bigger and/or more plentiful the favours and kindness shown, the more we owe. And we have those people whom we hold in a sort-of lifetime debt of gratitude, where we will do anything for that person anytime. We will stand by them, no matter what.
And what do we think of that person who forgets kindness shown to them? Definitely a mug……or a few other choice words, which I won’t publish here, but which I’m sure I’ve said a few times over my life. Because we all know that person. You show them kindness, sometimes regularly and sometimes over a lifetime, yet when you need something you won’t see them for a cloud of dust. They either disappear, or they’ll even get openly resentful and will tell you why it’s not convenient to them to help.
Utang na loob – Filipinos owing you one
“Utang” means debt. If I borrow P500.00 off you, I have utang to you. When I pay you the P500.00, I’m paying my utang.
“Loob” (pronounced “loh-ob”….not like boob) means your sense of inner self.
So here’s it’s utang na loob, and it basically means like it does to an Aussie. You owe someone big time, and you feel that inside. You know they’ve been good to you, and in return you need to also have their back. They have a need, and you automatically have a need to help them out. It’s just the right thing to do.
Filipino society is made up of a complex web of utang na loob (or just “utang” for short). Auntie Bheng or someone, they were the one who paid your wife’s college fees. This is why your wife feel compelled to do the same for one of her kids later on. Manong Jhong next door to your parents always brought vegetables to them when he had some to spare, and this is why your wife gave them P1,000.00 the other day.
As I said, the society is made up of this. And this is present every day in choices that people make. Someone needs a favour, and they know who to ask. Yes, it goes both ways. If someone has utang to you, they know it…..and YOU know it too. You need someone to drop everything and help you out? You go to the person who “owes you”. You know it. They know it. Everyone around them knows it too, because there are very few secrets in the barangays.
Three words/expressions – Hiya, nakakahiya, and walang hiya
I’ve always said that the Philippines has few shades of grey. It’s either black or white, usually. Someone is either almost a saint, or they are a dreadful and shameless human being. When you think about it, you will realise this is true.
“Hiya” means “face”. It’s like “shame”. Personal embarrassment that you feel to the depth of your being when you’ve done something really wrong, and here that comes from when you forget your utang, or even when you contemplate forgetting your utang. “Nakakahiya” means embarrassing. Not “oh, they saw my bare bottom” embarrassment. An embarrassment that hurts your sense of self-worth. To decent people, the thought of not repaying some utang na loob to somebody is nakakahiya. It’s an intolerable feeling that simply cannot be.
“Walang hiya” means no hiya. Shameless. This is one of the worst things you can say to a Filipino. It implies that they are without shame. They are an amoral person who feels no sense of embarrassment at forgetting their utang to somebody who has been good to them. They are the person who is OK about letting someone down badly who has been good to them and/or their family. They are the users and abusers of society, who take and take and give back nothing.
And I suspect most of us who have been involved with family in the Philippines knows people like this. I know that I do. It shocks you when it happens, and it’s hurtful. And yes, this is the sort of thing that sticks in peoples minds, and which the Bitter And Twisted Facebook groups use to run down the Philippines. A pity. There are mugs in Australia as there are in the Philippines, and fortunately they are in the minority in both countries. Kindness shown here is rarely forgotten by most people.