Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I just read the most interesting memo ever.

Just this morning, I finished giving a short talk and plug for my tours at the first Parent Teacher Association meeting at one of Manila's most exclusive private schools. And after receiving a sampaguita lei (lovely gesture), I was handed a little sinamay goodie bag. One of many that was handed out to all the members of this mostly foreign audience. And aside from an issue of Expat Magazine, an issue of What's On Philippines, brochures from a couple of spas, and a map of the AYALA Center, it was two little papers with the headings: "Cultural Adjustments", and "Being Safe in Manila" that really caught my eye (above and below).

Now, I'm not sure why, but I found this dossier to be both hilarious and disturbing at the same time. The whole thing opens with the "Five Stages" of shock (or grief) of moving to a new country, followed by tips for a successful adjustment to the Philippines, and ends with reminders on how to "Stay Safe" in Manila. I found it hilarious because some of the tips ranged from the obvious: "Don't keep your wallet in your back pocket" to the subtle: "Know your neighbor and nearest same nationality neighbor", to the really blatant: "Resist making comments such as "What else would you expect from these people?" and even the esoteric: "Be creative. Find a hobby. Volunteer. Smile."

Wild. Such an interesting insight to what the average working expat (and their spouse) MIGHT instinctively think of their host country. It's really just amazing that some of these people have to be reminded not to be racist and judgemental when moving here (or anywhere for that matter). And even though I know that it is important to caution ANYONE about the potential risks of living in ANY country, I have to confess that I found the tone a smidge disturbing. It tried to be diplomatic but was still rather fraught with condescion and with just a slight tinge of colonial conceit ("The Philippines is a relatively safe place provided that you are not lured into believing that it is a western culture").

Were the the negative reactions to moving here so rampant in the majority among these people that they had to start giving out memos and reminders regularly to stay sane? It also makes me wonder what it would be like if we put the shoe on the other foot. What would the dossier given to OFWs moving abroad read like? "Please try to avoid judging these people as spoiled and arrogant. Their culture is very different from ours.", "Don't use a fork and spoon. Use a fork and knife." or "Don't lose your temper when locals assume that their country is doing you a favor by employing your services or allowing you to move there."

If anything, this memo only proves the following. It shows that these poor guys live in an incredibly small world and need to get out more (education and exposure eradicates fear I always say) and that the Filipinos who mingle among them should stop feeding their paranoia and start setting an example on how to enjoy living in a excitingly multi faceted city like Manila by leaving that bubble themselves and advocating the social change that would someday render obsolete many parts of this document.