Being a foreigner in the Philippines is an interesting experience. On one hand, we Filipinos believe in showering our expat guests and friends with the renowned Filipino friendliness and hospitality. On the other hand, some of us may — unintentionally, more often than not — show a little hesitation, untoward curiosity, perhaps even rudeness and antagonism to foreigners. How, then, should you prepare to deal with people’s reactions towards you when you come to the Philippines?
A good way to do this is to understand how and why Filipinos’ attitudes, impressions and expectations towards non-Filipinos have been formed.
Perhaps it can be explained by the country’s over-three-centuries history under colonial rule. Another could be the propagation of racial and ethnic stereotypes by mass media. We may also take into consideration the stories and anecdotes that our fellow countrymen have shared from their travels abroad, especially with the ever-increasing number of Filipinos who have taken part in what may be considered “the Filipino Diaspora“.
Let’s now take a peek at how other nationalities may be viewed through the eyes of a Filipino:
(Disclaimer: The descriptions cited in this article are taken from the author’s impressions and observations about the general Filipino attitude towards foreigners, and these do not necessarily reflect the author’s own opinion.)
Filipinos have traditionally viewed the United States as the Land of Opportunity, a place where you can live the “American Dream“: a life of wealth, comfort and luxury that most of us can only imagine. This is why Filipinos tend to put most things to do with America on a pedestal.
Americans are often viewed as liberal, generous, outspoken. You may expect to be given excellent, maybe even preferential treatment at many establishments. You might be called “Kano“, short for amerikano, but don’t be alarmed as this is just a Filipino nickname for Americans. If you are male, don’t be surprised if some locals call you “Joe” (from back when there was a significant US military presence in the Philippines — American soldiers were called G.I.s, and G.I. Joe was the catch-all term for the quintessential American soldier) as well.
You will probably encounter plenty of stares as you walk down the street, simply because your appearance is significantly different from everyone else — especially if you have the stereotypical (in Filipinos’ eyes) American looks: tall, fair-skinned, blond-haired and blue-eyed. Some of us may also act reserved when interacting with Americans; this is probably because Americans are much louder and outspoken than we are. A few of us may even be too shy to talk to you, because we are conscious of our heavily-accented English!
Filipinos admire the Japanese for their excellent work ethic, politeness and innovativeness. The Japanese are also viewed as very traditional, with their own unique set of social norms and etiquette, and most Filipinos are aware of this and will try their best not to infringe on them.
Some of us younger kids were introduced to Japan through anime and other popular TV shows, and hence have also taken a great interest towards the language and culture. You will find that plenty of Filipino youth are pretty well-versed in Japanese pop culture.
Once again, our colonial past may influence some of the Filipinos’ (especially the older generation) slightly negative attitude towards Japan — World War II is still regarded as one of the darkest points in Philippine history.
3. Spanish / Hispanic / Latino:
You will probably find that you have plenty in common with Filipinos besides the surnames! It is likely that you will be treated as a kumpadre (compadre), almost like kin, by your Filipino friends, because of the many similarities in language and culture. Hispanics are viewed as emotional and temperamental — which can be easily understood by Filipinos as we are also a largely emotional and temperamental people.
The popularity of Latin American dramas also adds to this impression; you may find that many of our teleseryes are closely modeled after the famous telenovelas, and Thalia (Marimar) is still a well-known icon!
You may sense a little bit of distrust from the older generation of Filipinos, and this might be explained by the “nasyonalista” sentiment — a vestige of our colonial history and past under Spanish rule. Some of the older folks, however, do take pride in still being able to speak Spanish, and it is also worth mentioning that many of the younger generation have taken a new-found interest in the language and the obvious Hispanic influence on our culture.
The Philippines has had plenty of ties with China, going as far back to our pre-colonial, pre-Christianization period. The ethnic Chinese population in the Philippines is quite substantial, and many of positions of power, especially in the business world, are held by Chinese.
Smart, business-minded, “kuripot” (frugal, to put a more positive spin to it—stingy, if used in a negative sense): these are a few adjectives that Filipinos might say about Chinese. The Chinese are also considered very hardworking and family-oriented.
The layman term for Indians (and even other South Asian nationalities) is “Bumbay”, derived from the old name of the city of Mumbai. The general impression about Indians is that they are clever and money-oriented, perhaps because of the stereotypical “5-6 lender“, who charges a nominal 20% interest to borrowers, often small-time business or store owners. They were there even before micro-financing becomes a popular buzzword in the Philippines.
Racism And Discrimination
Some of the opinions that Filipinos have towards foreigners can be off-the-mark, even bordering on racist. It’s unfortunate, but the reality is that racism can exist everywhere, and not just towards foreigners — some people even discriminate against their own countrymen!
This doesn’t mean, however, that Filipinos are inherently racist! Negative and/or wrong stereotypes are brought about by ignorance and mis-education, and this certainly holds true in a country such as the Philippines. The best way to correct this type of attitude is, without a doubt, education — and who else would be a better teacher than yourself, the expert on your own identity? So the next time someone makes a wrong assumption about you based on your nationality or ethnicity, take it in good humor, but don’t forget to correct the mistake by showing him the positive traits you are proud to have!