Apr 12, 2011

Are Filipinos blunt?

Dear Filipino,

A friend of mine recently asked me a question that had me stumped: He wanted to know if Filipinos were blunt. Apparently, he had a run-in with a couple that he knew on a less-than-personal basis and was very surprised at their frankness. Nothing insulting was directed towards him. These Filipinos simply made some very transparent and candid comments about a family member of theirs.

I found it a little difficult to answer his question because I didn't know at what level to address it: Filipino interaction within the family, with other Filipinos, or with other cultures. I also felt a bit inadequate in addressing my friend's inquiry since I mostly grew up as a third culture kid with my own confusing hodgepodge of cultures. At any rate, I know Filipinos, and even Asians in general, are not as timid or non-confrontational as they may seem. Any insight on this one?


Dear TCK,

Any insight on this one?  Of course!  Are Filipinos blunt?  Hell, yes!

NEXT question, please!

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Just kidding, TCK.  I'm just trying to be cute as TF because I am not really one in real life.  And it's definitely not cool to make you and the others wait so long just to be brusquely set aside with an unqualified reply. (It's bad enough that I haven't been as religious in answering questions lately, right?)

But anyway, back to your question...

Although Filipinos can be really blunt and frank and direct and upfront, the answer is really not as cut-and-dried as that.  We can be evasive and less direct too so as to prevent hurting another.

However, it is quite common knowledge that Filipinos, with an admixture of hot-Latin and humid-tropical blood coursing through their veins and schooled by the chest-thumping Americans, are more expressive than their counterparts from North Asia. 

The popular Pugad Baboy (Pig Pen).
Sure, we have a culture of "face-saving" too, but nowhere near what the Japanese or the Koreans have.  Sure, we are polite, but not so polite as to bow repeatedly

Filipinos are also usually more polite around strangers, especially foreigners who obviously do not speak or understand the language. 

Among people we know, however, we do have a tendency to be less sensitive about race, gender, disability, sexual orientation and other "equal opportunity classifications" you can name -- often causing a lot of masked pain. 

Hence, name-calling and jokes about one's less-than-ideal attributes can be brutal, especially among the young.

For instance, growing up, I was repeatedly teased as "Egoy" or "Negro" because of my skin -- until of course, I grew up to become the quintessential tall, dark and handsome (I heard a 0.333 batting average is considered spectacular) bachelor coveted by the most desirable ladies in town. Hah!

But seriously, many Filipinos sometimes don't think twice about made-up adjectival names to refer to others.  Hence, you can hear people ask: "Nasaan si Pango/Pandak/Duling/Bumbay?" (Where's flat-nosed/short/cross-eyed/Indian guy?) 

Others would find these names uncouth and uncool.  So they employ syllabic inversions and other magical verbal treatments.  Hence, Pango becomes NgoPangs; Pandak becomes DakPans; Duling becomes LengDu; and Bumbay becomes Pana (the last derived from "Indian arrow" because arrow translates to pana in Tagalog).

Still others can get very creative.  A naturally bald-headed person who wears a toupee is someone who has a BMW ("Buhok Mo Wig!" or "Your hair's a wig!").

In high school, I had a classmate whom everybody called "Tinapa" (smoked fish) because he smelled like one.  Apparently, his family's business was the buying and selling of tinapa, but, no matter, it didn't exempt him from the ridicule.

Because I went to an all-boys' high school, the effeminate ones stood out, albeit, for some, not by choice.  Regardless, they were all referred to as "Bading" (gay).

In conversations, it's not generally seen as rude to remark, "Uy, tumataba yata tayo!" (This translates to "Hey, looks like you've gained weight!" even if "tayo" is really the Tagalog for "we.") 

The inverse, to say to a close female work colleague, "Wow, mama mia, sexxxyyy!" is also fine, or at least, it wouldn't be considered sexual harassment.  To the contrary, it would be deemed flattering.

Note though that frankness flies out the window if you're a guest at a house and it's eating time.  If you're a welcome guest, the host will offer to share his/her food, and it's considered bad manners to decline, no matter how politely conveyed, even if you're full and your stomach is ready to burst. 

But if you're an unwelcome guest though (you would or ought to know), the host will still offer to share his/her food, and it's considered bad manners to accept even if you're starving, emaciated and the table is overflowing with food.  Because if you do, be prepared to hear remarks like: "Buti naman at di ka mahiyain, iho." (It's a good thing you're not a shy person, son!)

Another area where frankness and bluntness don't apply: When you're courting Filipinas.  If you find yourself in this situation, understand that a Filipina may say "yes" but she actually means "no", or she may say "no" but she actually means "yes" in caps and bold with three exclamation points.  The fun part is figuring out which is which, but unfortunately, I am woefully inadequate to give a dissertation on this topic.

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.


leigh204 said...

I can relate. I had many relatives look at my face and wonder aloud why my eyes resembled an "intsik", but to be fair, they would say to the cousins my skin wasn't dark like theirs. Go figure.

test said...

Love your blog. I forget how "blunt" filipinos can be, but was reminded during a recent trip back home.

My lola referred to my cousin's friends based on their appearance and characteristics: "kalbo", "payat" and "bulol"

Since I'm Americanized, I thought these moments were both awkward and funny.

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