Mooching or sharing?
Ok, on first impression this may look like I am insulting the Filipinos. And, in truth, in my first impression I was. But after looking a little more I see it is just a difference between cultures – nothing to be offended by, just different. What am I talking about? Could be mooching, or sharing. Let’s see what we can come up with.
One of the things many kano’s (foreigners) complain about is the mooching friends and family. We are seen as “rich foreigners”, and to some we are seen as an ATM machine. Luckily my girlfriend does not seem to be just looking for money (good for her because I don’t have much money ha ha). I am not rich by any stretch of the American imagination. I had a regular 9-5 job for a local school district. It paid ok, but I could never afford a new car until I was in my 40’s. Forget about teachers complaining about pay, the skilled support staff receives way less! BUT in 2011 I went to Cebu, Philippines for Christmas vacation. So the average Filipino thinks I am rich – and compared to them I guess I am. It is all a matter of perspective. There is no way most of them could fly 8,000 miles for a 2 week vacation. So I may not see myself as rich but in relation to the average Filipino I am pretty well off financially.
I first arrived for my retirement on 14FEB13. My girlfriends’ family picked me up at the airport and drove me 150 kilometers to the house. They would not let me pay for gas or buy lunch on the drive. From what I heard from other expats I was surprised (expatriates). Ok, in truth, a couple days later they did ask for p3,000 for gas money ($75). But I had offered to pay, so no worries.
Two days later we go to a waterfall for the day. There are 11 of us, I think, and it is just assumed I am paying the entrance fee, the gas for the motorcycles, and the tour guide. Now, this is where a lot of the complaints come from. But I was ok with this. Turns out this waterfall is less than an hour from their house yet ,most of them had never had a chance to go before. So for about $30 US dollars I paid for a pretty nice day for everyone. Also they have opened their home to me. They gave me a bedroom and an electric fan. No talk of money – just made me part of the family immediately. I quickly saw a lot of give and take in the culture.
Friends and family drop by all the time for meals and liquor. But the lady that shows up and eats breakfast goes on to scrub out the sink and washes some dishes. Some nights I buy the liquor, other nights someone else does. I buy groceries, and so do they, and we all share what is here. Parasitic? Communal? Seems pretty friendly overall.
Maybe this family is doing it wrong? I really have not had the problems that so many kano’s complain about, yet…
Some of the kanos I have talked to say they have in laws that expect monthly allotments, non-working relatives that just call and demand money, weekly emergencies, etc. Hopefully I lucked into a better family?
Ok I did have one problem with one of the kids. He went into my room (first problem), and took some candy without asking (second problem). But most kids would do that no matter the country. The real problem was that this is some wonderful Mexican caramel made from goat’s milk and I can’t get anywhere here in the Philippines… ok, the real real problem was he took one small bite, made a terrible face, spit it out, and threw the rest away! My last piece of civilized candy – gone!
But the same kid, when given a candy bar, breaks it into a dozen pieces and gives everyone some.
It seems to me they share differently than we Americans do. If you have something, you share it, you just do. Most people will have times they are up and times they are down. But everyone helps out. When you don’t have much but you still share with everyone I can see why they think some foreigners are a bunch of Cheap Charlie’s. Of course most foreigners are seen to have unlimited funds. And so are relied upon to pay quite often. To them that is normal, to us it seems like mooching.
There already has been a few times I was asked to let someone “borrow” some money. But so far it has been 500 pesos, 200 pesos, and at 40 pesos to the dollar the 500 peso is like a $12.50 US bill. No real amounts – and no unrealistic expectations on my part of the “borrowed” money ever being paid back. One guy did ask my girlfriend to ask me for a cell phone. When I asked her why I would buy him a phone she said to let him know we are thinking of him. I quickly informed her I was not thinking of him that much. We did not buy him a phone and she never said another word about. I don’t know, or care, what he said about it. There are a couple people I will have to keep an eye on. But so far, so good.
Another quick example. The other day we are going to a beach resort. Again I pay for gas, and entrance fees. There were about 10 of us but for some reason I paid 16 entrances. It was p50 per, so again under $20. Turns out a few more family and neighbors showed up and I had already paid their way in. No big deal really but I have heard some complaints from a lot of guys about this very thing. But I also keep in mind the uncle who lives 10k away and brings us his trike (motorcycle with sidecar) to use for whole days at a time. Either he drives us or my girlfriends brother drives us. They spend their entire days running us around on errands. So I pay for the occasional trip. Seems more than fair to me. Also we stopped at the market for some lunch items on the way to the resort. I went one way with some family, another group went the other way. I paid for our purchases, I don’t know who paid for the others. Then it all went into one big lunch for everyone. Works for me.
But overall, in my very limited experience (6 weeks only), I have not had as bad a time as I was prepared for. I realize my journey is just beginning and will stay vigilant. If there is any downright mooching or begging I will not give any money and will try to convince them it is a waste of time asking. In an emergency I will help as I see fit. And if there are a lot of emergencies it will be seen as begging and treated as such.
Most of it comes down to attitude. When we go out as a group and the wealthiest pays for it – yes, that will usually be you, the foreigner. It is not everyday, or even every event. But if I pay every now and again and I am accepted into the family and neighborhood, just think of the experiences I will have. Or I could be a cheap charley and stay home alone. It is a different culture here. Remember why you came here, and enjoy the differences!