Finally, some culture shock

Wow I still am amazed sometimes by the differences!

I have traveled a fair amount in my life and seen many cultures. After a while you think you got it down pat. Then someone throws a curve ball and knocks you on your ass again.   I have lived in the Philippines full time for 17 months so far. No major culture shock, no major upheavals. Then yesterday we went to a movie. And I was so shocked… it is still hard to believe what happened… just unheard of…

We went to see Transformers 4 yesterday, me, my wife, and our 17 year old nephew. We were running late (surprise!), and the popcorn line was moving hideously slow. So my wife & I were like ‘let’s skip the popcorn and get in the theater’. But the nephew had a look like we suggested murder suicide ha ha… .   I am not going to miss the beginning of the movie so I give her my wallet and go get seats. I’m thinking he is just acting like a spoiled teenager. I am not upset by his behavior, but I am not missing the beginning of the movie (yeah, I am spoiled too). If she wants to wait in line she can. Well a minute later he comes and sits down too. Apparently she told him to come in so he does not miss the beginning of the movie either.   I’m thinking if he wants popcorn so bad – he should at least wait with her and help carry it in. Luckily they bag the popcorn and drinks so they are easy to carry. Anyway she comes in about 5 minutes into the movie – and there were only 2 people in front of her in line. But this not the shocking part. It comes after the movie….

After the movie she was making fun of the nephew for almost falling while getting in and out of the theater seat. She laughed and said he had never sat in one before… Wait… what?! Yes, he is 17 and this is the first time he has seen a movie at the theater!   I mean, I know he is from the province, and it is a 2 hour bus ride to the nearest town with a grocery store, but somehow I just never imagined a 17 year old could have not been to a movie. Dorothy, we ain’t in Kansas anymore.


It made me pause and think about things more.   I know there are cultural differences and they affect relationships between expats and locals. But sometimes we forget just how different their upbringing is.   We notice the big things. Many locals have no running water, or no electricity, and certainly no water heaters.   We recently moved from our nipa house into a brick apartment. First day there I added in a water heater for the shower. My wife never uses it, if I turn the temperature up at all she turns it back down when she showers. Easy to adjust so no worries. Well the other day, I was hot one afternoon, so I turned the heater off and took a shower straight cold – from the well. Next time I showered, not only had she turned it back on, she turned it up almost as hot as I usually take my shower. So… she is warming up to warm water. But then she will still use the tabo (bucket) for a shower quite often. Old habits are hard to break, I guess. But these are expected differences.


We expect to have to teach our wives about microwaves, or a real washer & dryer, and sometimes even refrigerators. But who think about simple things (to us) like a movie theater? It just really made me stop and think. Now of course next time we get in a disagreement I will forget this… but for today it made me stop and think ha ha.

6 thoughts on “Finally, some culture shock

  1. I really understand very well what you are experiencing about the culture shock, I’m married to a Ilocana and she has been abroad and therefore has experienced the different ways of modern living. So mostly there is little difference between us, but when it comes to her mother whom is now somewhere past the seventies is of the kind of filipino that prefers to live in the old style, that is like not using a modern shower with water heater instead of a bucket and scoop to pour the water over your body while taking a bath. I put up a such item so we could in the winter months shower in warm water and I said to my wife that her mother could use it, but, no prefered the bucket… says is nicer ! More water… and another thing is the use of the refrigerator for storing foodstuff, well I bought a new one and while I am there on visit we use it, but as soon as when I have left there then it’s turned off, I suppose to not use electricity, because like in the old days they still buy their daily food by passing by sellers or go to the market and then no storing in cold inviroment as there will allways be somebody in the family who passes by and eat the left overs… or either the flies or the ants will do the job! It’s not like us that go to the supermarket and buy food for several days or put meat in a freezer, no, that’s not the filipino way… so, fridges are only for storing cold drinks and freezers to make ice…
    It can be a culture shock when people do things in other ways that we in the more advanced countries are now accustomed to do. One must not forget that for many filipinos it’s not many years ago that many provinces got electricty! Like when you go to the electric company and you order an new meter installation, then they invite you to a seminar! So, you can learn about electricity and it’s dangers… well, it’s understandable when people have lower education bakground and not to forget that it’s not very long time ago many of the inhabitants of the Philippines were still living in huts of bamboo and in mountain regions where modern amenities had not yet come into their world. Also the economical level for many is low income an can’t afford things we take for granted.

  2. majority of Filipinos live below the poverty line. most of them live on a very tight budget. i know some families who live daily on a 300 pesos budget, maybe even less. so it’s not really surprising to find people who have not been to the cinemas.

    in fact, when i was in high school, half of my classmates had not been to a movie theater. but that was like 15 years ago when movie tickets were like 50 pesos. now it’s 150 plus 100 for popcorn and soda, lol.

  3. I think you’re hip enough to face the culture shock– I should say the “absurdities” — in your new environment. Or in your new normal. There are those who take things heavily.

    The use of TABO (and “batya” or “balde”) for instance. Surely you don’t have these things in your bathroom from where you came from. If I were in your shoes I would cry inconvenience. The hot shower. Even here in Manila we, don’t normally bathe in hot water.

    Lets go to the movies: That teenager’s first time to the big screen? It’s either he comes from a far flung village and movie prices are cutthroat OR the place is rampant with pirated DVDs and nobody goes to the theater anymore. A lot of folks here in the Philippines — especially in the rural areas — haven’t been to the movies.

    In fact I haven’t been to the movies for a long time now. Since..The Dark Knight!

    1. I never had a tabo in my home in the US but many of my Hindu friends did (they called it a lota). The movies here are cheap About p150 a ticket. Like I said it is just the odd little things that take you by surprise ha ha

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