10 Moments of Reverse Culture Shock in the Philippines

A few years back I had written an article on Culture Shock in Europe as a Filipino that had gotten widely popular. What happens though when you lived overseas for a while and come back to your home country?

‘Reverse Culture Shock’, according to my quick search in Google, is the emotional & psychological distress suffered by people when they return home after living for some time overseas.

There were certainly some challenges to coming back in the Philippines, no matter how long or how brief you’ve lived overseas.

Here are just some of mine:

1. There are better odds of sighting a unicorn than a punctual Filipino.

Even on a professional setting, the concept of time is very fluid. In the Philippines, you’re early if you’re 15 minutes late of your agreed appointment. It gets even worse if it’s just a personal meeting, you’re lucky if your friend shows up 30 minutes after the agreed time.(Another problem of mine is when a friend arrives earlier than your agreed meeting. That happens quite a lot too, and they would end up crashing on your couch, watching your TV and maybe logging into your laptop and posting a prank ‘I’m gay’ status while waiting for you.)

Seriously, the whole concept of time in this part of the world is just busted. If you ask me out and arrive 30 minutes late smiling like nothing’s happened, DON’T.

It may also be power trip or a status quo thing: the last ones to arrive are normally the most important ones in the room. The program will not start unless the VIPs have arrived, even if the rest have to wait 2 hours.

Maybe the whole American efficiency and sense of urgency kind of rubbed off on me, because I am getting too stressed about this.

2. Is everyone kinda deaf here?

Why do public spaces in the Philippines love to blare their speakers so we can’t hear or talk to each other anymore? Is everyone kinda deaf here?

In bars and clubs, it’s like everyone is dissuaded to talk to each other and encouraged to just dance and/or stare at each other. Which brings me to my next point…

3. And the staring.

Filipinos stare and people-watch all the time–on the streets, in the office, at school–and you’re supposed to pretend you didn’t notice. I was so used to the staring already (being born and raised here) that I usually just ignore it, but I picked up on making light conversation if you catch someone doing it (or if you’re staring at someone).

So I picked up on the habit of I making direct eye contact and small talk with random people, from Uber drivers, to security guards, to the big bosses. So when I catch someone curiously looking, I’d ask them what’s up; only to get uncomfortable reactions, like being ignored or faces suddenly looking away.

Maybe it’s unnerving because you already know how Filipinos love to gossip, and they really, really do give a fuck about your affairs…

4. Let me repeat: People really give a fuck about your affairs.

It’s hard for Americans to understand how tightly knit Filipinos can be towards their family and friend circles. Even if you are just a new acquaintance, Filipinos will really care about what you’re up to!

It’s both a good thing and a bad thing–it’s unnerving maybe for foreigners who aren’t used to the sincere congeniality of Filipinos. We really want to take care of you. We really care. Yup, we’re really nice. Nope, we don’t expect anything in return. We’re glad to help. We really do give a fuck about you. 🙂

5. Yaya? 

The idea of self-service, where we have to pick up after ourselves in, e.g., clean up after every meal in a fast food restaurant, or bag our own groceries, or fill up the gas in our cars, is completely alien here. No matter how rich or poor you are, there’s always someone who will pick up after you in the Philippines. Truly we are one nation spoiled and pampered to death.

6. No one wants to walk.

We can blame it on a few things: it’s too hot outside, there are non-existent sidewalks, and it’s not remotely safe to be a pedestrian. Hence, if Filipinos have to choose between walking for 200 meters or taking their car and transferring it to another parking area, they would choose the latter.

7. Why is it so hard to find a trash can, anywhere?

Overseas, there’s always a trash bin in every block or within 200 meters away from you. But why is it so hard to find a trash can here, anywhere? Even in malls, you can’t really find a bin anywhere, so you’re forced to bring your trash in your bag until you get home.

My friend say it’s a safety concern, about potential criminals leaving a bomb on the bin. But still, aren’t there better ways for us to get easy access to a trash bin in public spaces?

8. The Air!

As soon as I left my 20-hour JFK-MNL flight, every inch of my skin could feel the heaviness and hotness of humid, 38-degree-Celsius, polluted Manila air: I’M HOME!!!

After experiencing dry air and cool weather, I didn’t know how bad my skin would react to the air back home. I had a bad breakout a few months upon arriving in the Philippines!

I experienced a bad breakout when I got back home, and I had to invest in skincare, facials and micro-needling before my skin was back to normal (and even better, I would say!) I think my Indo-malay skin is really made for humid, tropical weather.

9. Everything here is so cheap!!!–and so expensive!!!

It feels great that I no longer have to shell out at least 10 bucks for street food and 20 for a sit-down restaurant. Everything is so cheap here–restaurants, massages, facials, haircuts, manicures–oh the luxury to do everything once you’re back home!

And at the same time, everything is sooo expensive! I miss the number of options you can get in American stores. I miss how cheap clothes, branded stuff and Greek yogurt is in America. I miss Amazon Prime. and the outlet shops. and Black Friday.

Generally, services in the Philippines are cheap but (imported) goods are expensive, and options are limited.

10. Pork is LIFE

I seriously did not eat much pork when I was in the US, it wasn’t as popular. There was always chicken and beef, but pork didn’t have the frequency in the menu appearances.

But here–OMG. It’s so hard to avoid pork. We are obsessed with every part of the pig; lechon (whole pig), pata (knuckles), sisig (cheek), tuslob buwa (brains), dinuguan (blood) and more.

Read: Margaux Story – I’m Filipino, do I smell like pork?

Even if we have our annoying little quirks, you know I still love you, Philippines. I missed you–and you indeed continue to surprise me everyday!

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