Posts Tagged ‘language’

Yesterday, May 23, was a momentous occasion–and not just because the unicameral Parliament of Finland gathered for its first plenary session on that date in 1907. For Laura and me, it meant only two months left in the Philippines! So often here on sweaty afternoons the time seems to move no more quickly than a stray dog lying in a patch of shade, and yet here we are, 83.3% done with this time that has changed us forever. Return tickets are bought, furniture is going to be sold, and on July 23, all we’ll be left with is an empty tile-floored apartment, six obese suitcases, and a raft of memories.

As any of you who have traveled much can relate, for even the minimally perceptive hominid, foreign countries prompt continual cultural comparison. On sabbaticals with my family as a kid, I’d noticed a few things; for example in Israel: “Wow, this random family’s doorstop is older and has more significance than anything in the entire US!” Or England: “This is the coldest I’ve ever been without snow, and they have black currant-flavored everything.” Figuring out life with a spouse, however (instead of depending on parents), and working with natives multiplied this process. As chronicled here, the observations piled up as we adjusted to a new culture, but with our departure looming, we finally wrote them all down. See if you notice an over-arching theme:

Won’t Miss

Will Miss

pollution Bae (the women at Samaritana)
lack of nature nearby stunning scuba diving
tiny biting ants and giant cockroaches everywhere $7 massages
roosters mangoes
distance from friends and family having lots of time together
“not available” at stores & restaurants Tagalog moments (i.e. when we get it)
Manila’s constant noise and crowds Manila’s energy
permanent daytime sweatiness warm nights
bad hair for Laura’s curls great pinoy hair
double ATM fees & budgeting with cash fewer worries about money in a simpler life
being a target preferential treatment because we’re white
being stared at Laura being told she’s beautiful frequently
few fresh vegetables in Filipino cuisine awesome & only-in-the-tropics fruits
bad “bahala na”–resignation about problems good “bahala na”–life’s too short to be anxious
sex tourists physical affection, especially between women
filtering water street food
deadlines not being very deadly not stressing about time
opening bags for security guards shockingly cute kids
rampant corruption emphasis on relationships
Filipino food Neighborhood balut guy (although not the balut)
running circles at UP, our only option for exercise feeling fast compared to local joggers
expensive local calls prepaid (cheap) cell phones
lack of independence no gas & car insurance payments
not being rooted at a church Samaritana community
dirty rainwater splashing on legs Epic thunderstorms
Absence of food & wine connections Fulbright connections
hitting my head on things feeling tall
tripping on uneven floors & sidewalks the way Life happens on the streets
everything being such a production having time be our own
dressing shabby $2 pedicures
concrete back “yard” not paying for home repairs
obnoxious DJ’s & sound effects everyone singing along
ubiquitous, competing pop music Joniver Robles playing the blues
no legal DVD’s or streaming tv shows cheap movies at the theater
books being expensive & plastic-wrapped being respected because we’re writers
dirty feet wearing flip-flops all the time
tough local meat & expensive, imported dairy the palengke’s scruffy charm
Rarely having hymns at church Paula & Brian, prayer partners & friends
deafening bus horns roller-coaster-esque “ordinary fare” buses
difficulty planning travel beauty of the provinces
benighted attitudes about birth control Four months of Christmas season
hanging out at malls Sebastian’s ice cream sandwiches
not being able to flush toilet paper living someplace tough and non-touristy
Pinoys’ obsession with being maputi (pale) beautiful kayumanggi (Filipino brown) skin
not having appliances having house helpers
neighbor’s yappy dog, who wakes us up nightly kasama (companion) culture
worrying about getting ripped off in cabs riding on the outside of jeeps and trikes
eternal traffic pinoys’ instinctive driving
difficulty communicating stretching our brains
feeling like we have little control enforced dependence on God

As the picture may have given away, what we gradually came to appreciate is that even in a crowded, dirty, noisy place like Manila, it is possible to be charmed. Would we want to stay here for the rest of our lives? We’re not sure–but as the list shows, it’s not as simple a question as one might think. Likewise, is our life “better” in the United States? Yes and no. But wherever we happen to be, I hope we can be a little more content–and a heartfelt thanks and borderline-alarming bearhug to all of you who made this possible.

— Nate

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A few days ago, while at a friend’s presentation on the historic Edsa 1 People Power Revolution, I saw an interview clip of someone surnamed Nathanielsz, and wondered why my parents didn’t go for that instead. It was the latest of many ways that the collision of two languages and cultures has entertained us since we arrived in Manila last July.  Whether it’s extra letters (Dhon the plumber? Margareth the councilwoman?), hilarious Taglish grammar, or unintentional sexual innuendoes, we wanted to share in this photo gallery some of our favorite examples of creative uses of English.

But we also wanted to comment on the broadening experience it’s been tackling a foreign language ourselves. Based on multiple conversations with polyglots, we think learning Filipino* (which shares our alphabet and only has a few sounds English doesn’t) is harder for English speakers than Romance or Germanic languages, but easier than Mandarin or Arabic.

As this fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal points out, language influences how we see the world–and thus learning a new language is to learn a new worldview. Over the past six months learning Filipino, we’ve seen multiple examples of this:

“Ngayon” means both “now” and “today.” If you inferred from this that Filipino culture is not very time-oriented, you’d be correct. (Conversely, fellow Americans, have you realized how many sayings and expressions we have that implicitly value time and direct communication? Straight shooter, get to the point, spit it out, stop beating around the bush, means what she says and says what she means, and more.)

In the Philippines, everyone’s part of the family: they use the terms twofold affectionate/respectful terms “kuya” (older brother), and “ate” (older sister) not only with family members, but with strangers, because everything in the Philippines is about relationships. Unlike western countries, you rarely have an interaction here that is completely anonymous or transactional.

Age- and status-consciousness is built right into Filipino speech: anyone who’s being polite will add the marker “po” to a sentence any time they’re addressing someone older or in a position of authority, or in business settings. (E.g. I’d say thanks “salamat” to a younger person, but “salamat po” to an older one.) Unlike the U.S., where everyone tries to pretend they’re equal, in the Philippines there’s always hierarchy and respect–which in relation to America’s obsession with youth, seems healthy. (“Po” also produces some hilarity in hybrid Taglish common in the Manila area; we’ve heard everything from “hello po” to “scuse me po” to “God bless you po.”)

Finally, passive verbs are more commonly spoken than active ones: in the U.S. we’d say “What are you doing?” but in the Philippines they’d say “What is being done by you?” Unlike me-first Americans, they place the emphasis on the activity, because actions and groups are more important. Sadly, passive verbs are twice as complicated and three times as long as active ones (e.g. “salita” is speak, but “nakakapagsalita” is “able to be spoken”), so at this point, according to our tutor, we sound like six-year-olds with our active verbs. But we’re trying . . . or as Filipinos would say, it’s being tried by us: sinusubukan namin.

— Nate

* Tagalog is the original name of the language, based in Luzon, that along with English is one of the national languages here. It is officially referred to as Filipino in an attempt to be more inclusive of the other regions; unlike many linguistically and geographically monolithic countries, the Philippines (with around 90 million people) has twelve languages with over a million speakers, so the choice of Tagalog as the national language is a sore subject with Cebuano speakers, which are almost equal in number to native Tagalog speakers.