While society in the Philippines does share a lot of values with industrialized Western societies, Cebu is nonetheless located in Asia, and a large number of concepts may be surprising. While discovering the differences is part of the fun of visiting a foreign country, I've tried to cover the major issues here, to ameliorate your culture shock and help you adapt to Cebuano society.

Adapt is, indeed, the keyword. The first thing to bear in mind is that everyone else is normal and you are not: you are the alien, and even if you are endowed with fantastic qualities, those may not be readily appreciated here. Your sense of right and wrong, your behavior and your manners may need some fine-tuning. Now, as a seasoned traveler you may scoff and dismiss some of the issues covered here as common sense, but you'd be surprised how many people require awareness enhancement.

Right at the top of the list of issues to watch out for is body odor. As is the case in most East Asian countries, most individuals in Cebu are distinctly lacking in body odor compared to individuals from the West. Hence, Filipinos are extremely sensitive to smell, and Caucasians visiting the Philippines may be considered as having been afflicted with an extreme case of BO even if, in their home country, they belong to the mild end of the spectrum. Most foreigners are oblivious to the situation, but they are often enveloped in a cloud of malodoros fumes, and Cebuanos will hold their breath and step out of the way with alacrity. The word to watch out for is baho, which means "foul-smelling". If you hear this word uttered within earshot, it's likely that you are the issue.

Here's how to deal with the problem. If you are a Caucasion, it is almost certain that you smell awful even if you consider yourself odor-free. Therefore, even if you are not aware that you have a BO problem, still take the precaution of showering thoroughly at least twice a day, and be sure to consume liberal amounts of deoderant after each shower. Not some namby-pamby spray, mind you, but a strong anti-perspirant that is applied directly to the skin. Better double the dosage recommended on the label, just to be safe.

Now that we have that delicate issue out of the way, here are some other issues you may have trouble with.

Foreigners - and Tagalogs - are quick to yell compared to Cebuanos. Yelling in anger is bad manners in any country, but the sin associated with disrupting social harmony by shouting is considered far more serious in Cebu than elsewhere. Even if what you are saying is true, and you are justifiably outraged, the act of yelling immediately makes you the bad guy. So try to avoid shouting if at all possible.

Next: Sharing. Everyone is naturally expected to share. So if you interrupt Filipinos in the middle of a meal, they will automatically invite you to join in, even if there's barely enough for themselves. "Let's eat!" they'll say enthusiastically.

Now, things are a bit tricky if you have a lot of friends who are less well off than you are; Cebuanos are expected to share a windfall with friends and relatives, and the wealthier member of a circle of friends is expected, to a certain degree, to share his or her blessings with everyone else. Consequently, if you are a foreigner (and walking dollar sign), a friend may ask you for a "loan" and never pay it back, or borrow an article and never get around to returning it; he or she is not really being a thief. If you can afford it, just let it slide and consider it as a form of informal social taxation.

That doesn't mean that you won't be the only one to benefit from a relationship. You may not be aware of it, but the Cebuanos around you will often help you - and endure considerable suffering and hardship in the process - without ever letting you know.

Another potential source of misunderstandings is dating. This vast and complicated issue of dating is covered in a separate article. Here I'd like to draw attention to just one oft-misunderstood fact. A Filipina may, according to your interpretation, flaunt her sexuality - body-hugging top, tight jeans, bright red nails. That doesn't mean that she's - for want of a better term - fast. In fact, she may very well be a virgin. So don't expect to get laid on your first date. Of course, there are girls who dress in a sexy style and who have indeed shed their virginity and conservative values long ago. But don't judge the book by its cover.

One common complaint about foreigners is that they tend to have a massive superiority complex. True, your country may be wealthier and more technologically advanced than ours. Your country may have fewer impoverished citizens, and you personally may be far wealthier than most people you meet. However, that doesn't make you or your society superior. Filipinos are proud to have a sophisticated culture and high level of civilization, despite the widespread poverty. Cebuanos, being polite, may not show overt displeasure when lectured about the flaws of their country and society by a foreigner, but they do resent it, so be careful not to come across as judgmental.

The male Caucasian visitor may be suprised to be greeted by friendly yells of "Hey Joe!" - pronounced as Joo - when venturing into Bisdak territory. Stemming from the days of the GI Joes, i.e. American servicemen stationed in the Philippines, the term "Joe" is used loosely to apply to any foreigner, usually presumed by default to be American.

Site Copyright - 2004-2011