So what are Cebuanos like? The best way to find out, of course, is to spend time in Cebu. Meanwhile, here are just a few generalizations to give you a vague idea and lessen your culture shock, if any. Note that, as is always the case when describing a people composed of 3 million individuals, these descriptions don't apply to everyone; these are merely patterns and tendencies of idiosyncracies and peculiarities one eventually recognizes after interacting with many hundreds of individuals. Some traits may be completely imagined by the author of this article; it would be much appreciated if any Cebuanos reading this could alert this website if something is way off the mark.
The first thing this writer noticed is that Cebuanos, more than any other people on this planet, are obssessed with looking good. Now, beauty and a pleasing appearance are prized the world over, but in Cebu these attributes outrank all else by a massive margin. If you get a baby, the most important thing is that it's good-looking, never mind character traits such as intelligence, kindness, diligence, etc. In fact, some might even say that your average Cebuano would rather have a good-looking baby that's deaf, dumb and blind, as opposed to a butt-ugly offspring that, say, delivers a virtuoso performance on the violin.
This obssession with looking good explains, perhaps, why there are more beauty pageants here than anywhere else in the world, and why public transportation is dressed up and made to appear drop-dead gorgeous, even if the innards consist of cannibalized parts discarded as garbage in Japan. It may also explain why, in a conservative Catholic place, almost all females on the better side of 40 dress in extremely sexy, body-hugging clothes: You gotta look good, so you'd better show off those curves! And it is of course no surprise that many ads in the jobs section of the classifieds insist on female applicants with "pleasing personality" - which of course is a euphemism for "pretty." God forbid if a plain girl turned up for the interview; she'd be shown the door in no time, no matter how pleasing her personality.
On another level, the obsession with looking good could explain why Cebuanos avoid confrontation whenever possible. To keep up appearances, Cebuanos will rarely if ever give you bad news, or tell you something that you don't want to hear. Rather, they will backbite - whisper nasty things in private, or send it via text message. The way Cebuanos backbite each other is terrible, all Cebuanos will agree, but whether they realize it or not, the unspoken continuation is that backbiting is not as bad as causing a public fuss and saying nasty things to someone's face.
Now, foreigners - and even some Filipinos - will say that Cebuanos are on something called "Filipino time." This means that Filipinos are not as punctual as members of some other country. And, indeed, you are not considered to be really late even if you arrive 30 minutes past the agreed time. Some foreigners will tell you that the problem is due the fact that there is no standardized time-keeping. This is true. There is no phone line to call to check for the official time. The major cellphone companies keep slightly different times, as do the two major TV networks. They don't even do the "Beep, beep, beep, BEEEP!" at the top of the hour anyway. You can switch from one radio station and go from 8:13 to 7:54. Banks open and close according to the clocks they have on the walls, and if they have two, one may be ahead of the other by 30 minutes (the slower one is used to determine the opening time and the faster one for the closing time).
But this writer, at least, disagrees with this entire notion of Filipino time, because it misses the issue. The issue is not that Filipinos are always late, or lax about being punctual, but that Cebuanos in particular and Filipinos in general are very, very patient. Cebuanos will wait for eons and eons and eons before becoming even slightly upset. Foreigners may find this incredible and exasperating. In jeepneys, at restaurants, and in ATM lines, Cebaunos will wait passively for hours with utmost grace. If someone in a group of people gets worked up about a delay, you can bet your last dollar that it's a foreigner, a balikbayan (a Filipino residing abroad), or a Tagalog.
Patience is a virtue, but, of course, there is a flipside. Namely, Cebuanos will casually let you wait for ages, and react with genuine incomprehension should you throw a hissy fit. Don't bother yelling: "I've been waiting for 30 minutes!" because the tone of the reaction will be, more often than not, "Yes? And? What's the problem? You just wait." This is not really rude. It could be that this degree of patience - or rather, lack of impatience - exists because Cebuanos have never been under intense pressure to bring the harvest home before the onset of winter. It stands to reasons that people whose cultures have evolved in climates where the pace of life is dictated by the seasons tend to be rather more impatient than the denizens of the Philippines, where bountiful produce is available all year round.
Another hugely important characteristic of Cebuanos is that they value privacy less than the people of the West. In fact, privacy barely exists as an acknowledged concept. No Cebuano lives alone. Having spent hardly a waking minute in solitude, Cebuanos are terrified of it. As such, it is a terrible crime to leave someone alone; Cebuanos always expect to be accompanied wherever they go. That is why Cebuanos make a big deal out of parting ways, even for a short time. "I'll just go ahead," they'll say, looking slightly uncomfortable. It is important to try to understand the apprehension a Cebuano feels when being left alone, or when leaving someone alone. Say things like "Take care! Call me! Text me!" even if your companion is just stepping out to get a newspaper.
RELATIVE IMPORTANCE OF VALUES
Since privacy ranks very low on the Cebuano value scale, it is perhaps understandable that Cebuanos are, by their own confession, extremely nosy. The word is chismoso for male nosy persons, and chismosa for female nosy persons. Cebuanos spend an inordinate of time prying into each others affairs, or, delving into each other lives to share their lives as much as possible - depending how you look at it. Whether it is a positive thing or not, having someone present while you go about your daily affairs, and observing someone while he or she performs a mundane task, is normal in Cebu. Do not be alarmed if the Cebuanos present start observing you carefully and unabashedly should you start doing something even moderately unusual, such as changing the film of a camera. Whereas, if you start unscrewing your false hand in public in the West, people will flicker their eyes at you while pretending not to stare, Cebuanos will actually get up from their seats and come right close so as to get a better look.
It should also be noted that, while roughly half of the traffic jams in Cebu are caused by accidents, the other half are caused by chismoso Cebuanos on the opposing lane slowing right down to a crawl - sometimes even stopping completely - so as to better ogle the goings on at the site of the accident, even if the problem consists of a barely visible scratch on an old and battered taxi, caused by another old and battered taxi. And, needless to say, should a fire or a fight or some other similarly interesting event erupt, a huge crowd will materialize out of nowhere. In Cebu, it is completely OK to be curious and to stare.
It's not immediately obvious, but the Cebuanos are a superstitious people. For instance, no house will be built unless a chicken has been sacrificed and its blood sprinkled about. (Interestingly, after the bood sprinkling, a Catholic Mass will often take place.) Cebuanos will often prefer a witch doctor to take care of their problem rather than a medical doctor. Perhaps it is wrong to call this "superstition," since these beliefs go deep. Very deep. No matter what one says to a Cebuano, these beliefs can never be shaken. It's a Bisdak thing.
I recently heard from an expatriate who was surprised to be castigated by his Cebuana wife when removing a speck of dirt from his newborn baby's forehead. The dirt, it turned out, was a talisman that had been carefully put into place by the mother, in order to make the baby's hiccups go away - Cebuanos believe that attaching a small bit of thread to a baby's forehead with saliva will put an end to hiccups. The expatriate, a biologist by training, blew his stack - throwing a complete fit as only foreigners can do - and explained at great length to his confused wife why the bit of thread could have no possible scientific effect. For good measure, he also assured her that superstition is evil and that he would be sorely disappointed if she were to engage in such superstition ever again. Two weeks later, upon returning unexpectedly to the house, he found the bit of thread on his baby's forehead again. As I said, these beliefs go deep. Our friend should not have been surprised, and instead of throwing an even bigger fit - which is what regretfully he did - he should have been grateful that he didn't catch his wife in bed with a neighbor.
For some reason, Cebuanos love to abbreviate. Cebuanos will abbreviate absolutely anything and everything. The abbreviation may take the form of an acronym: OA (over-acting), DI (dance instructor), GF (girlfriend), BI (bad influence). Example: "Bay, my GF is so OA, she got mad when I said her DI is a BI!"
Alright, so Cebuanos and the Pentagon have a penchant for acronyms. But only Cebuanos abbreviate to the extent that adjectives and adverbs are landed with the roles of nouns. For instance, an ocular inspection becomes an ocular. "Did you prepare for the ocular, Jun?" Which reminds me: Cebuanos abbreviate just about everything, and that includes names. Robert Downey Jr would be known as "Jun" in Cebu. Is your name Victor? Cebuanos will call you "Tor". Whatever your name is, Cebuanos will abbreviate it. Abbreviating is an obsession in Cebu; it's a Bisdak thing.
Even more surprising than the abbreviations are the exaggerations. While most Cebuanos don't lie intentionally, just about all Cebuanos automatically expand the magnitude of the issue in question. For instance, someone whose name you don't even know is a "friend." Someone whom you've met once or twice is "my best friend." Someone who lives in your town is "my neighbor." When late for a meeting, Cebuanos will call or text to say that they are "on the way." This means that they're about to leave, or getting ready to leave. When they're on the way with more than halfway to go, they'll say: "I'm near!" or "I'm almost there!" When they're actually near, they'll say, "I'm there!"
Last, but definitely not least, there's shyness. You may find Cebuanos to be shy to the point of psychiatric disorder. At least, they are shy about some things most people of the world would consider normal, such as eating. Your servants, for instance, will go to extreme lengths to avoid being seen eating in your presence, even if you have encouraged them to take a meal and it is fully within their right to eat. (Strangely, however, once they do get around to the act of eating in your presence, they will have no qualms about belching loudly.) Note that, since most Cebuanos are incredibly shy, you should be a little suspicious if someone - particularly a female if you are male - approaches you and starts making suggestions. No Cebuana I know would ever do that, unless playing a role in some scam.