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10 Aspects of Filipino Culture I Just Can't Seem to Escape

Philippines Culture
by Rosalyn Estoque Nov 17, 2015

1. The tsinelas at all times

Tsinelas are traditional Filipino slippers, and must always be worn inside the house. If you go to another Filipino’s home, you’ll find various pairs already waiting for you at the entrance: flips flops, straw sandals, or slip-on house shoes. Now, wearing slippers isn’t really my thing. But as soon as I take off my shoes, I can see Grandma glaring at my awkward tsinelas-less feet as they walk away.

2. The hoarding

There’s something about Filipinos and keeping every napkin, take-out utensil, to-go container, and hotel soap we can find. It’s as if the apocalypse were to happen tomorrow. We always tend to take more than necessary — you just never know when you are going to need a packet of ketchup–and I always thought this was quite ridiculous until the day I unconsciously found myself doing the same. One day, I was in need of a napkin after a spilling a drink on myself, and guess who had about five buried at the bottom of her purse? This girl. Step aside, Tide To Go.

3. The balikbayan box

Turns out, we even hoard when traveling. A few months ago, while abroad, I accidentally found myself assembling a balikbyan box. I thought I could separate myself from that stereotype, but no. When a Filipino travels to another country (say, to visit the homeland before returning to Canada), they more than likely will return with a balikbayan box, like coming home with souvenirs for your family and friends — except Filipinos take it to the next level: while everyone else at the airport is waiting for a suitcase or two at the luggage pickup, Filipinos are waiting for a box filled with nothing but trinkets. I mailed mine home. No shame.

4. The karaoke lifestyle

If you so much as dare breathe the words “karaoke” to a Filipino, you will find yourself in a never ending musical trap. The average Canadian family may rarely sing a tune in front of one another just for fun. My family and extended family will turn it into a show, complete with little prizes or gifts at the end. I’m never surprised to come home and find my mother practicing her new favorite Barbra Streisand tune on the karaoke machine. It’s not a joke or silly past time, but a way of life.

5. The foreign items

Tucked away in the corner of my kitchen is a stick with a bundle of straws tied to the bottom of it. It’s our broom. This may be the only item we have in our house to clean up messes in the kitchen. It’s literally the only item we’ve ever had. We live in Canada — people are using a Swiffer WetJet like it’s nothing. My family is using a bundle of straws.

6. The “Filipino” time

For whatever reason, Filipinos always tend to run up to three hours behind. If we say to one another “See you at 4 o’clock, ‘Filipino time,’ ” we can safely assume that no one will actually be there until 6:30. If we’re lucky. I was born into this, and I am always that one friend that makes you late for everything. “Oh, dinner was at 6:00…ish?” I say as I awkwardly walk into a room full of all my friends who have already eaten. I think my Canadian friends have finally understood, and now if they want me somewhere by 7, they’ll tell me it’s at 5. And I still show up at 7:15.

7. The Tagalish

Everybody knows Spanglish. Filipino families have Tagalish. My mother will often say a few things to me in Tagalog, and being a Canadian born child, I’ll respond back in English. Family conversations, jokes, anything is usually just a mix of languages. I never really understood how weird it may be, until a friend of mine listened in with a puzzled look on her face, trying to piece it all together. Maybe the guys over in Quebec will understand.

8. The naming protocol

In Tagalog, to show respect for your elders, you must precede their name with either manong or kuya. In my life, I have only once referred to my brother as simply Peter, instead of Manong Peter. He wasn’t even there, and it was awkward. I guess some things you just can’t detach yourself from.

9. The superstitions

The majority of my Canadian friends think of demons and spirits as myths or silly stories. But to my family, they are very real. To this day, I can’t step out into a dense forest without worrying about disturbing and upsetting bad spirits. My parents taught me to always say “tabi po” when crossing paths with untouched Earth or immensely tall trees. We say this because we believe spirits — good or bad — live in these parts of the forest. If you don’t say “tabi po” to protect yourself from them, they will cause you harm. You may get sick, or fall and break a bone. To the normal Canadian folk, this is as just an accident on the trail or altitude sickness, but my familiy and I know better. Today when I go on hikes, I still tend to find myself whispering these words to small ferns and tall evergreens without even realizing it; you never know when a bad spirit is waiting around the riverbend.

10. The tight-knit community

One day, my mother called me while I was waiting in line at the Tim Horton’s Drive-Thru. I told her to hold on as I ordered from the kind, old Filipino woman at the window. Noticing my obvious visual Filipino characteristics, the woman started asking me if I was born in Canada, if I’ve ever been to the Philippines, where my parents are from. Then of course, my mother decides to chime in. “Anak, who is that?” Since my cell-phone and car speakers are connected, the lady at the window heard her too. Next thing I knew, there was a line of cars stalled behind me because of a conversation my mom was having with the worker, talking as if they were long lost best friends. Even at Tim Horton’s, when all I want is a coffee, I can’t escape from the Filipino culture.

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