There Are No Such Things as In-Laws

Posted on 15/11/2012

Back where I come from, there were definite distinctions as to what the relationships were. For example, we knew who our second and third cousins were, etc. Not so much in the Philippines. This is where our first major lesson begins, when it comes to understanding the mindset of the Filipinos. Whether you’re planning a brief visit, or an extended stay that will last for the rest of your life, there is one major point that defines the cultural thinking of the Filipino native.

Item #1 - “Family is everything”. Consider the fact that you won’t see any old age homes, in this country, and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about.

This particular point is something that most newbies in the country say they understand. But it’s really only at an intellectual level. What most folks in the U.S. think, for example, has more to do with the concept of being close to family members while maintaining their own space. Therein lies the difficulty. You may find yourself asking questions that any normal person from your country wouldn’t hesitate to ask. Such as, “Why is this person staying overnight? They live just down the road.” At that point, you may be instantly met with a hostile look from your wife (who I will assume is a Filipina) that insinuates that you just suggested you throw her mother outside into a typhoon. By the way, I’m not talking about somebody’s mother here. I’m talking about a second cousin who just happened to wander by in search of a random TV to watch. They watch TV, they eat, it gets dark outside. Of course, you’d never send the kid home alone (to walk 5 minutes). Forget the fact that the “kid” is in his early 20s.

Here’s my advice to those who are planning to move to the Philippines. Get used to this one major fact before you consider any other cultural idiosyncrasies. Because here’s the problem - As a foreigner, you won’t be held to the same way of thinking as the general native population. But you will be placed in a category that you may not want to be in. This will preclude you from many of the family experiences that you would otherwise have enjoyed. Not to mention the fact that, those who have married a native, will soon feel the effects of living with a person who is disenfranchised from her own culture. Initially, a certain “thick-headedness” may prevent you from seeing this. But as time goes on, it will become more obvious.

But fear not. In most cases you would do exactly as I have done. Make your cultural faux pas and see the difference in surrounding attitudes vs. doing things the “correct” way and seeing the positive results. Trust me. When you see the people around you (especially your spouse) smiling and being happy, you may start to understand (in some cases for the first time) just what “family” actually means. Next up, we get to a really bizarre and complex topic. How the locals feel about money.