“7 Incredibly Stupid Expat Blunders” is today’s topic. Expatriates, tourists, foreigners, beware. Once you leave your home country, you’re subject to a different set of rules. Don’t be so naive to believe that whatever you do back home can be replicated in the country you plan to visit or retire to.
Every country has different cultures and laws, of course. The Philippines, the place I’ve called home for almost 10 years, is no exception. Saying or doing the wrong thing can get you put behind bars. Or get you killed.
Therefore, I present my list of “7 Incredibly Stupid Expat Blunders”…
7. Burn a Termite Hill
Nearly any “real” Filipino knows that you don’t burn a termite hill. (A “real” Filipino sings karaoke and spends hours on Facebook every day.)
Termite hills are a common residence for duwendes. Duwendes, of course, are invisible Filipino imps that can commit mischievous deeds depending on their mood. (Filipina duwendes are especially malicious during a certain time of the month.)
I know of some expats on our island province of Guimaras who have instructed their Filipino workers to burn termite hills. The laborers have refused to do so, afraid of the duwendes wrath.
Nevertheless, the foreigner insisted on the torching of the termite’s abode. However, no tragedy or mishap has befallen that expatriate…yet.
6. Take a Shower When you’re Sweaty
Thankfully, for my wife’s sake, and everyone else around me, I take at least one shower a day. While it’s been so dry lately, that even the catfish are carrying canteens, my daily shower must never be done while I am still hot and sweaty.
According to my Filipina wife of over 19 years, I must first “cool down” and wipe myself down with a “sweat towel.” Why? Well, I will come down with an awful cold or flu, of course. At least that’s what my asawa tells me.
Consequently, while I used to dispute her bit of “sage” advice on this matter, I’ve learned to just say “OK” and wait before I take my shower if I’m profusely perspiring.
In contrast, if my spouse is away at the market and I’m hot and sweaty from working outside, I will take my shower immediately. Thankfully, to my knowledge, I’ve never become ill after taking a shower. Of course, I don’t inform my partner about this. I never want to rile the wagon master.
5. Never Forget to Serve Pancit at Birthday Celebrations
Serving pancit noodles at birthdays and other celebrations is a must. If you’re a foreigner hosting a special celebration, make sure pancit is being served.
Why? Well, every Filipino worth their balut knows pancit noodles represent a long life.
4. Don’t Diss Karen Carpenter
Filipinos absolutely adore Karen Carpenter. You’ll find a plethora of Carpenter songs on any karaoke machine in the archipelago. However, be forewarned, don’t moan or complain if someone punches “On Top of the World,” “Close to You” or any other Carpenter hit.
I’ve never heard of any foreigner being killed for criticizing Karen Carpenter in public. However, be aware that Filipinos are sometimes very touchy about how songs are sung in the karaoke bars, especially if they’ve consumed too much Red Horse.
There have been at least six or so Filipinos killed for singing “My Way.” Filipinos take great pride in their singing. The New York Times reports that most of the “My Way” killings have reportedly occurred after the singer sang out of tune, causing other patrons to laugh or jeer.
3. Don’t Pee on a Duwende without First Excusing Yourself
Any Filipino that lives in the province knows that you don’t pee on a duwende without first excusing yourself.
Of course, you don’t want to piss on the invisible imps intentionally, so you need to call out with the following phrase first: “tabi tabi po”. (“Please, move aside”.)
Failure to do so could result in your genitals being attacked. Personally, I would want to avoid this at any cost.
2. Don’t Ride a Motorcycle without a Helmet
First of all, Filipino law requires all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Not just carry a helmet, as I’ve seen some locals in Guimaras, our home province, do.
Whatever your personal views on wearing a helmet, you’re going to have a better chance of survival if you wear a helmet. Never mind that almost 90% of our locals don’t wear one, they’re not a foreigner.
Aside from safety issues, as an expatriate living in another country, you should follow the law. Frankly, I read reports on an almost daily basis regarding local motorcyclists and those in nearby Iloilo province, who die in crashes.
Ninety-nine percent of those fatalities that I read about involve bikers who were not wearing their helmets.
Again, while wearing a helmet doesn’t guarantee you’ll survive a crash, it certainly improves your odds.
1. Never Publicly Embarrass a Filipino
You’ve heard of “saving face” and “losing face,” right? Maybe you think this concept is only applicable to Hong Kong martial arts movies and not applicable in the Philippines. However, for the most part, the “losing face” concept is found in many Asian cultures, including the Philippines.
If you scold or humiliate a Filipino in public, you risk serious consequences including physical harm to yourself. While I’ve been stupid enough to be guilty of raising my voice or offending a Filpino, I’ve quickly apologized and learned it’s often best to hold your tongue.
Put alcohol in the mix, and even the slightest offense could set someone off. Remember that story I posted some time ago about the expat who was killed for refusing to buy a Filipino a beer? Exercise extreme caution when out in public.
While this post has been a blend of superstitions and practical advice, keep in mind these “7 Incredibly Stupid Expat Blunders.” Take heed of these nuggets of wisdom and you might just enjoy a long life in this “paradise” called the Philippines.