Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Living here has given me some funny lessons about Americans. Here's what I've learned so far.

1. They’re usually impeccably prompt but don’t trust their sense of time when they ask you for “a minute” (as in, “Do you have a minute?” or “Can you hang on for just a minute?”). Or demand indignantly, “Now, wait there one minute!” They rarely ever mean our usual understanding of how long a minute is. From experience that “minute” could be anywhere from just a “few” to a “whole lot”. I haven’t had time to research the etymology of America’s “one minute” but I’m guessing it’s all part of their emphasis on precision, even when it’s not. At least in our vernacular, when we say sandali lang, we discard any pretensions that waiting should be measured.

2. Be careful whom you offer your seat to in a crowded bus. I’ve stopped counting how many sharp, angry looks I’ve gotten from “elderly” women while trying to be a gentleman. “Age” is very subjective to Americans, I discovered. The official retirement age starts at 62, but many continue to work past that. Unless I see them staggering at the turns, I’ve learned it’s best to keep my eye on the newspaper.

3. They’re a very polite people. They greet everyone with “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” When I first got here, I thought they expected me to tell them just how I was. Wrong! I’d get puzzled looks as I tried to answer them, cutting me off just as I was coiling up for the meat of my life’s story. It’s not like our kamustahan, where a greeting is usually accompanied by a tale or two, usually the latest juicy gossip. A simple “Good, and how are you?” would suffice, I discovered.

4. I’ve found out the hard way that it’s easy to get lost in underground parking here. I’ve always taken pride in my navigational skills, but over here, it fails me at times. I blame it on the elevators, of course. I usually try to remember how many floors I pass from where I parked to my destination floor. So when I go back, I just press the floor I thought I left my car on. But some building elevators here have this crazy notion of location – B-1, for instance, is I assume the first floor down after the Ground Floor. Wrong! It’s actually the “first” floor of the building (i.e., the bottom-most floor). If there are four underground parking levels and I wanted to get to the first one after the Ground Floor, I should’ve pressed B-4, not B-1. Ay mali!

5. Never ask for the “comfort room”. You’d only get puzzled stares and a lot of “what ya say?” Toilet, men’s or women’s room should work out fine. And while you’re at it, don’t ask for your “chit” or motion a square with your index finger and thumb when you want to get your “bill” at a restaurant.

6. While smoking and someone approaches you as if asking for a light, chances are he wants a light and a cigarette. At $4 a pack, you’d think a sari-sari store selling cigarettes by the stick would do brisk business here.

7. They say "thank you" a lot, for almost every little kind deed. Not saying "you're welcome" in return is just plain, rude. And they hate rude people here.

8. I've found that women here like to show their cleavage (perhaps because they have reason to). It's okay to look but staring would be considered rude specially if they're bouncing all over the place. Come to think of it, not all of them hate being rude.

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