This is for us OFWs working in Africa or less-developed countries (excluding RP, of course).

Maybe you heard of this in Filipino gatherings on Sundays…

There was an article by Inquirer columnist Michael Tan entitled “Getting rid of the Ugly Filipino abroad”. Tan talked about the attitude of Filipinos in non-Caucasian nation, tending to be arrogant and loud and have the tendency to put down the host country. And these are the pinoy tourists in HK or Thailand…

And he has yet to hear some overseas workers’ talk about the people and culture of the country they are working at, especially in Africa. And these OFWs who badmouth the locals are the ones who do only ‘skilled worker’ jobs.

Many time i heard some Pinoys saying that the locals are so ignorant that when they see ‘any’ expat, they get excited, as if they have never seen an expat before. Well, the same thing for us in the Philippines. If we see any foreigner in our village, we all get excited also. It is a natural reaction. The same thing can be said to Europeans if they see an Asian in their estate. But for some Pinoys, they laugh at this reaction and think of it as something like a sign of uncivilized behavior.

Then there are some Pinoys who likes to brag that they come from a country where English is  a second language, ergo, all filipinos speak good english. But listen to them speak in Carabao English and you will cringe in utter embarrasment. I heard the locals spoke better english than them.

Some OFWs will not hesitate to badmouth the locals, addressing them as ‘baluga’ or ‘nognog’, not as a matter of ‘polite’ description but more on a derogatory and contemptous sense of the word.

I really don’t know why some of us behave this way. When we are in a nation that is considered more Third World than ours, some OFWs have the tendency to become arrogant and feeling ‘whitish’ as to the locals. But if the same person is sent to the US or any ‘white’ country, he will feel and act like a subjugated indio and will be more than willing to be at the receiving end of the abuse. Why is this?

Shades of colonial mentality, perhaps.

Although Michael Tan was talking about Filipino tourist/travellers, but his tips are as relevant to every OFWs, thus:

1. Take in the local culture’s sights, sounds and smells. St. Augustine once wrote: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read a page.” I’d modify that and say, “The world is a book, and the Filipino tourist, even when traveling, only gets to read pages condensed by others.” We’re afraid to try out new food, sticking to McDo and Kentucky Fried Chicken. We allow ourselves to be taken by tour operators to the standard tourist places, department stores, tiangge-traps, and then return to our hotels to watch cable TV.

How sad. Arm yourself with one of the better travel guides (I’m partial to Lonely Planet and Rough Guides). Take in a museum, a concert, and dare to explore out-of-the-way places. Many cities are actually quite safe—definitely safer than Manila—so poke around in the smaller streets and alleys, sidewalk eateries (but stick to properly cooked food) and shops. You just might find your travel allowance stretching a longer way.

2. Blend in. Learn the local cultural codes about proper attire, body language, etc. Pick up basic phrases, not from the travel guide but from local people. Struggling with the local language helps to temper our voices, make us sound friendlier. (And don’t, please don’t, make fun of the local language—I’ve heard Filipino tourists using a sing-song voice to parody the Chinese, Japanese, Thai.)
Combine your shopping with “anthropology”—I always ask people about the stuff they sell, where it came from (to make sure it’s not something Made in China!), what the designs mean, even what it’s called locally and what it’s used for. Sometimes, when people realize how interested I am about local culture, I end up getting invited to their homes, or to watch a local cultural event. In restaurants, I’ve ended up getting extra servings, a free beer, or even a special dish they don’t usually offer tourists.

3. Be inquisitive, not acquisitive. I think we sometimes come through as wanting to buy everything, take home everything. We’re notorious for our oversized luggage, balikbayan boxes, extra tote bags stuffed with hotel amenities, kitschy souvenirs, with room to spare for duty-free items.

Really, we should be thankful we have an overseas job. Let us be reminded that we are working overseas because our own country is a ‘shitty’ place — dirt poor and with a corruption-ridden government.

 Maybe the POEA, in conducting PDOS for OFWs going to ME/A, should remind the workers to be mindful of their manners and be thankful to the host country and its citizens.