(This is a continuation of my earlier post, The need for personal space.)
Filipino people traditionally do not have a concept or sense of personal space or personal boundaries. Or their concept simply isn’t in alignment with mine.
And this (non)concept of space is deeply embedded in the Filipino psyche. You can see its influence in practically every Filipino value, cultural belief, behaviour and way of life. Something that has truly been a challenging and major growth opportunity for me.
- Up close and personal
It is generally acceptable in the Filipino culture to ask such very personal questions that pertain to your marital status, business or source of livelihood and income, age, number of children, where you reside, etc. All these even if you had just met and all that you’ve exchanged is a cordial “hello” or each other’s names.
And when you choose not to give out such details and if you reply instead by asking them why they want to know, they feel insulted or disrespected. They give you this quizzical look. Some may even label you as “suplada” (unfriendly). They’re almost tempted to ask what is it that you’re hiding and don’t want to reveal. You are expected, almost obliged to divulge such information. Like it’s part of standard exchange of pleasantries. They feel entitled to pry into other people’s lives. Rather than mind their own business and be concerned about their own lives, they naturally gravitate towards being nosy and inquisitive about other people’s affairs.
- Money, money, money
Increased commercialism has become so prevalent, it’s almost insane! Countless and endless construction and erection of condominium buildings and shopping malls is what you will feast your eyes on when you’re in Manila.
The worsening materialism and survival and scarcity consciousness have affected what used to be such pleasurable activities as shopping and taking vacation trips. It has made shopping and trips to the mall (even for merely watching movies) less enjoyable. Vacationing isn’t as relaxing or stress-reducing as it used to be. The influx of countless peddlers who bombard shoppers and vacationers with their products and services has become too much for me to bear and to deal with.
It was really quite a shocker for me to be met with such invading energies — hungry and desperate for business. It’s like they see me as a walking peso (Philippines currency) sign. I’m their next meal or education for their children. They’re as ruthless as anyone struggling for survival. They have no regard at all for the customer’s space. Are they doing it intentionally? Probably not. They don’t even know that they’re already encroaching into the customer’s personal space. Or maybe they don’t really care. All they’re after is to hand out as many brochures as they can, have you take a look at what they’re offering and get your business. I sometimes wonder if they have quotas for the number of flyers that they’re able to hand out in a day.
What was even more shocking is to see that the average Filipino just takes everything in stride. It is accepted and it is allowed. The Filipino shopper or vacationer has tolerated being inundated with sales agents even if these agents get in their way, literally. I’ve even encountered some agents who’d make sure that they stop right in front of me. I’m being trapped. They make it difficult, almost impossible for me to escape their preying claws and oh-so-mechanically-sounding sales pitch! Some of the marketing agents would even have the audacity to block my way by handing out their brochures and flyers and place them right in front of my face!
And I was really taken aback by how the Filipinos have tolerated this. They allowed such behavior to seep into the Filipino culture until it’s become a way of life.
Before I left the country seven years ago, I don’t recall seeing these many merchants and sales agents, and being bombarded with such invading energies.
Family is family; Blood is thicker than water
I respect the importance that’s given to family which is central to the Filipino society and way of life. However, there’s a shadow side to it, just as with any other beliefs and traditions, personal, cultural, collective.
When personal spaces and boundaries are not clearly set and the lines blur, family enmeshment occurs. And it has also become a standard and acceptable Filipino practice. Extended family system has become an acceptable norm, even when certain lines are being crossed. You end up losing your right to personal privacy. Family members and relatives earn the right to be privy to your personal affairs. They get overly involved. And especially when there are conflicts amongst family members, they meddle. They think they’re entitled. All because they are family.
Within the Philippines context, the term family is vastly different from the Western world which defines family to include only the parents and siblings. The Filipino concept of family encompasses the parents and siblings, grandparents, nieces and nephews, cousins (first, second, even third degree), children of cousins, aunts and uncles, aunts and uncles of cousins, in-laws, in-laws of siblings, in-laws of cousins, cousins of in-laws….You get the picture. 🙂 And take a look at the picture below of a typical Filipino family.
And it’s not surprising to see such a large, extended family sharing the same roof. Or, residing in the same compound. Or within very close proximity.
There is a very strong tribal culture and mentality and the concept of Filipino family and the extended family system may give a sense of community and belongingness. But the extreme closeness and close proximity render the situation prone and convenient to encroachment of personal spaces and privacy.
Even in a community or shared living setting, every member is still accorded personal space and privacy. Or at least, that is my preference and that is what I need and what works for me when I live in such a setting.
The order of the day is for me to learn how to co-exist with people whose values and cultural traditions are so much in opposition to my personal preferences and beliefs. How do I bridge the gap? Do I even attempt to bridge the gap? Or do I merely respect the differences? Do I simply acknowledge and honor the gap, and simply let it be?
To be continued – Part 4: The Filipino Non-concept of Space
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