3 Difficult Questions about Filipinos from an Ethiopian Woman

One Friday night, I had a duty in the nursing home. I was feeling mixed emotions on my way to work for it was quite strange feeling working when others are enjoying the start of their weekends. As usual, I tried to appear confident although I am honest to myself that my Norwegian language skills is still not at par with those working in the department for many years. To add to the challenge, most of the employees are coming from outside Norway. In short, we care for Norwegians but most of us were not even born Norwegians, having diverse personal backgrounds and culture.

For that night, I will be helping 3 departments, manned by 1 employee each to serve for about 70 patients in total. Usually, another nurse coordinates the 3 departments and should there be a need for one department for help, they ask one to do the tasks. For that night, that was my task, so I went around the 3 departments and determined that the department headed by an African woman could be the busiest for the night. So, I planned to stay in the department.

Working with African employees did not give me a problem so far. They are very generous to share their knowledge, in fact I got help from my first duty in Norway from them. They told me to better ask and not to be shy. However, this African woman was different because she has worked quite so long in a department where many Filipinos are also working. The first time we talked, she asked me why we Filipinos act in a particular way, so I got interested with initiating a conversation.

I learned that she came from Ethiopia, an Northeast African country. Ethiopia is bordering Somalia, Kenya, Eriteria, Djibouti and South Sudan. It is a multi-lingual society of almost 90 million people. Although the Ethiopian economy is accelerating in the past thirty years, it is still one of the world's poorest countries. Due to ethnic differences and shared border with the failed state of Somalia, peace and order could be a problem.

In my point of view, their society is quite comparable with that of Filipinos. Of 100 million Filipinos, about 10% are working outside the country to contribute to its growing economy. This is also true in Ethiopia. Although the Philippines is not as poor as Ethiopia but poverty still affects at least a third of its population. The Filipino society is also multilingual and has peace and order problems as well. So, this lead me to think, we Filipinos could share same motivation with those from Ethiopia in working abroad. However what struck me was when she said to me directly that she would rather work with another nationality than a Filipino.

Hearing this from her, I took it positively and objectively. I asked her to share her ideas about us Filipinos. To sum it up, here are what she asked me:

1. Why do Filipinos back talk against anyone who is getting better in life?

She shared to me that Filipinos helped her when she was new. There were very happy to be with, although some of them still did not have a regular status like her. Fortunately, she got the regular status earlier than the Filipinos working longer. Suddenly, she noticed the Filipinos were ignoring her. Worse, making small mistakes bigger and reporting it to the head of the department. The problem was the Filipinos were talking negatively about her and even others who are gettibg better in life.

"Why?", she asked. I was silenced. I myself experienced the same thing before. I explained to her that we Filipinos were trained to compete with each other in any endeavour. To outshine another is our objective. She said that is the opposite of the general African mentality of helping those people, who have less in life. Worse, we Filipinos see the weakness of others as opportunities for us to get through. This is sad, but true. We may rationalize and disagree at a certain point, but bottomline, we do have this big social problem.

2. Why do Filipinos have to talk so much and with others first before talking to the person concerned?

She also told me why Filipino men talk so much. ( I was guilty then because I also did.) A man should be a man. Perhaps, she meant a man should not talk so much. Worse, she said that if Filipinos either male or female have a concern with one, they talk first with another before going to the person concerned. A good example of going around the bush.

Another difficult question I tried to answer. I said we Filipinos usually ask help from another to solve our personal concerns. This is true in any setting. Talk to 3 to 4 individuals for help before going to the right person. That is the Filipino way. Worse, the individuals whom we asked helped from would give advices, which maybe right or wrong. As a result, confusion results and the situation gets complicated. As to why Filipino men talk so much, I said we simply can not hold our mouth shut either men or women. I have even shared that Filipinos are capable of making criticisms to others even not knowing the whole story. We are just good at that. Luckily, we Filipinos are not alone in this arena of being talkative, other cultures also are. However, we are still unique given that we blend it other "admirable" customs and habits.

3. Why do Filipinos take revenge on conflicts that can easily be resolved?

Aside from having Filipino workmates, she also had a Filipino neighbor. She had some confrontation with her about usage of common facilities. Both of them were not willing to share to cut the long story short. She apologized after telling some bad words to her in the fight. Hearing that, I warned her Filipinos generally can not forget and would not take apologies. She agreed because the Filipino took revenge. She was planning to have party in their place and posted a written warning for neighbors to be informed. The problem was that Filipino tore the written post and when the party was at its peak, the Filipino called the police for complaints of creating unnecessary noise. Unfortunately, another neighbor saw the Filipino tearing the written warning. To the Filipina's dismay, she got a warning from the police instead about her behavior.

Her eyebrows were meeting upon she shared her unforgettable experience with her Filipino neighbor. She even said, "why make a drama out of it?" In connection to creating dramas, I told her perhaps we were influenced by social media. Our TV shows emphasize on expressing emotions maximally. When we are happy, we share it with others even they do not need to know about it. When we are angry with some, we simply lose our breaks and take revenge. That is not good I believe. She even said that Filipinos seem to kill you slowly and softly. I just laughed upon hearing it. So we are. We are just too emotional that we act like children when we feel such.

Her learnings, experiences and questions are valid. There is truth to it. She was very objective in telling me about it. In my perspective, she was commending our culture because we have concern with others. We help others but only to a certain extent that could lead to something better than us. She was only asking why and gives her insights in contrast to Africans truly helping each other.

What struck me was her three main questions. I thought a Filipino can not just work together with another Filipino. However, now another nationality has observed the same way against them. In defense, I made her realize that not all Filipinos are such, but I can not deny that generally we are. We think everyone owes to us that they are not allowed to be better than us. That is our culture. Sadly to say, it gave us a bad impression.

What can we do? I shared to her I hope we Filipinos can still change. She replied to me that we can not change everything. There is no perfect culture, she added. We just have to learn from each other. It is true. Personally, by writing this I hope we Filipinos get awareness of what have we become. Through this awareness, we adjust ourselves accordingly. Well, it all depends on how meek we are in accepting the reality.

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