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A significant Philippines cultural difference? (Or just the misunderstandings of a foreigner?)

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Posted on March 21,2014

Cultural differences can be big or small.  Mostly they are small or just not that significant.  One that stands out - potentially - is one I have become acquainted with through a friend who went to work in Manila several years ago.  Now, he is more acquaintance than friend, but I overall trust his judgment on things and I find him to be a good writer-thinker.  Like me, he has a natural curiosity for the unknown and has always wanted to use his vocation as a means to go abroad and learn about another country.  That is what he did, leaving for the Philippines and work in a Manila hospital several years ago.

He has since moved on to another work opportunity. But while he was in Manila we corresponded and he shared his many observations, good and bad, light hearted and funny, quirky and enjoyable with friends back home.

One observation that he shared as a single man was the oddity of running into this:   His findings and assertion - over time - that it was rare to be able to have a healthy platonic relationship with a woman colleague at his workplace or in the neighborhood in which he lived.  He would be the first to admit that his "study" on this is not exhaustive or fully conclusive.  He only got a little more than 24 months full time working in Manila before he took another job opportunity and departed.

His assertion:   A collegial working or friendly relationship with a Filipina woman of roughly his same age could never be exclusively platonic.

I sugggested to my friend (we'll call him Daniel - name changed to protect the "innocent" ;) that part of the problem is that he is a pretty good looking fellow.  Good height.  Physically fit.  Big and ready smile.  A good sense of humor.  It is not difficult for him to be social.  He's unfailingly polite and a diligent worker. And, yes, single.

Daniel would counter this.  He understood that his status and personality might "sway" his unofficial study about work relationships on the job in an overall professional surroundings (the hospital community), but he still found it odd that the tendency for relationships to often go (or just head in the direction of) beyond just being friendly coworkers was just about always a factor. 

I took note of this the very first time that Daniel mentioned it in one of his pieces of correspondence.  Because, for us, overall, working relationships are collegial, are platonic.  People know boundaries and keep them.   Particularly when someone is married.  Flirting is just not going to happen.

I have been in workplaces where, if two single people begin to discover feelings for one another, a) they had better keep it secret, but b) one needs to leave and find work elsewhere if they wish to pursue a relationship with each other.  That is the professional ethic even if not codified, expected. 

What Daniel found is that simple, well-intentioned gestures that one would do with work colleagues would be misinterpreted - too often.  Something like bringing sweets, cookies, pastries or other treats to the workplace for others to enjoy at a break or during lunch.  Or an expression of gratitude. He remarked that several times one of the women in the group would mistake this gesture of just "wanting to be part of the team" as a special gesture just in her direction.

He stated that the flirting could be overt or very subtle.  But often right there, just right underneath the surface, ready to increase if he ever much gave an indicator that he welcomed it.  And that this was not just flirting in his direction, but that he noticed it as well in numerous other male-female relationships in the corridors of the hospital.  The ages of those engaged in it approximately 28 - 48 years of age - the prime working years of our lives BUT also, as Daniel noted, when we are all old enough to be mature and just focus on the professional.

What troubled Daniel the most is that too often marital bonds and bounds did not serve as boundaries.  He thought it would be otherwise in a country where Catholic cultural foundation is supposed to dominate.  He also just longed for the utter trust one can have with fellow professionals (in this case women colleagues) that  a) friendships could emerge and blossom, but that b) there would never be the thought that the friendship is anything other than platonic.

As I say, these topics from Daniel struck me because where I have worked the overall mission is handicapped if everyone on the team is not behaving in a trustworthy, team-like, and friendly manner.  To us cuturally, in an age where many workplaces are 50-50 (men/women) mix, the ability to have women friends at work where they are just friends and nothing more is both normal and crucial.

Is this often not so in the Philippines?

Again, this is a hospital setting.  One where the balance of males and females is almost equal, as it is in most medical workplaces around the world now.  So Daniel got a glimpse perhaps into an aspect of Filipino life and culture that other foreign males (those in engineering, construction, IT, shipping, mineral resources, etc.) might not see.   Daniel continually remarked at how he thought this on the job "flirting" or coming really close to it served as an obstruction to the overall work - or certainly could.  With a hospital comprised of so many women and men working so closely together for sometimes very lengthy periods of time, his assertion was that this degraded performance.

If Daniel were reading these words now he would be the first to say, "Hey, let's not close the book on this.  My thoughts are not conclusive.  These were just my observations and experiences for an overall short period of time in one workplace, one hospital, just one big city."

So I pose these questions to the Filipinos of the Forum.  Are Daniel's observations about true to what one experiences there?   Are there differences in work environments?  Or were Daniel's encounters at the workplace not really the norm at all?   Should we be able to draw any conclusions at all from what Daniel reveals?   Or not place much thought on it at all?

One caveat for Christians on this site reading this:   Daniel's work environment included people from all walks of life.  I think he would be the first to say that this was not a Christian work enviroment, or, more precisely it was more a place where people were of minimal or marginal faith.  Faith was part of his colleagues family heritage backgrounds but not the dominant determiner for their behavior.

I welcome open, candid, real feedback on this topic.  Perhaps this is a cultural difference. Is it something a Brit, a Canadian, a Yank, a Kiwi, or an Aussie would need to learn about life in the Philippines?  I do not know but would want to learn more.  Thank you.

Hi Andrew!

I think it’s a misunderstanding. I don’t consider his observations as part of Filipino culture. It’s not the norm, but rather the exception. But it does happen, I won’t deny it.

Generally  speaking, it’s  natural  that a  possible spark between a man and a woman can develop , when they are together often , regardless of  nationality and work environment.

However, It is not rare to be able to have a healthy platonic relationship between colleagues of opposite sex. I have my experiences to prove this. During a 24 hrs duty as a medical intern for example , in an on-call room which is common for both sexes, with 5 beds available, it is customary to share a bed with a colleague , male and female alike. Developed closed friendships but did not exactly jump at each other. I see my married women friends having very close male friends , having a cup of coffee.   I have a lot of male friend colleagues in a hospital setting ( not Manila)  , we are so close to each and we enjoy healthy friendship not expecting more, coz  I know them so well and  they are not my type of man LOL..

I beg to disagree with his assertion :   A collegial working or friendly relationship with a Filipina woman of roughly his same age could never be exclusively platonic. NEVER is a strong word. It is not impossible to have an exclusively platonic relationship between a Filipino woman and any man of any nationality. Quite harder to keep if the person involved is attractive though LOL…

Educated , ethical and Christian Filipinos would tend to respect the boundaries of marital bonds. But sad to say there are exceptions, and yes it Daniel’s observation regarding this happening is well founded. But it is not the norm but rather the exception and is not the act of a mature Christian Filipino. Maybe they just happen to be Filipinos living in a Christian Country.

With due respect to the innocent “Daniel “ J , I don’t think you cannot draw a conclusion based on these observations alone. I’ve spent most of my life here in the Philippines and I cant fully understand my fellow Filipinos and our Filipino culture. We are a product of mix races and culture, thus the diverse culture and values and individual differences. Not to mention that our country is made of 7,107 islands and 150 languages , we cant even speak our native dialect and be understood by our fellow Filipino LOL. , unless of course we speak tagalog or English which is quite universal for us all.

 This are all based on my personal experience, others may have a different idea. 

Peace to all! 

 

 

Mr. Andrew and to all great men and women  who will come to read this thread, blessings to you all!

It’s very palpable that you have very keen interest in understanding one’s culture, more specifically our very own, Filipino culture. This gives me an impression that you are truly sincere in praying, seeking Filipina woman to be the woman of your desire and dream.

You raised a very good topic as well, that I can say it’s not just a matter of cultural differences, but a MATTER OF THE HEART of ALL, men and women, Aussie, Americans,  British, European, Western, Asians, young and old, single or married... Building a healthy platonic relationship is a battle, or has been a struggle even during old times, by NOT only FILIPINO CULTURE but by ALL….

If you are familiar with a Western woman author named Heather Arnel Paulsen and with her book “Emotional Purity- an Affair of the Heart” she addressed this kind of issue, and as far as I remember not to Filipino culture first but to American single ladies and gents, and even to married couples.

An excerpt from  Chapter 1, called "Tracy and Mike," recounts a not-uncommon situation. Tracy and Mike are "just friends." They are good company for each other. However, one of them becomes emotionally hopeful or involved or invested in the relationship, while the other doesn't. Broken hearts can result from this worldview of men and women being "just friends."

Another excerpt from a book review for the same book made by Natalie Walsh, New London, NH : “Women, do you find yourself falling for your male friends only to find that they do not return your feelings? Men, do you find your female friends falling for you when you feel you have done nothing to lead them on? Close friendships between men and women can be confusing. More often than not, one of the friends involved has romantic feelings for the other, which, if not returned, can lead to heartache. This situation seems to rarely result from time spent in group activities and arises more often when men and women spend time alone together, have long phone conversations, and communicate often via e-mail or text. In addition, if they are sharing deep emotional thoughts and feelings, this can form an emotional bond that can be dangerous if these friends have no commitment to or interest in a deeper relationship. “

As you see, from this review, struggle with platonic relationship is not just happening in WORK PLACE, but even in just simple text, email messages, correspondence, group activities, and yes even in church activities, CONFUSION could arise if one party would not clearly define his actions and intent and the other one doesn’t know how to carefully guard  her heart.

Now, why this thing is a scuffle? Why most of the times, men care, then women assume?

Let’s go back to the basic when Eve fall and when God pronounced such consequence of her fall.

Gen. 3:16

16 To the woman he said,

“…...Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

 

Starting from the fall, the woman had this insatiable longing for affection, recognition and protection. And for men, aware or unaware they have this capacity to rule, toy, allure women’s emotion. Intention or unintentional, in just a simple act of kindness, maybe it could be just offering sandwich or cookie; he can suffice Eve’s ancient yearning.

 

All I’m saying, the battle, the longing, and the yearning has been there from the very start. And modern Eves are not exempted from this kind of warfare. Modern Eves are still shouting, craving for a little piece of attention comes from Adam. And as primeval Eve came to deception, much more the modern Eves now with what we have in our medias, internet, gadgets and all advance technologies what we  have in our hands. New York Times, Hollywood and anywhere has this unwritten code and sadly to say swallowed even by most Christianity: FRIENDSHIPS WITH THE OPPOSITE SEX MUST BE ROMANTIC AND MUST NOT ESTABLISH ANY EMOTIONAL BOUNDARIES.

 

 Now, what this book “Emotional Purity” teaches us, and I guess I need to talk  with the women out there as well.  As I quote again from the book review made by Natalie Walsh of New London

First, define the relationship. If you are only interested in being friends it is best to express that early on. Depending on your friendship, you may need to clarify further. For example, if a man wants to spend one-on-one time with a woman but it is not a date, he needs to state that clearly. Some women believe that any one-on-one time is a date, while others feel differently. In order to be safe across the board, the intention should always be stated. (pg. 57)

 

 Second, it is important to stick to the definition of the relationship that you have established, and ensure that your actions are consistent. For example, if a man knows that his female friend is romantically interested and he is not, be merciful to her heart and do not lead her on by singling her out in a group, calling her, and asking her to spend alone time with you; she will only be confused. (pg. 59)

 Third, be careful about the emotional intimacy you share with your friends of the opposite sex.There seems to be so much focus on physical purity in the Church today, it is easy to forget about emotional purity. Just as there is a progression of physical intimacy throughout a relationship that eventually becomes a marriage, similarly there should be a progression of emotional intimacy. The emotional intimacy you have with a friend should be different than you have with someone when you are dating, engaged, and married. (pg. 31-32)

 

And my emphasis and conclusion,  misread intentions between males and females put them on a collision course. But to avoid this unending chasm one should know how to heed and adopt this “Eleventh Commandment”: THOU SHALL NOT DEFRAUD THYSELF.

 

Again and again, I want to reiterate, struggle in building a platonic relationship is not just for Filipino culture, it’s a UNIVERSAL WARFARE!

Blessings to you all!

 

Lovely

 

Andrew said:

Cultural differences can be big or small.  Mostly they are small or just not that significant.  One that stands out - potentially - is one I have become acquainted with through a friend who went to work in Manila several years ago.  Now, he is more acquaintance than friend, but I overall trust his judgment on things and I find him to be a good writer-thinker.  Like me, he has a natural curiosity for the unknown and has always wanted to use his vocation as a means to go abroad and learn about another country.  That is what he did, leaving for the Philippines and work in a Manila hospital several years ago.

He has since moved on to another work opportunity. But while he was in Manila we corresponded and he shared his many observations, good and bad, light hearted and funny, quirky and enjoyable with friends back home.

One observation that he shared as a single man was the oddity of running into this:   His findings and assertion - over time - that it was rare to be able to have a healthy platonic relationship with a woman colleague at his workplace or in the neighborhood in which he lived.  He would be the first to admit that his "study" on this is not exhaustive or fully conclusive.  He only got a little more than 24 months full time working in Manila before he took another job opportunity and departed.

His assertion:   A collegial working or friendly relationship with a Filipina woman of roughly his same age could never be exclusively platonic.

I sugggested to my friend (we'll call him Daniel - name changed to protect the "innocent" ;) that part of the problem is that he is a pretty good looking fellow.  Good height.  Physically fit.  Big and ready smile.  A good sense of humor.  It is not difficult for him to be social.  He's unfailingly polite and a diligent worker. And, yes, single.

Daniel would counter this.  He understood that his status and personality might "sway" his unofficial study about work relationships on the job in an overall professional surroundings (the hospital community), but he still found it odd that the tendency for relationships to often go (or just head in the direction of) beyond just being friendly coworkers was just about always a factor. 

I took note of this the very first time that Daniel mentioned it in one of his pieces of correspondence.  Because, for us, overall, working relationships are collegial, are platonic.  People know boundaries and keep them.   Particularly when someone is married.  Flirting is just not going to happen.

I have been in workplaces where, if two single people begin to discover feelings for one another, a) they had better keep it secret, but b) one needs to leave and find work elsewhere if they wish to pursue a relationship with each other.  That is the professional ethic even if not codified, expected. 

What Daniel found is that simple, well-intentioned gestures that one would do with work colleagues would be misinterpreted - too often.  Something like bringing sweets, cookies, pastries or other treats to the workplace for others to enjoy at a break or during lunch.  Or an expression of gratitude. He remarked that several times one of the women in the group would mistake this gesture of just "wanting to be part of the team" as a special gesture just in her direction.

He stated that the flirting could be overt or very subtle.  But often right there, just right underneath the surface, ready to increase if he ever much gave an indicator that he welcomed it.  And that this was not just flirting in his direction, but that he noticed it as well in numerous other male-female relationships in the corridors of the hospital.  The ages of those engaged in it approximately 28 - 48 years of age - the prime working years of our lives BUT also, as Daniel noted, when we are all old enough to be mature and just focus on the professional.

What troubled Daniel the most is that too often marital bonds and bounds did not serve as boundaries.  He thought it would be otherwise in a country where Catholic cultural foundation is supposed to dominate.  He also just longed for the utter trust one can have with fellow professionals (in this case women colleagues) that  a) friendships could emerge and blossom, but that b) there would never be the thought that the friendship is anything other than platonic.

As I say, these topics from Daniel struck me because where I have worked the overall mission is handicapped if everyone on the team is not behaving in a trustworthy, team-like, and friendly manner.  To us cuturally, in an age where many workplaces are 50-50 (men/women) mix, the ability to have women friends at work where they are just friends and nothing more is both normal and crucial.

Is this often not so in the Philippines?

Again, this is a hospital setting.  One where the balance of males and females is almost equal, as it is in most medical workplaces around the world now.  So Daniel got a glimpse perhaps into an aspect of Filipino life and culture that other foreign males (those in engineering, construction, IT, shipping, mineral resources, etc.) might not see.   Daniel continually remarked at how he thought this on the job "flirting" or coming really close to it served as an obstruction to the overall work - or certainly could.  With a hospital comprised of so many women and men working so closely together for sometimes very lengthy periods of time, his assertion was that this degraded performance.

If Daniel were reading these words now he would be the first to say, "Hey, let's not close the book on this.  My thoughts are not conclusive.  These were just my observations and experiences for an overall short period of time in one workplace, one hospital, just one big city."

So I pose these questions to the Filipinos of the Forum.  Are Daniel's observations about true to what one experiences there?   Are there differences in work environments?  Or were Daniel's encounters at the workplace not really the norm at all?   Should we be able to draw any conclusions at all from what Daniel reveals?   Or not place much thought on it at all?

One caveat for Christians on this site reading this:   Daniel's work environment included people from all walks of life.  I think he would be the first to say that this was not a Christian work enviroment, or, more precisely it was more a place where people were of minimal or marginal faith.  Faith was part of his colleagues family heritage backgrounds but not the dominant determiner for their behavior.

I welcome open, candid, real feedback on this topic.  Perhaps this is a cultural difference. Is it something a Brit, a Canadian, a Yank, a Kiwi, or an Aussie would need to learn about life in the Philippines?  I do not know but would want to learn more.  Thank you.


Andrew I'm not sure where in the United States you worked.  It happens in the U.S. a lot too.  This is not unique to the Philippines.  American women are the easiest women on the planet.  If anyone wants to get laid all they have to do is go to any bar or any workplace for that matter.  I have lived in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines and I can honestly say that American women are very loose.  I am not saying that all women in the U.S. are bad or evil; I'm just saying that they have very, very low moral values the lowest I've encountered.  

Hmmmm,

 I am not so sure we are pure ourselves insofar as work environments go. There were a couple very interesting incidents that your post brings back to mind, although I never considered them reflections of our culture. Indeed, when single, I dated co-workers, although I was with a huge agency, not a small office, so they were rarely immediate co-workers.

 I think the artificial quality of a workplace also contributes. People exist in a deliberately artificial environment, with a different set of social rules, yet are still people. When I worked, I spent far more waking hours with co-workers than family, which I hated after becoming a dad.

 Not sure how to illustrate this, but how often have we heard a doctor or nurse say something like, "I'm a doctor, I've seen it all"-? When we have to put on one of those dinky gowns and/or lie naked on an operating table in a room full of people?

 It is an artifical environment we establish in order to function while doing many things that are taboo outside that environment. At least, this is true in a hospital, but less so in an office. In either, we are forced into an environment where we must deal with others, all day, everyday, for decades. We may hate them, we may have the screaming purple hots for them, but cannot give in to these feelings. We function on an artificial, constructed level, in order to accomplish the job.

 So, a married guy in proximity to an attractive, likable woman, may become very attracted to her. He spends more time with her than his wife. The situation puts them together in a constantly tempting environment. Outside, he might see her at the mall, or have a short term business relationship with her as realtor, etc, but either it never gets tempting, or he is able to resist for the time involved.

 I learned some lessons on this a few years ago, when still happily married. i had a friend at work, I would often visit at her desk. She was moderately attractive, and we got along great. She had several times dropped subtle hints that I pretended to miss. And, she knew my ex, had been in our home. She was single.

 Well, one day she said something pretty darn blatant, and although I did not respond, I was very uncomfortable. I had to really think about it. I realized it was very possible someone would hear her and assume the worst, and would tell my wife I am cheating at work, with someone she knows.

 Nope, I was not, but in these situations, when a spouse hears, its rare there is any more evidence than that. She is still humiliated and feels betrayed. There is still a gulf of mistrust between you.

 I learned that the appearance of cheating is just as bad as the reality. Just as hurtful. I stopped spending any time with that lady, because I had to live by my conscience and fulfill my vows in spirit and in truth. I could not excuse myself by saying we never actually did it, if my spouses heart is broken.

 I was blessed in that nothing ever came of it, but it still serves as an illustrative point about the artificiality of the work environment, and how we deliberately drop some taboos that still apply elsewhere. That leads to further mischief, sometimes.

 I am not sure this is a Filipina thing by any stretch. I think an awful lot goes on in any office, and cultural disapproval againt it is only eroding. Especially if the person involved happens to be particularly attractive.

 As for the Christian angle, Christians, even Filipinas, are like everyone else. Tempted. Sometimes falling. Christians are not perfect, just saved.

 And the platonic aspect? I think for two people of opposite gender to become friends, it will have initially started due to some physical attraction. Mayhap neither was exceptionally attractive, or particularly attracted physically to the other, but it was there. And, friendship, starting with casual acquaintance, is a step in the process of falling in love.

 Given hwo close you can be at work, how much time you spend together, you end up knowing this person better than the people you are dating, which is the point of dating. So a work relationship can easily become more.

 I always write too long.

 

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