“Hey. You speak English?”
Believe it or not, people have asked me the question through the years. My third grade classmates asked with lack of guile; last month, some Juggs-reading guy did with leers and bad teeth. Thankfully, most people I meet are aware Filipinos can speak English pretty well, and express genuine curiosity to learn further points about my culture.
Thus, below are four vital aspects of the Flip Experience.
1.) We’re not Orientals. We’re Flips… (and Other Funny Names.)
To call a Filipino an Oriental is inaccurate. Though we’ve been given an exotic label along with the rest of Asia (hey, thanks), Marco Polo never made it to my people’s shores. Yes, we’re indisputably Asian, but we aren’t geographically part of mainland Asia—what Europeans designated as the Orient in the first place.
That, and I hate being equated with the same adjective as a carpet.
However, anyone can go ahead and call me a Flip. A “funny little island people” acronym allegedly coined by racist U.S. soldiers, Filipinos nonetheless use the term in playful, cheeky contexts. A past show on MTV Asia’s roster was “Flipside”; the Fifty Flip Clothing Company’s Signature T-Shirt carries the slogan “Beware I’m a Flip”.
Personally, I’m not offended at the term. Next to the abuse Filipinos have endured in being constantly colonized by foreign powers and getting economically screwed by a shoe-hogging First Lady, a little name-calling doesn’t faze.
However, what I can’t rationally explain is our predilection for weird nicknames.
Filipinos assign bizarre nicknames to one another with the same regularity in which they run from typhoons. Girlie, Boy, and Baby are among the common names relatives hold. Repeated syllabic sounds also count; my friends Regina and Anna have the respective monikers of “Ninette” and “Nya-nya.” Weirdest of all are the rhyming ones: Bing, Bong, or Bong Bong. I think our tendency to bestow weird nicknames originates from ethnic Malay roots, or some fool farting around with the English language. Other than that, I just figure we’re really strange.
Incidentally, my nickname was “Pupung.” (Mom and Dad, thanks).
2.) Life Without Rice or Hot Dogs = Death.
Well, not really. Rice deprivation won’t cause us to shrivel up and die like salted snails. However, we eat every single meal with white rice, fried or steamed. Whether we’re having traditional Filipino food, an American Thanksgiving supper, or Mexican cuisine requiring tortillas, we will eat rice with it. Bread and pasta don't really matter, nor can potatoes divert us from the rice cooker. If there is no white rice on your dinner table, a little light goes out inside us.
Filipinos also have a loving affinity for nuclear food. We eat McDonald's while watching Super Size Me, and stock cans of Spam, Vienna Sausage, corned beef, sardines, and pork and beans in the pantry. Basic seasoning involves sugar-laden and salt-packing condiments like banana ketchup, vinegar, soy sauce, and a stinky fermented fish sauce known as patis. Breakfast usually consists of garlic fried rice, fried eggs, ham, native fried sausages, and Spam. When food has the same impact of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, we will reach for it.
However, out of all the nutritionally wrong foods out there, our true love is reserved for hot dogs. We include them for breakfast, and even eat them chopped up on top of spaghetti. If anyone ever has the nerve to substitute a chicken or turkey hot dog for politically correct health reasons, we'll call for their head while demanding the traditional, abysmally digestive pork or beef version anyway. Of course, hot dogs are rarely eaten with a bun, or ketchup and mustard—we eat it with rice.
Sigh. The mere thought of it makes me fiend like a crack whore.
3.) Inside Every Single One of Us is a Pop Singer.
Filipinos are starry-eyed, hammy, and theatrical. I’m not sure if fifty years of American occupation caused this, but we happily participate in beauty pageants and fantasize about appearing in movies or television. We’re especially proud of actor Rob Schneider booty-wiggling in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, who is half-Jewish and half-Filipino.
However, above every other branch of show business, we love to sing. Long before Jasmine Trias and Camille Velasco appeared on American Idol, we crowded every other amateur singing competition possible. Even though only a select few like Tony Award-winning Broadway diva Lea Salonga ever enjoy international success, we glue ourselves to karaoke machines and start singing anyway.
A Navy Seal I met claimed Filipinos invented karaoke. While his claim seems exaggerated, as a child I remember the existence of “Minus One” sing-a-long machines in 1980. Like old super-computers from the Eisenhower era, “Minus One” machines were large, cumbersome dual tape-deck monstrosities equipped with microphones and a boxful of tapes and songbooks. Mention one to any thirty-something Filipino, and he or she has a high probability of telling you about the time they sang “I Think We’re Alone Now” during Christmas with their entire clan watching.
As far as the worldwide karaoke phenomenon goes, I concede to the Japanese. After all, they’re the same people who got us hooked on Nintendo and Sony. But, I can’t help being tickled pink at the thought of my people’s penchant for warbling inspiring karaoke. Especially because I can belt out a killer version of “Every Breath You Take.”
4.) We’re Just Really Happy. (Honestly.)
Filipinos generally whistle while working and witnessing catastrophe. We remain enduringly cheerful during routine typhoons, mudslides, and earthquakes, and still laugh while the latest political coup attempt goes on. Church leaders are totally unable to convince the Average Flip to abstain from humor, though they (barely) succeed with hot dogs during Lent. Flatteringly enough, in a study about happiness, Time Magazine distinguished Filipinos as noteworthy examples.
A great deal of how happy we are stems from how we socialize as frequently as the Energizer Bunny just keeps pounding. Not only do we maintain close relationships bordering on intrusive within our intimate families, but we do so with extended ones as well. We immediately befriend strangers and invite them into our homes, especially people of other cultures. The personal boundaries routinely observed by more formal North Americans and Europeans are non-existent to Filipinos. Without a social life, barbecue to attend, or an opportunity to brighten someone’s day, we would genuinely die.
On this note, I know I can safely conclude. Not only have I explained some of the more refined aspects of being Filipino, but I have provided enough points that will allow any reader to favorably acquire a Filipino network of friends, business contacts, and possible in-laws. Seven years of living in the Philippines as a young adult enabled me to discover my culture. Today, I’m grateful to have gotten to know it, and for every opportunity I get to share it with friends.
Most of all, I love wearing my T-Shirt.
An expert in coloring outside the lines while reading between them, Alex B has a head for business, bod for sin, and weakness for ice cream during all seasons. Apart from watching Bravo marathons and enjoying haute bites here and there, she writes about TV, pop culture, and coloring outside even more lines. She sneaks Tweets via @lexistential.
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8.16.06 @ 3:35p
Hey! Why you people make those shirts with all the pockets?
I spent my formative years living in Hawaii, where all my classmates (well, except the ones who lived in military housing like I did) were Japanese, Chinese, Samoan and Filipino. My friends were "bananas" and "coconuts" and it had nothing to do with their mental health.
And I can sincerely vouch for the processed meat thing. And the happy.
8.17.06 @ 11:58a
You sure you're not Mexican Irish? It's like I finally found my people!
8.17.06 @ 4:57p
Hey Russ, what shirts with all the pockets?
And no, I'm not Mexican Irish. While I'm Catholically all over the place with a harbored belief in sky gods and duendes (dwarves), can't resist butting into other people's business, and making bad jokes, I'm just a Flip. Which, right there, means I'm a Malay-Spanish-Chinese mutt.
8.17.06 @ 5:01p
Those so thin as to be translucent white linen shirts with fine embroidery and four big pockets on the front. All the Filipino men I knew wore them.
8.17.06 @ 6:45p
Oh, those are barongs. They're usually worn on formal, special occasions as traditional wear. Way back in the days before "Project Runway", someone was creative and used pineapple fiber to make it.
8.17.06 @ 6:45p
[Whoops. Double post!]
8.17.06 @ 7:55p
Gotcha. I'm also grateful for that Filipino Girl Scout cookie. Y'know, the Tagalog. ;)
8.18.06 @ 4:59a
Oh my God. I'm such a Flip. When I read that, I thought, "Oooh, is that a sugar cookie?" :-P
8.21.06 @ 12:57a
"Life Without Rice or Hot Dogs" - too funny!
The food that is synomous with Midwestern regionality, regardless of culture, is Jell-O with fruit in it.
Let the record state that I HATE Jell-O with fruit in it. I either want the fruit, or the Jell-O. Not fruit suspended in Jell-O like some type of science experiment. But boy, Midwesterners think it's a party if you mix 'em.
8.21.06 @ 3:58p
Oooh, we've got an equivalent of that Midwestern staple- almond Jell-O with super-sweet lychee in it. While not a traditional Filipino delicacy, it's frequently served in Chinese restaurants and caused a couple cavities in my family...