Learning to Appreciate Cultural Differences

Around Manila
September 25, 2009

barefoot weight lifting

When we were in training classes getting ready to head overseas, they presented a bell curve graph that showed the different phases of cultural acclimation.  First was the honeymoon stage, in which everything was new and exciting.  That lasted a good 4-6 weeks for me.  Next usually comes the crash, when you become annoyed with everything you don’ t like about the culture (which is often accompanied by severe homesickness).  I don’t feel like this stage hit me as hard as some I’ve met, but I’ve definitely had my rough days.  Once you survive the crash though, you enter the norming period where you can acknowledge the differences but learn to accept them for what they are.  As you really settle in, you may even notice that you start preferring a behavior/practice in the new culture over your old one.  And just when you’re finally adjusted and settled it’s time to pack up and head to the next post!

So where am I?  I’ve noticed that I’m nearing the end of the annoyance phase and moving into appreciation, but there are those uniquely Filipino things that still get the best of me.  Let me use an example from my week to illustrate.

On Thursday mornings I work out with my trainer at the gym.  We were doing a rotation of exercises in the weightlifting area.  As I was walking between stations, I looked over and noticed a Filipino about to hoist up a big bar with about 50 pounds of weight on it.  While that in itself was not an unusual situation, the fact that he was barefoot seemed quite inappropriate to me.  My trainer noticed it at the same time I did and called over a colleague to speak with the lifter regarding his lack of footwear.

Upon further inquiry I learned that, yes indeed, shoes were required when weightlifting (duh) and that it was in fact prohibited NOT to do so.  Much to my amusement I watched as one staff member after another went up to this gentleman to talk to him about his lack of shoes.  First a trainer talked to him (and watched him as he kept right on lifting).  Then came the manager of the fitness area (who also ended up watching the guy keep right on going).  My favorite was the next visitor, the security guard (dressed in full uniform, mind you) who also failed in the task of getting this man to stop.

At this point I was starting to feel quite uncomfortable because it was clear that this man was BREAKING RULES and as all of you know, I am a RULE FOLLOWER by nature.  I could not comprehend why someone didn’t just grab him by the arm and drag him out of the gym.  I even offered to go tell the man that he’d need to stop lifting!  But alas, it has to be done the Filipino way, which as my trainer explained was to, “Seek to understand why the gentleman felt it was okay to keep lifting without shoes on.”  And so person after person tried to talk with him and he milked the system, finishing up his lifting a good 20 minutes after when he was first approached.  I couldn’t believe it!

I explained to my trainer that in the States that would have been nipped in the bud in two seconds flat because if the gym allowed it the person might drop the weight on their foot and then sue the gym!  In my assessment of the situation, the man worked the system quite nicely.  He got to finish his workout and was able to be “understood” in the process.  And what did I get out of it, you ask???  Much AGGRAVATION!  Gotta love the cultural differences, huh??  Perhaps I’m not as far along the curve as I thought!

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0 Comments

  1. Sara Roy says:

    So we got our new bid list, and guess what’s on it…Manilla! Manilla, Sydney, and Geneva are our highs.

  2. minnesotagal says:

    Oh my goodness gracious – congratulations!! That rocks… keep me posted!

  3. Elise says:

    I like it. Sounds like the way we should do more things around here. Peacefully. The only one he was going to hurt was himself, so why not. I love the Filipino way…. and I too am a rule follower but only when it is truly worth following! Thanks for sharing all your awesome adventures and insights Sarah!

  4. minnesotagal says:

    Thanks Elise- glad you enjoyed the story! Miss you!!

  5. myepinoy says:

    I am an expat Pinoy and like you, i hate this attitude of some of my kabayan. This is one of the problematic or shall i say defect in our character rather than our culture.

    the crazy thing about this type of pinoy is that when he is outside the Philippines, he follows the rules to the letter but inside his country, he ignores the rules or tries to get away with it.

    anyhow, when he hurt himself, he will not sue because he knows he is stupid breaking simple rules and that his attention was called several times.

    Sue the establishment(due to his stupidity)? it is unusual in the Philippines. ha ha ha

    BTW, thanks for your honest observations about my country. Been reading your blog for quite some time.

    enjoy your stay and explore more. you have not seen the best yet. Philippines is so diverse, culture is one of them. you’ll be surprised.

    Mabuhay ka.

  6. minnesotagal says:

    Thanks for your great comments. There is much depth to the Philippines and I am enjoying getting to learn all the layers. Hope to learn more from your future comments. Thanks for reading!

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