Bah, humbug! How the Christmas rush can bring out the bad in the Pinoy

THE Christmas rush has a way of bringing out both the good and the bad in Filipinos. And now that we’re again in the thick of it, I’m willing to bet the toys in my Christmas stocking that the number of Pinoys showing “classic” examples of bad behavior in public would easily eclipse the number of holiday lights that brighten entire towns and cities in the Philippines, if not the entire world.

I hate to be a Scrooge in a supposed season of giving and sharing, but it must be said: the more Pinoys there are confined within a small area like a mall, hotel lobby or even inside a packed car in the middle of a traffic-choked highway, the more you see (and even experience) these typically Filipino bad behavior before your eyes. Here are just two of them:

1. The Pinoys’ sense of space (or lack of it)

Just a few days ago, while stepping out of the elevator at the Link parking building in Makati, I soon found myself clucking my tongue and muttering under my breath, as a rather huge, fat woman came charging toward me without even giving me the chance to clear out of the area.

DIVISORIA shopping, anyone? (

DIVISORIA shopping, anyone? (

Since it was a weekend and the place only had two elevators serving a five-story building packed full of cars, I assumed that she and a dozen or so Christmas shoppers crammed inside the Link’s small lobby must have been waiting since Baby Jesus knows when to board the lift. Eager to get home with their newfound Yuletide treasures, their patience must have been wearing thin. Okay.

But would it make it any easier for both of us to engage in a virtual game of patintero (a Pinoy street game similar to tag), as she, in her eagerness to beat others to the elevator, effectively tried to block my way, and I, in turn, instinctively tried to avoid her?

Wouldn’t it be more adult (after all, she’s a grown [fat] woman!) and civilized had she, like the rest of the people waiting to board the lift, stood still until we were effectively out of the elevator?

Unlike in the US (for the most part, at least)

I’m sure people living abroad, especially in the US, also find themselves in a similarly tight spot. But instead of letting the incident pass, the “offending” party usually stops, smiles and says a sincere sorry or excuse me before letting the other fellow, who smiles back in return, move past.

I’m not making this scenario up, as I’ve seen such exchanges of courtesy often enough when I’m in the US.

But Hong Kong is a totally different story. I’m not being racist, but it’s common in the teeming city for people, especially during rush hour, to shove and barge their way in at all cost just to get through and, say, board the train. The “pushy” Pinoy can never hold a candle to the typical Hong Kong citizen with a mission.

STANDING room only (

STANDING room only (

In the case of my encounter at the Link lobby, as in a million other cases involving other people encroaching on my small space, the woman simply stood there as if nothing had happened–ni hi, ni ho (roughly translated, she didn’t even smile or say a short and sweet apology). In the run up to Christmas, and unless Pinoys magically learn to change certain ways, I’m sure this incident won’t be the last.

In my frustration, and as we finally found a way to untangle ourselves, I came out of it mumbling: Ang taba-taba mo na nga, eh, haharang-harang ka pa diyan…(Fat as you are, and you still had the gall to block my path.)

I know it sounds cruel (and I hope she didn’t hear me), but, hey, I didn’t start it. Again, these are the things they never teach you in school. And if they did, they probably thought them way back in kindergarten. 😉 It was just my luck that the woman in front me was probably absent when her teacher discussed this important but often forgotten life’s lesson in good manners.

To bathe or not to bathe, that is the question

2. A variation of the NIMBY mentality when it comes to cleanliness

Not a few Pinoys I’ve talked to agree that we generally take care of ourselves as far as personal hygiene goes. In fact, we tend to overdo it, taking baths not just once, but twice or even thrice a day, especially during summer.

A friend, who once worked in Hong Kong, shared this funny story of how she and her flat mates composed of fellow Filipinas were almost evicted by their Chinese landlady due to hygiene-related reasons. Say what? Allow me to explain.

No, my friend and her compatriots didn’t spend weeks on end without taking baths. On the contrary, they all showered every day, taking turns, of course, as the place only had one small bathroom, even during the dead of Hong Kong’s winters.

There wouldn’t have been any issue had the leasing arrangement didn’t include water bills. Since the landlady also settled the monthly water bill out of the rent my friend and her group paid, the woman was aghast to find out that her Filipino tenants’ water consumption always exceeded the amount she had allotted to settle it. Poor woman!

When she did her own investigation, the landlady found out from my friend, who said, rather matter of factly, that they weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary to cause the flat’s water consumption to hit the roof. Of course, “ordinary,” from one culture to another, is a relative term.


ME and my niece Stephanie at a Thanksgiving sale in the US

When the woman pressed on further, she learned what she and perhaps thousands of penny-pinching Chinese landladies and landlords found unthinkable: her tenants—all four of them—were taking daily baths even during winter!

STEPHANIE and my brother Ronnie

STEPHANIE and my brother Ronnie

The matter was finally settled when my friend and her companions finally agreed to pay extra rent. It was either that or they would have to limit their baths to twice a week. Excuse me, my friend told herself. Like most Filipinos, doing so would have been unthinkable.

But why can’t such an endearing Filipino concern on personal hygiene translate to supposedly basic concerns involving our surroundings? And I’m not even talking about the environment here, although our lakes and rivers have been turned into virtual cesspools due to lack of discipline, ignorance, apathy and overcrowding.
Our wanton disrespect for our surroundings can be seen in random acts involving litterbugs, whether they’re walking in the streets or within the comforts of their air-conditioned cars.

The latter group has been around as far as I can remember. How often have you found yourself trailing, say, a Toyota Fortuner or a BMW sedan with its occupants turning the streets into virtual garbage cans by throwing away anything—from soiled plastic bags to Jollibee and McDonald’s wrappers, Styrofoam boxes to various fruit peelings, crumpled Christmas gift wrappers and cards to shiny bows and ribbons, etc., from the vehicle’s rolled-down windows? Tsk, tsk, tsk!

Cuts across classes

The act doesn’t make it any less appalling should passengers of jeepneys, tricyles and rickety provincial buses do the littering. But it makes you wonder all the more when passengers of supposedly luxury vehicles start doing it.

Why? Because if you’re affluent enough to afford these vehicles, then chances are you’re educated and sensible enough not to turn the boulevard into one long stretch of a garbage dump.

If you’ve come this far in life to afford such a pricey vehicle, I’m pretty sure you would also have had enough sense to patiently gather your trash and get rid of them properly as soon as you make it to your destination. Again, I’m probably expecting too much.

In a variation of anywhere but (not in) my back yard (NIMBY), Pinoys are so concerned

about the cleanliness of their cars, their homes, their gardens and themselves often at the expense of other people’s surroundings.

And as the fervor surrounding Christmas hits a deafening crescendo in the coming weeks, you can be sure that the amount of trash we would likely generate and throw all over the place except our own would increase proportionately. Bah, humbug!

6 thoughts on “Bah, humbug! How the Christmas rush can bring out the bad in the Pinoy

  1. For a few years now, I’ve eschewed using wrapping paper and just gave my gifts au naturel. 🙂 Sometimes, I do use newspapers (my favorite back then was Larry Alcala’s comic pages), and sometimes magazine pages as well. Saves effort, time and most importantly, paper.

    While Christmas and New Year are the most festive occasions of the year, I really dread it because it turns people into monsters, like you said, and trash fiends. Mapupuno na naman ang mga waterways natin ng sangkaterbang “esem” plastic bags and other non-biodegradable debris. Come New Year’s Eve, it’s those firecracker remnants naman – hazardous not just for the leftover chemicals but also in case they’re the unexploded kind. And sigh, they’re always the banner stories the next day.

    Your friend’s kwento about her landlady’s reaction to our daily shower habits made me laugh. I moved here around early March, late winter as they call it, and the temperature still hovered around 12-14 C during the day and lower at night. I came to work with damp hair (newly showered and wearing only a cotton hoodie. My colleague looked at me and said: “You took a shower? In winter? It’s 14C outside.” And I merely said, “What’s wrong with taking a shower even if it’s 14C?” 😛

    • Good to hear from you again, Mayo. Yes, I tried wrapping my gifts with newspapers during a particular year. But nobody seemed to notice or care about it, so I was back to the old-fashioned gift wrapper the next year. True, like I said in my blog entry, there’s something about Christmas that makes the Pinoy unable to think straight. 😉 We hog or, worse, jump lines and throw garbage wherever we please.

      Yes, the worse day of the year is, ironically enough, the first day of the year when noise, smog, the smell of burning tires (now, that’s toxic) and victims of firecrackers and stray bullets all cry out, figuratively and literally, for our attention. What a way to start the year, di ba?

      I guess it takes a lot of willpower to brave the shower on a cold day. Old habits, however, die hard, so Pinoys would always have their baths regardless of the temperature. Take care. 😉

  2. “But why can’t such an endearing Filipino concern on personal hygiene translate to supposedly basic concerns involving our surroundings?” – For the longest time I’ve asked myself this question.

    Ewan ko ba, and I don’t know if anyone will agree with me, I think we Pinoys in general have a tendency to be all too concerned with personal image/appearance/reputation (ano ang sasabihin ng mga tao, etc) so we always make it a point to look presentable, carry ourselves well socially, ‘wag ipahiya ang sarili….pero pagdating sa mga bagay that would actually require integrity, character, personal responsibility (mga bagay na gagawin mo when nobody’s looking) like being responsible with your own trash, “honoring” the honor system, etc we just do whatever is most convenient to us kasi hindi naman sila directly nakakaapeko sa “image” natin so kebs lang.

    • Hanna, I couldn’t have said it better myself. What you said hits home. We’re so concerned with cosmetic appearances that we seldom address the root cause of a problem or issue. In the end, what we get is the ugly truth, which no amount of paint job could cover. It’s good to hear from you again.

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