Life in the Philippines: Stuff My Staff Says

I have shared these on Facebook, but realized I haven’t really blogged about any of it.  Call it “third world problems” because, really, in the first world, we’re nowhere near the right income to be able to afford staff! 

So here are a few recovered gems, thanks to my Facebook’s timeline…

My driver said I look sexy today. FML.

So after I posted that, I was told that it turns out here in the Philippines, sexy means pretty – who knew?  Even then, having my 60+ year old driver telling me I looks sexy still creeped me out.

And another senseless conversation in the Philippines:
Me: “ugh, traffic”
Driver: “stoplight”
Me: “I don’t know, the driver of the bus next to us got out and is smoking a cigarette. He can probably see something we can’t.”
Driver: “Buses here are diesel, ma’am”
Me: …

The Philippines is really an interesting place.  Because people here speak English, but yet, they don’t.  A lot of the local expressions make no sense in English, or just annoys us. (Like using “wait a while” anytime they want you to wait a bit.  Or saying “enjoying” even when there’s nothing joyful about it, such as “you’re currently enjoying a one hour delay on your flight.”  Or using avail for everything “Are you going to avail of this promo?”  Or starting every sentence with “Actually…”)  I think it makes it specially frustrating for English speaking expats, more so than if you go to a country where English is not widely spoken – at least then you’re expecting some communication issues.

Here, people will rarely tell you “what, I don’t understand, can you repeat that?”  They’ll either give a reply for something totally random – like my driver above – or most often they will laugh.  Yep, just laugh in your face.  Now I know that when my driver starts laughing and I wasn’t telling a joke is that he has no clue what I said, so I just repeat it. 

Ah, life in the Philippines…. Conversation w my driver:
“On my way back from (working in) Libya I stopped in Thailand. But the women came to my room!”
“Rudy, I don’t need to know this!”
“Only U$24! But I don’t like. Afraid of AIDS”

No excuses for the conversation above.  Totally inappropriate if he was talking like that to Karl, much less to his female employer!  But Filipinos have no filter sometimes of what is really a boundary that you do not cross in the workplace.

I guess you realize your driver is too old for the job when at least once a week he totally forgets where you’re going. Less than 5 minutes after you told him and he repeated it back to you. Good thing I know my way around enough to go “uh, which way are you going?” “Hahahaha” “Rudy, it’s not funny, did you forget?” “Yes, ma’am, I forget!” *sigh*

Ok, so obviously my driver IS getting too old for the job (a friend even wondered if he ever gets somewhere then thinks “why am I here again?”), but the laughing as a reply?  A very very very Filipino reaction to avoid conflict.  It got to the point that I started saying “it’s not funny” or “do you see me laughing?” when I encounter that.  You can say I’m over this avoiding conflict thing, I just need to get things done!

Now those are my driver’s gems.  Our maid hasn’t had as many of those, thankfully.

“Ma’am, my husband complains I’m not sweet anymore, but it hurts!  I just do kissy-kissy now.  I told him to find a young girl instead.”

I totally nipped that one in the bud, and change the subject.  I’m so not going to be having a sex talk with my 56-year old maid!

My maid asked me today if milk comes out when I squeeze my boobs. What is wrong with our staff? I guess I should at least be relieved it wasn’t our male driver who asked the question?

A friend even commented “my doctor asked me that when I was pregnant, you’d be surprised!”  But my point was not the question that was asked, but who asked it – crossing a boundary here again, no?

And unrelated to the Philippines, but I posted this status during our trip in Laos:

Nothing like having the 3rd world slap you in the face, by ordering a coconut shake and having it arrive with a straw that has red lipstick marks on it. The straw that was already in my drink! Not only are they reusing straws but not even washing it first? So grossed out.

Yeah, it still grosses me out thinking about it. 


Filed under Foreign Service, Manila, Philippines, Traveling in Asia

15 responses to “Life in the Philippines: Stuff My Staff Says

  1. Haha! You have funny staff! 🙂 Our driver and maid in Cambodia (when I go visit) are nothing like that. I think we are a bit more prude? But, they have no problems telling you if you’re too dark or gained a bit of weight. 🙂

    • Oh yeah, I get those too! “Ma’am, you look so dark!” (which I love to hear!) or “Cely, did you put these shorts in the dryer?” “No, ma’am, maybe you gained weight”

      Or the driver “Ma’am, maybe your daughter will be big like you” — while putting his arms out to the side to show a very fat round person. Grrrr.

      • Sokphal

        I don’t know how it is in the Philippines, but when someone says you’re dark…it’s not a good thing. Cambodians want to be lighter/whiter. It’s a racial thing. My mom went to get her portraits done in Cambodia a few years back…they went all Michael Jackson on her with the photoshop and made her look NOTHING like my mother. I was pretty annoyed!

  2. Hello,

    I have a question about your blog, could you please email me? Thanks!!


  3. Ali

    haha! I’ve never commented on your blog before but had to reply to this one. the laughing is driving me crazy!
    I work from home and my maid (who only comes two days a week, during the day) told me to go outside more and see people because ‘its so boring for you to stay inside all day with all the floors’. me: ‘I’m home during the day because this is where I work’ her: (laugh). me: ‘I do go out at night and on weekends but I work here during the day, while my fiancé works at the office’ her: (laugh). makes me feel great about my life, obviously.
    also random thing that is just so Filipino and weird, whenever I buy fabric I usually have the length I want written in metres because that’s what I know. the girl at the shop rolls her eyes and says ‘its in yards mam’. so i figure out the conversion and then she measures out the fabric with a METRE RULER on which they have marked out the yard measurement with tape. I just smile and shake my head.

    • Hahaha on your maid not getting that you are working, not just isolating yourself from the world! And I love that is very much a “did I ask for your advice? No. So why are you telling me how to live my life? I’m the employer after all, obviously I’m doing something right!”

      As far as the yards vs meters, I can only shake my head at that one. But the lack of common sense we encounter here baffles me sometimes!

  4. connie

    When my son was an infant, our maid/nanny was a much older lady who’d had trouble getting a job because of her age. I could see the waves of bias and discrimination rolling her way from the other maids… seriously.. it was messed up. BUT. I had the only baby at post, and I breastfed exclusively… which gave her some powerful bragging rights. Nevermind that I felt like a prize pet cow, I gave her status, and honestly, I was ok with that. Those other women had been really catty towards her. Now, when my son started solids and the main thing he would eat was rice… she was in heaven. She’d point at his eyes (and we’re talking a light hazel eyed, very blonde, white child here) and insist that he had to be part Asian. I miss this lady very much, but yea… it took me awhile to get used to being introduced as “This is my madame, SHEBREASTFEEDS!” … as if it were my name.

    • Hahaha, that’s hilarious!

      I was at Divisoria with a friend a few months ago, her 4 month old started fussing in the carrier, so she just started feeding him there, and the salesgirls were staring and pointing going “she’s doing the Filipino way” (which pissed my friend off because she’s like “this is not the Filipino way, this is everyone’s way!”)

      • connie

        It should be everybody’s way… so much easier! I carried my kids in a Maya wrap, and once was stopped by a couple in a store in the US… the husband had big eyes and his jaw on the floor. He wanted to know where I was from and where I got the sling. I told him I was American and got the sling from an online company… we checked the label. It was from Guatemala…turns out, so was he. I was ‘authentic’ enough to boggle his mind I suppose … but in a good way.

  5. Shanna

    My family and I are currently in Kathmandu, Nepal which is our 1st post! My 1st driver I fired because he told me on more than one occasion “ma’m looking little fat” because he thought I had stopped working out. Then he wanted me to write him a letter of recommendation. The laughing response to uncomfortable situations is the same here. I was walking down the street and a man who was hanging a business sign dropped it on my head. I fell to the ground stunned and looked up to find him laughing and smiling at me. I had a huge lump on my head after. Thankfully I was not carrying one of my small children. We are moving to Manila this May!! I can’t wait for a taste of the modern life again. I do have a few questions if anyone has time to answer. Know of any good pre-schools in Fort Bonifacio or Makati? I have a 5 year old who I think will attend International School Manila and I need to find a pre-school for my 3 yr old. I don’t want to pay $5,000 for the pre-k at the international school if ya know what I mean!! Also, what is the average salary for driver, maid, & nanny? Do the Moms get together for playgroups? Thanks in advance!

    • Here in Asia (and that’s pretty much every Asian country), it’s not taboo to call someone fat, so even though it pisses us off, they’re not really saying that out of spite, they really don’t think there’s anything wrong with pointing it out. It DOES get tiring. Entering a store to have a salesperson tell you “not your size, ma’am” pisses me off to no end (how do you even know I was buying something for me not for someone else? And it was Columbia Sportswear, they do certainly have things my size, last I checked I wore a medium in tops for god’s sake!).

      Manila is a great place, but doesn’t come without problems, but it’ll definitely be more modern than Kathmandu, that’s for sure! Specially if you’re in the Fort or Makati, it’s very easy to get into a little bubble here and think you’re in the first world.

      As far as pre-schools, your best resources are the CLO, or joining the MADS group ASAP once you move as you can just send that question out to the yahoo group. They’re a WEALTH of information, a great way to meet other expats, have great weekly playgroups for kids, and honestly, it has made such a difference during these last few months here in Manila! The membership is P1,000/year (about $25) and totally worth it. I’ve made a tons of great friends since joining the pregnancy group. I find that the embassy community is a bit of hit or miss (some people make close friends quickly, others, like me, have a hard time making friends — and that has nothing to do with me per se, since I’m far from a shy person, participated in events, etc). Part of the problem is that there’s not enough events that people attend as a group, everyone is doing their own thing, and everyone is very very spread out across the city. Heck, I have embassy people that live in my building that I never even met! I think part of the problem is that it’s such a huge post. So joining MADS is like having instant friends. Amazing group of women!

      The salary for maids and drivers vary a lot (full-time, part-time, live-in…). The CLO will provide that info too, but if you want, shoot me an email and I can tell you how much I pay (it’s on the higher end of things, but I’m not the only one). It might be more than in Nepal, but it’s super affordable.

      • shannabear42

        Very good to know Carla! We also pay our staff on the high end because you know how the saying goes good help is hard to find (at least in Nepal). I will get the CLO here to get me in contact with CLO Manila which I never thought about doing duuuhhh until you suggested it. Guess I am still a noob at this foreign service gig. I will definitely join up with the MADS when I get over there. Sounds like my kinda thing 😉 So I take it that you are leaving soon?

  6. Reblogged this on Amorphous Like Water and commented:
    Found this randomly when I was googling about my country (The Philippines) and foreigners. As I read this, I’m so glad to know that I’m not the only one freaking out about such inappropriate comment by drivers. If I could only file a complaint against them! Anyway, it’s midnight and I will elaborate on this later.

  7. Your reaction to how they communicate is a little too judgemental, but I get it as an American. When you say “laugh” at the bad…how about this. I was in a massive motorbike accident w/ lifelong health damage in Thailand. when I regained consciousness there was a lot of laughing.

    Think about it. It’s all about saving face. It’s not really funny at all. Bad situaton becomes less bad by laughing.

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