Day 36: Customs

Well, today went relatively okay from a work perspective. Received some positive feedback on the work I have been doing, and a vote of confidence in the leadership team that I've put together. The real tests begin tomorrow, but I am confident that they will go over relatively well.

The better part of the day was actually spent discussing various customs within the Philippine culture. I quite a few things today - namely gestures that are made.

The Blessing: It is customary for a person of respect (clergy, older parents, grandparents) to hold out their hand in a downward facing manner, akin to a king requesting a kiss on the hand. The receiver of said hand will grasp it, and place it to their forehead whilst bowing. Then, the sender of said hand will then proceed to bless the receiver.

The Interruption: When two people are speaking to each other, and you have to go past them (or rather, through the conversation), it is polite to ask for pardon with a slight bow, transform your hand into a palm with the face of your palm perpendicular to the ground, and slide through the conversation with your body in a slight bow. This is very much like Flash cutting/parting a conversation.

Eating: It is rude to begin eating food until the highest ranking person or persons eat before you. I have experienced this a few times now without being aware - one time my team purchased a Pizza, and encouraged me to eat a slice. Being blissfully unaware, I didn't eat right away, and they all waited until I got there. Oops!

Sharing: It is not customary to share the same food with someone, unless this person is close to you. For example: if I had a portion of cake, then I would cut that cake into smaller pieces and offer as opposed to offering several forks and sharing together. If someone offers you to share a portion of their food without subdividing it even more, this is a sign of trust and acceptance.

My boss and I spent a good part of dinner discussing the various Asian traditions that we have observed during our travels. The one that is most prevalent and missing from the US is that of Elderly Respect. As a society, we largely discard older people - from the workforce, from our homes, from everywhere - they are viewed as a burden as opposed to a blessing and a source of wisdom. This is of course a gross generalization, but consider for a moment that the concept of a Nursing Home does not exist in the Philippines.

There are dozens more - from both Japanese and Philippine cultures that I have experienced or I am in the process of receiving (and potentially unaware of). However, the resounding comment that I came back with was this:

Americans are generally rude.

Now, I have no romantic notion that all nations of the world are nice to each other, and they have respect for each other, and love everyone. None of that poppycock for me, please. However, I find that our social traits are that of the individual versus the group. Many of the social constructs I describe above detail the collective society (there is probably a sociological term for this). I know as a society we have an unspoken contract that keeps things together — otherwise chaos would ensue. Nonetheless, the mindset is certainly different (Eastern vs. Western).