February 19, 2010

Language, discrimination and racism

According to Hollywood, all people in the world speak English with perfect grammar but with slight foreign accents. If the country is "bad", then the accent is sharper and more unpleasant. If the country is good, then the accent is barely audible. But the grammar is usually perfect. All the tenses are in place, the irregular verbs are used perfectly, the conditionals are immaculate, the vocabulary is copious.

Actually only some 8% of the world speaks English as the first language and some 20% speak it as a second language- which means imperfectly- past tense is not used, conditionals are of the variety : "If you come yesterday, I have the food, but you come today, I no have food".

About 70+% of the world does not speak English at all. And they have no plans to. If you are a brief tourist in a country whose language is not English, it is OK to get around using an interpreter or an English-speaking guide. If, however, you are planning on going to another, non-English-speaking country to live and work for an extended time period, and you are not making an effort to learn their language you are committing a serious act of disrespect.

People from the "Anglo" countries have a particularly big psychological block when it comes to learning foreign languages- for one, many natives want to practice English with them. Second, culturally, they have been taught that the world "kind of" speaks English and if it does not, it soon will. Plus, in the US, UK, Canada, etc. people have been taught to be practical- if it is not absolutely necessary, then one should not waste his time doing it. English is enough.

I, therefore, while traveling and speaking local languages to the natives hear one thing every time I open my mouth and talk to them in their tongue : " Oh, you can speak ( put the language in here). My neighbor is an American. He has been living here 20 years. He cannot speak a word of (put the language here). "

I was once in Puerto Rico and I would always hear about some Gringo who had been living in Puerto Rico for 30, 40 years and who cannot speak a word of Spanish. There is a word for people like that...


While the natives will not tell you this openly, in their hearts and among themselves they will say:
"Oh, what an a.s.shole! He has been living in our country for so long and he does not think that our culture warrants that he at least make the minimal effort to speak the local language. He is just another f...king arrogant foreign a.s.shole, just like the rest of them who have no respect for the host nation". I am sure you do not want people to think this about you in their hearts.

If you plan to live in a foreign country whose language is not English,the importance language learning is not to be underestimated. Two hours a day for one year will do wonders and most people will be happy to see you try.

However, do not make the mistake of thinking that just because you speak the language, your acceptance will be guaranteed or that you will become " one of them". But you will win many hearts- "he respects us, he is not an a.s.shole, like the other ones". Still, most people will want to hear the most melodious language of all - the rustling of fresh dollar bills. Most girls' parents would still prefer someone with money who does not speak the language to someone without it who speaks it. The best would be someone with the language skills and a pocket full of money.

A multilingual, multi-cultured, well-traveled American ( with money) is probably the world's most perfect human being.


Discrimination, bigotry and prejudice based on race, sex, class, caste, profession, economic status, religion, national origin, political view, nationality, citizenship, skin color, family status, etc. etc. are universal things and exist in every society. There is no getting away from prejudice. It is part and parcel of human thought, or even animal thought- most cats do not like dogs and will not distinguish a good one from a bad one. Dogs are not to be trusted.

The difference between prejudices as you go from country to country is the degree and extent of each one. For example, Germanic, Protestant societies as well as Confucian societies have a high incidence of racial prejudice but less class prejudice. Spanish colonies have much less racial prejudice and much more economic prejudice. Some countries have mixtures of various prejudices in various degrees. One thing always holds true in most societies- if you have enough cash, and your social status is high, you will be able to overcome most prejudice and live a semi-normal life. If you do not have huge amounts of cash, one should choose a country where there is not much prejudice against people of 'your kind'. I think that white people should not go and live in Thailand or Korea. Black people from the US would be very welcome in Ethiopia and treated fairly well in Brazil and the Dominican Republic. Asian Americans can go and live in Thailand and expect a fairly smooth integration into the society there. A Western woman should not expect to enjoy full rights in Saudi Arabia or Japan. An E. European man has no business going to the US and hoping to find a great girlfriend.

By knowing which countries have which prejudices against which people, one will avoid traumatic experiences in the future.


Countries in the Americas are immigrant countries- basically children of various immigrants mixed together. A birth in one of such countries makes you an automatic citizen and a national . Countries in Asia and Europe are indigenous. A birth there does not make you a national. A child of two Chinese parents born in the US is a Chinese-American. A child of two Chinese parents born in Russia is not a Chinese-Russian. Just a Chinese. Germany does not care if your family spent 200 years in Poland. You are still a German and always will be.



Anonymous said...

"Spanish colonies have much less racial prejudice and much more economic prejudice."

Based on my experience, I have found that a person's race/color go hand in hand with his economic status. I once read an article on Brazil in Time magazine and there was a line that said, "In Brazil, poverty has a color." I believe this holds true in all, if not most, in former Spanish colonies since the Conquistadors set up a caste system based on a person's degree of whiteness (European/Spanish). Hence, they came up with terms of classifications "criollo," "mestiza," "mulatto," "Sangley," -a half Chinese,half Filipino (obviously this only applies to PI) person, etc. that was indicative of how much Spanish/European blood ran through his veins.

I'm an American from L.A. who was born to Filipino immigrants and I'm currently living in Manila because of my work. I have noticed that the darker one's skin, the lower their economic status is. Although it doesn't always hold true, but it generally is.

And, from what I've noticed, the poorer ones tend to look very Filipino (or native) in terms of facial features (dark-brown skinned, wide, flat nose, etc), whereas the ones in the middle and upper classes are obviously a mix of different ethnic genes. Think Manny Pacquiao. He's what local Filipinos here would describe as one who 'looks poor' (mukang mahirap in Tagalog).

As for racial prejudice, it's pretty bad. Being a Filipino-American, I sort of tread that line between being an expat and a local. Since I don't outwardly look like a foreigner, I am treated as a local.
I have the privilege of being able to observe Filipinos with their guards down the way a longtime Caucasian (or any other ethnicity) expat will never be able to see. Because they don't see me as an American but as "one of them," my oh my, the things that can come out of their mouths about black people, Igorots, Aetas, Muslims, Indians (from the Subcontinent) etc. can make a White slave owner of 18th century Savannah, Georgia blush.

Filipinos are selective racists. A cashed up Caucasian will is held in higher esteem than a cashed up African-American unless he's Kobe Bryant. A Filipino-American or Filipino-Brit, etc will be considered as "higher" or "better" than a local Filipino-Filipino. Hence, the waitstaff at restaurants, the real estate agent, etc., will be extra friendly and overly accomodating to the Caucasian, Afro-American, overseas Filipino (or 'Filipino-foreigner,' as they sometimes call it) compared to the local "Filipino-Filipno." That's been my observation as a Filipino-American expat (going on my 10th year) in the Philippines. It's pretty sad and it all boils down to the Filipino's inherent inferiority complex as an ethnic group that their former Spanish masters have conditioned them to believe.

Winston said...

Anonymous, what you say is true, that the poorer Filipinos tend to be darker. I also notice that the hustlers or ones who try to push you to buy something on the street tend to be short and dark as well. You never see a light skinned Filipino trying to scam you. That might sound racist, but it's the truth and anyone can go on the street and see it.

Anonymous said...


Nothing racist about pointing out an observation. I noticed that too.

Just be careful whenever you say that among local Filipinos. Make sure they are the well-educated ones who have traveled or are familiar with the ways of the West and are capable of critical thinking. Most would take your statement personally, as if you were personally insulting them, even if you're just stating an observation about their country.

When my friend came over here to visit me, she blogged everything about her experience here in PH, as she does about all her travels. I told her she wouldn't like Jollibee, but she wouldn't listen. Anyway, on her blog, she just said that she didn't like Jollibee, that everything was too sweet (some people don't know how to take advice!). And I tell you, all the hate mail from Filipinos just poured in for 3 whole months! I mean it was one's person opinion on a fastfood joint. Some people don't like Taco Bell or KFC.

Sometimes, okay, most of the time, Filipinos can be annoyingly hyper-sensitive that they miss the point and throw logic and reason out the window and let their emotions take over. It can be very hard to reason with hyper-emotional people. I learned that the hard way.

Winston said...

Thank you anonymous. Point noted. I would not make such observations in a forum full of Filipinos, like PinoyExchange, but I would in an expat forum full of foreigners.

I have noticed that many middle to upper class Filipinas get offended easily and become argumentative about little things, while not making any valid points. I don't know why they do that. Is that arrogance? It's like they think cause they have money and speak fluent English that it gives them the right to be arrogant.

I don't mind arrogant people as long as they are fighting for something worthwhile or making valid points, but when they are bickering about nothing, that gets annoying.

Filipinos do not tend to get offended by what I say, even if it's something negative about their culture or people, because I always base my points on real life examples which are obvious, so there is no dispute over them. Plus when I do, I sort of make myself look like the "victim" which makes them feel sympathy for me too.

Feel free to come to my Happier Abroad Forum and post about life in the Philippines. I even posted a list of pros and cons about living and dating in the Philippines here. Have a look. You may find it interesting. So far, the other expats say it's pretty accurate and matter of fact.


How did you find this blog by the way?

Winston said...

Btw anonymous,

Your friend's negative comment about Jollibee is nothing. You should see what I wrote about Filipino food and Chow King.

Jollibee is so so, it's just that their portions are too small. The worst chains in the PH are Chow King and Greenwich. Their food is so disgusting that I cannot fathom how they haven't been shut down already. Yet Chow King is always crowded. No Chinese person would eat there though. And I am not picky either. I have low standards and even like Taco Bell.

It's just that the ingredients in Chow King meals are so bad that the food there is below acceptable and edible level. Most people I know would not eat it if it was free even. Yet they sell it? Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Found your blog on expat blog.

I'm a female, so most of my local friends tend to be women, and I agree. haha. Yep, they do get offended easily. And, I've never said this to anyone other than my siblings when I talk to them back home, but I find Filipinas (from the Philippines) to be emotional drama queens. They make a biggie out of very little things. We (my siblings and I) used to think it was just our mom's personality. Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing my mom, but certain traits of our parents can be annoying.

I also find Filipinas to be very jealous. Not just in relationships with their men but with their platonic same-sex friends as well.

As my brother said, the words "Filipino/a" and "humility" don't go together in the same sentence. It's the same story back home in the States, Filipino immigrants being arrogant to each other, keeping up with the Joneses, bragging about being educated at Ateneo or LaSalle when they were in the Philippines etc. Needless to say, my parents never hung out within the Filipino community of Los Angeles.

Arrogance? Yes. It puzzles me too as to why they think their alma mater, money and English fluency gives them the licence to act that way. Perhaps it has something to do with the culture of 'saving face.'

Needless to say, I don't hang out as much with my Filipina girlfriends because of the pettiness and the endless bickering. It gives me a headache.

I'm a fairly logical woman who's not easily offended. I've been to your forum HappierAbroad. It's quite interesting. You obviously are into the bar scene. I've never set foot in AC because of its obvious reputation, but I've always been curious about the dynamics of bar girls and their clients. It's a facet of Philippine society that I have not been able to observe.

As you probably already know, the culture between the different social classes in this country is night and day.

Anyway, I visited your site once and it's obviously very much catered to men. ;) Some of it is hard to relate to cos my Philippine escapades are much more wholesome (and dull in comparison) than yours and the members of that board.

Just to warn you,(I'm saying this as a friend,not threatening you) be careful who you invite to that site. That site is offensive to Filipinos and Filipino-Americans (or any overseas Filipinos).

I agree, the observations are fairly accurate, particularly in regards to Filipinas (the men too) being carbon copies of each other. It's like you've spoken to one, you've spoken to them all. Oh, and the part about people trying to get free stuff out of you! I've experienced that. I used to think it was just me. These were mostly middle class Filipinos.

Playing 'victim', huh? Looks like you know the Filipino psyche well! That works because Filipinos always play the victim, never taking responsibility for their actions. They're very sympathetic when you play the victim.

FYI, Jollibee owns Chow King (and Red Ribbon too). I hate them all. I've been here for 9 years now and I've only eaten at these establishments once. Everything is so sweet. I used to wonder why people patronized these places too. I have one logical, objective Filipino friend who didn't get all emotional and crazy on me and she said that those chains have captured the Filipino palate. The food they serve is what appeals to them. It's the Filipino taste and budget friendly.

It's the same as Red Panda in US. No Chinese person would be caught dead eating there. Chow King is Filipino-Chinese much in the same way Red Panda is American-Chinese.

Not an expert on Chinese cuisine, but if you want authentic Chinese, I've been told that Gloria Maris is one. And of course, Manila Chinatown (Binondo). Their dim sums are pretty good too, not like the ones you see in carts at the foodcourts.

Winston said...

Hi again anonymous,
Oh I didn't know you were female. Sorry about that. Interesting. It's rare to find such a level headed objective person like you.

Do you live in the states or the PH?

We could use some of your insights and objectivity on our forum at Happier Abroad: http://www.happierabroad.com/phpBB2/index.php

When you said that my site would be offensive to Filipinos, I think you were referring to that pros and cons list I showed you from my forum right? Yeah well I would not post that to Filipinos, only to expats.

Anyway, if you are in the PH, I would love to meet you sometime.


Winston said...

Btw, Panda Express is way better than Chow King, a million times better! I do not think Chow King is cheap cause what they give you is not worth the price and tastes like crap.