...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

It Ain't Necessarily So

I'm envious of my own sister, who is spending her 3-week vacation with the family in the Philippines. They're probably eating Chinese dumplings, Chicken Joy, and nilaga, and going out to restaurants eating grilled tuna bellies and stuffed squid. And of course, having a wonderful time. Sniff! I'm envious.

In a fit of nostalgia, I'm listening to the family's oldies album, dubbed "Sunday listening" – even if it's a Thursday – and I'm wondering if I should get in touch with more Filipinos nearby. I'm ambivalent.

I hate to be rude, not to mention being regarded as a snob, but there's something hassling about picking friends in an "unnatural" environment. The environment in question is "immigrant life" and the potential friends are fellow Filipinos. Perhaps every foreigner feels the same way: Should you hang around with your countrymen even if the only thing you have in common is coming from the same country? I mean, I don't hang around with all Ateneans just because I'm an Atenean. I don't feel a magic quarter-life crisis bond to all people of 23-years just because I'm the same age. And I would make friends with Filipinos and Swedes and Somalians alike the same way I made my friends in the past; and not because they were just Filipinos or Swedes or Somalians. But why the pressure to fraternize with Filipinos just because you all happened to live in the same city? Right now I feel like I'm at a portal where the group's bouncers are asking me if I'm in or out of the club, and I all I really want to be is an infrequent visitor.

On the one hand, there's that compulsion for all Filipinos to commune with other Pinoys abroad: It makes a statement that we care, we know our roots, we know who we are and that we're not ashamed to admit we watched the slapstick comedy at Eat Bulaga! as children (Admit it, all of you! We all watched that before cable TV!). On the other hand, you can't hurry friendship either and you simply can't be friends with everybody just because he or she is Pinoy. In fact, there's just a kind of superficiality with the need for group bonding just because, as if it eliminates the need for any kind of depth in your friendship. The notoriety of cultural clubs as gossip dens probably just goes to show how people there know each other too little. And if friendships do eventually develop there, it just goes to show that you need something more than a shared nationality to hit it off with each other.

(BTW I was walking on the street once after grocery shopping and a bunch of apparently Filipino men at the corner just hooted towards me: "Filipina? Filipina?" from two meters away, probably expecting me to turn my head towards them and give them a sweet "yes?" smile. Memories of walking around Manila -- where one Brazilian travel-blogger commented that hoots like "Miss!", "I love you!" and "Pssst!" are the common everyday thing -- just came back to mind. I just walked straight, as I would have back in Quezon City.)

Maybe the Filipino groupie compulsion has something to do with that traditional family values. Filipinos usually call older people Ate or Kuya ("Sister" or "Brother") as they would their siblings. It's supposed to bring about feeling of familiarity between strangers and a kind of familial closeness (and childlike subordination) to your superiors. But I've always called my siblings by their names since I learned how to speak, so I really don't know what the big deal is with calling someone I hardly know Ate.

Or maybe the groupie feeling is something Filipino news networks (like GMA-7) have long tried to instill on everybody though their programs on the "international Filipino". It's supposed to up our national morale when they scream: "Filipinos make it big elsewhere, and therefore – by distant association – you're somebody great too!" Hadn't they ever thought that Filipino moguls inside the country are making so much money as we speak, yet not necessarily making poor Filipinos feel included in society anyway? Or that, when abroad, Filipinos are asked to uphold their Filipino-ness while many ordinary Filipinos within the country couldn't care less about the jeepney driver's welfare? Simply hanging around with Filipinos abroad doesn't prove anything about our solidarity to Filipinos and has absolutely nothing to do with acknowledging our roots.

Of course I recognize who I am – I love Chicken Joy and all that, I crave for bananas and pineapples and bangus, and I even sweat like someone from the tropics. I would visit my parents weekly if I could. But am I, them, the hundreds of Filipinos in Sweden? What makes up who I am anyway? Because the last I checked, there was no such thing as the "eternal Filipino" which I'm supposed to base my behavior on, and aside from nationality, I'm not expected to share a magic characteristic with all 80 million people in the archipelago just because the Americans determined our country's boundaries when they bought us from Spain.

So I'm here at the portal where the group's bouncers are asking me if I'm in or out of the club. And yes, I have some Filipino friends here in Sweden too, but I'm ambivalent if I want to be absorbed into the whole GMA-7 "international Filipino family" mould. I just really want to be myself. For another thing, I'm not even sure if I'm a group person at all and if I need that many friends, but not a lot of people get that.

My antisocial behavior is settling in – the same feeling I had when I thought having too many friends squeezed off Christmas money off me.


Anonymous jenny said...

I always wondered how come Filipinos stick to fellow Filipinos in foreign countries.
I am yet to have the immigrant experience, but if that time ever comes, I would definitely yearn for a Pinoy to share a "jolog" joke and just talk Tagalog with.

5:10 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Don't take me wrong; I have some of Filipino friends in Sweden as well (both online and real!). I just don't feel for the groupie thing you know :-S

11:39 AM

Anonymous ria said...

i totally can relate to your post...ganyan din ako when i first came here...una, masaya kasi naho-homesick ako, but then afterwards, it gets kinda tiring kasi halos araw-araw magge-get together sa bahay ni ganito...eh meron din naman akong ibang gagawin....then i started to "pick" the ones i would like to, as for a lack of better word: "umgås med".....maliit lang ang filipino circle of friends ko (irl) pero the advantage is hindi na-di-drain ang energi ko......on the brighter side, masaya din namang may filipino network, lalo na kapag may handaan (hehehehehe)

here's my two cents worth, you have the right to be choosy, girl!

6:01 PM

Blogger Christianne said...

I lived here for months without getting to know other Pinoys... then when my mom and aunt came here within a month they had met a Pinay who was from our province and was going to her house for coffee and cake :D and in parks and at church they would approach anybody with kayumanggi skin and ask, "are you Filipino?" while I tried to hide behind Annika's stroller in my embarrassment.

So yeah, I can relate to your antisocial-ness... well it's not really being antisocial right? You just prefer small, relaxed gatherings vs. big, organized groups. Don't feel pressured to be part of the club if it's not your thing :)

12:50 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Hi Ria and Christianne!

Salamat, I'm not the only one who feels this way! (sigh of relief) It's good that you both replied, because this issue has really been bothering me for days. Maybe I just think too much.

But I guess you guys are right. Imagine, I'm even more comfortable with you guys since I know you "from a distance" instead of um, "by ambush"!

Ria: Wow, you're back in the blogosphere! :-D Saw your new posts... delicious pictures!

Christianne: Heheh, salamat... so I'm not antisocial after all. :-) If Ria and you and I lived close to each other I would definitely ask you guys out for dinner!


8:49 AM

Blogger Marie said...

Excellent post and well articulated.

It's not just you and not just Filipinos. I am an Australian living in Sweden and come under the same pressure to "join in" with people who I would cross the street to avoid back home. I really think that "expat groups" are really not all that healthy - and almost always 'situational' because nothing is more random than simple geography.

Having said that, I like hanging out with other Aussies occasionally because I have been here a LONG time and I know that at least with other Aussies we have something in common and we understand certain things about each other. I don't have to listen to the “Oh my God, I love your accent” remarks (rolls eyes) nor answer all the dumb shark and crocodile questions (like I do with many other people here) and I can get up to date with what's happening back home and listen to people's stories about their travels etc. But it has to be with people I choose and not just a mass of humanity. The sheer thought of being thrown together merely on the basis of our nationality is a bit scary! There really has to be something else to grab my interest.

(Just as an intro, so you don't think I'm a weirdo stalker or anything. I came across your blog while looking for something about boat clubs in Norrköping. We have recently moved from Nynäshamn to Vadstena and have moored our sailing boat on Lake Vättern at Motala. However, the thought of doing the Göta Kanal twice every season just to get to the archipelago is enough to make me cry, so we have put our name down for a pier space at Bråviken instead and hope to move her there in spring)

6:50 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Hi Marie and thanks for dropping by!

I'm flattered by comments from new readers (who isn't? :-) ) and I'm glad that I'm able to (sometimes) write about things that others can relate to.

who knows, we perhaps will bump into each other next year when it becomes sailing season again! Everyone in these sailing clubs basically know each other, or so it seems!

11:54 PM

Anonymous Liz said...

Hey Joy,
This is your sister Liz, back just this morning from our Folks's homestead!
Just wanted to make you even more envious of the fabulous foodie vacation we had: yes, we had ChickenJoy (literally buckets full, during Ian's birthday party) and pancit palabok from Country Noodles, 2 Red Ribbon cakes (chocolate mousse and blueberry cheesecake). Mom made a lot of Philippine homecooked meals during our stay and we ate at a lot of nice places. There seems to be a proliferation of really great Japanese restaurants... Boy were they affordable! I may have gained a couple of kilos... You know I can't say no to good sushi and sashimi (and ramen, tempura, teppanyaki....)

1:37 PM


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