In 1958, Eugene Burdick and William Lederer wrote a novel titled, ‘The Ugly American’, later made into a movie with Marlon Brando as the main character, although the movie was different in many respects to the novel. The message of the novel and the movie, set in a fictional South East Asian nation, was that America was losing the war against Communism (in Vietnam) because of innate arrogance and a failure to understand the local culture.
A character in the novel, a local journalist, actually says;
“For some reason, the [American] people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They are loud and ostentatious.”
Well that could apply to any one of a long list of foreigners in the Philippines, from Americans to Aussies, Brits, Canucks, Europeans, Kiwis, Koreans and so on. It could also apply to any foreigner in any country not of their own.
I confess I have cringed while standing in a line at a bank in Berlin when a bus load of Contiki tour travellers roared in, waving their Aussie passports and berating everything German. I have sat in bars and restaurants in the Philippines, watching in disgust as Kanos behave as if every female in the place was for hire and even more offensively in venues where they were.
If you are invited by your Filipina to visit her family in da probince, be honoured. She is taking you home to show her family and the entire barangay her new love. Cynicism aside, while some may say she is merely showing off her walking ATM, if the relationship is genuine then this is a critical time for her, and you. The last thing you should want is for her people to think you are ‘bastos’, rude, crude and vulgar.
Don’t Kill With Kindness
On the other hand, don’t overdo it, either. I recall a visit where my American brother-in-law, admittedly a few Red Horses past his due date, tried to buy everyone in the carenderia ‘something’. “Honey’, he said to my sister-in-law, handing her a P1,000 note nobody had change for… “buy them something, ok?” There was nothing in that restaurant cum bar cum sari-sari store they couldn’t afford to buy for themselves, let alone needed. It was embarrassing for everyone in the room.
The thing was, he was just trying to be kind, generous and make friends. Sadly, he was trying too hard. When you go to da probince, keep a sense of proportion and propriety. Filipinos are very proud people with, if I am honest, in my opinion, very thin skins. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and easily get upset or take offence. They know you have more money than they do, so don’t flaunt it, even with the most genuine of good intentions. Yes, there are those who will expect everything to be paid by you, some who will exploit you but I have found, in my relatives at least, an integrity and pride that rises well above their material wealth, as little as that is.
Treat your Filipina’s people with respect, courtesy and common sense and you will experience a very positive, family focused culture that is as complex and sophisticated as any in the west. Don’t be the Ugly Kano, ok na lang?
Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, MA(Writing), www.streetwisephilippines.biz, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at
This article and website sponsored by Down Under Visa, Australian Registered Migration Agents in Manila – The Australian Partner Visa Specialists