Cross Cultural Storytelling: The Lighter Side of the East West Center is a project that hopes to be a repository of notable East West Center impressions. When different cultures meet, poignant, humorous, and uplifting experiences create treasured memory recalls that last, and are quite simply, unforgettable.
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SUBMITTED BY: Estrella Besinga Sybinsky/Peter Andrew Sybinsky
FIELD/AREA OF STUDY: Open Grants/Political Science
YEARS AT THE EWC: January 1970-December 1971/ June1969-December 1972
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Philippines/ USA
CURRENT COUNTRY OF RESIDENCE: USA
FILIPINO HOSPITALITY by Estrella Besinga Sybinsky*
Filipinos enjoy eating. Friendly and fun loving, their social events revolve around food – the gathering of the food, the preparation of the food, the presentation of the food and finally, the consumption of the food. These activities are generally performed in a lighthearted manner, where music, often dancing, jesting and joking around, prevail.
The platform that supports all these joviality is the cultural trait that Filipinos are known for, hospitality. What is this custom called hospitality? For Filipinos, it means, that it is honorable and gratifying to serve the best of what you have, even if it means serving the expensive meat to your guests first, and after they are served, you eat fish or leftovers. When others are present, it is regarded as rude, to eat by yourself without inviting those around you.
For an anatomy of the mechanics of hospitality, consider this scenario:
When Filipinos are eating and an acquaintance or even a stranger passes by, the cultural reaction or behavior is to invite the outsider to join and eat. The polite response to counteract this “tendency to invite” is to be genuinely thankful while declining the invitation. Hospitality is therefore preserved by both sides. If the group continues to insist and persist that you accept the offer to eat, and you can clearly see that food is indeed in abundance, then, happily join the eating!
Shortly after my Caucasian husband and I married in Cebu City, Philippines, we were invited to dinner at the home of another newly married former East West Center grantees (Filipino wife, Nepalese husband). Of course, just starting out, we were in a very limited budget and I presumed, so were they. I noticed, as the conversation proceeded, that a number of people (I presumed, a household helper and relatives of the wife) were busily preparing inside the kitchen. In short, the Filipino hospitality was alive and well, and as expected, they centered on the generosity of the food.
I did not condition Peter to the intricacies and nuances of the culture when it comes to eating and accepting hospitality. Since he was new to the culture, he wanted to please me, please the host and leave them with a good impression about himself. He was also very hungry. The food was excellent (who can resist fried chicken adobo with vinegar and tons of garlic). However, as the dinner progressed and they kept bringing more and more food to the table, I had definitely reached the saturation point and I knew my new husband was too. But he kept obliging and did not stop eating! As the host kept telling us to eat more, he would eat more. Cultural crisis for sure.
In the back of my mind, I was certain of two things: our friends customary tendency to please and be hospitable was on full speed and I realized that the kitchen servers had not eaten yet and they would be eating the leftovers, if only we would stop eating! What did I do to avert what I considered a rather embarrassing (especially for me) crisis? I kicked his legs several times, reached out for his hand and pressed them tight, and occasionally gave him what I thought were my stern “bug eyes.” The eating stopped, because Peter really couldn’t take any more.
On our way home, he was surprised that I was embarrassed. His explanation: He understood that Filipinos are legendary for their hospitality, and he did not want to offend them by negating their outstretched arms of welcome. He opined that he was really very full and started to feel sick, but he wanted to be polite and cooperative. He had no conception about the “eating the leftover” part among the kitchen servers. And my kicking him on the legs, pressing his hand and “bug eye” activities? He thought I was trying to play “footsies” with him, legitimizing his obliging nature by pressing firmly his hand, and flirting with him with my eye gymnastics!
Oh well, another cross-cultural lesson learned!
*(Open Grants/ MA Political Science: 1970-1971. Estrella is a Retired Professor in Political Science from the University of Hawaii, Windward campus where she also served as Acting Assistant Dean. She also taught at Sonoma State University, Butler University and Indiana University Purdue University Columbus. Currently, she is a member and Vice-President for Chapters of the EWCA Executive Board).
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