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A White Guy Speaking Tagalog

Discuss culture, living, traveling, relocating, dating or anything related to the Asian countries - China, The Philippines, Thailand, etc.

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A White Guy Speaking Tagalog

Post by ladislav » March 7th, 2010, 1:46 pm

Some say that when you go to a country, you should try and learn its language. So, I decided to learn Tagalog so that I could speak to Filipino people. I began my study with all kinds of books on a Civil Defense base in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. There was some Filipino staff there, and I paid them to drill me and talk to me.

Tagalog is not an easy language to learn. Actually, I found it to be one of the hardest. The reason is a very convoluted grammar, particularly the verbs. These do not only have numerous prefixes and suffixes but also, infixes. And these double in several places creating words the length of an oversize caterpillar. You also have adjectives with numerous prefixes and suffixes. Up until today I have hard time using them all and prefer to simplify my speech as much as I can.

Then, many if not most sentences, are in passive voice, so instead of saying “Give me some water�, you say “Given by you to me (be) water!�. Almost regal- like. In the past , you would say, “Being given by him to me ( was) water.�, In a sentence, a subject and an object are hard to distinguish, and it takes time to unravel it. And when it is spoken at a machine gun speed, one gets lost quite easily. It took me over a year to get to a semi normal way of speaking and understand at least one half of what they were saying.

Good dictionaries are hard to find and when you read a text, and find an unfamiliar word, you often open your dictionary and it is not there. Also, most Filipinos are not good translators and when you ask them how to say this or that word in Tagalog, they, quite often, give you a wrong word. You need to ask many people and even consult online groups until you get the word right.

However; the rewards in the end of these tribulations are immeasurable. The way Filipinos view you when your Tagalog is fluent is like nothing I had ever seen in Asia. You become virtually like one of them and they start treating you almost like a Filipino. Abroad, they would immediately call me Kabayan- a “compatriot�. No Japanese or a Thai would say that, though even if I could speak those languages fluently. In a nation like the Philippines which is so ethnically diverse, Tagalog unites various ethnic groups and gives then some kind of common ethnic identity. The people are used to those who speak it with an accent because half of Filipinos do. So, a paleface with a big nose speaking Tagalog evokes a lot of endearment and the reaction is- “oh, even he participates in making our nation –one�.

There are disadvantages to knowing Tagalog as well, and I am not talking about your understanding gossip or what they say behind your back. This rarely bothers me. The main thing is- since I am possibly one of very, very few among the hundreds of thousands of white people in the Philippines who took the time to learn it, the Filipino people annoyingly reply to me in English and it takes five to six sentences and entreaties to make them speak Tagalog to me. When asking directions in Tagalog, I usually get an answer in English. So the daily Tagalog speaking to strangers here can be very frustrating. White people are not supposed to speak Tagalog just like a cat is not supposed to bark. Barking is for dogs; cats meauw. So, my daily goings to different stores, restaurants and other places is a constant struggle to have people just reply to me even with a simple sentence spoken in this Philippine language. The people who know you, do and are Ok; it is the strangers that I have problems with.

This can be a daily scene: I stop by at an internet café and talk with the attendant in Tagalog and her jaw drops. The other attendants turn around with dropped jaws as well and stare at me like I fell from the Moon. Then, a rather naïve battery of questions in Tagalog follows which is always more or less the same:

“Do you speak Tagalog? “

“What I am speaking with you now? Is it Bulgarian?�

“You are speaking Tagalog so well, but why? Is your wife a Filipina?�

“And you are speaking English, is your husband an Englishman?�

“Are you a priest?�

“ Not, not me, you mean a priest with a beautiful girlfriend like that?�

(A blank stare on their part while I declare my “patriotic� allegiance to the Philippine culture and tell them that I am now living in the Philippines and that when a foreigner comes to the Philippines he should try to adjust to the local culture and do things the local way just like a Filipino should do the same when he goes to another country, and why is it they’ve never thought of that and am I doing something wrong?)

“ Tama ka, tama ka� – “You are right, you are right�, and the nods follow.

As far as dating goes, a huge market of girls who cannot speak English well and who do not actively look for foreigners opens up. But, but, but, there is one caveat! You will now be also expected to go native in more ways than you thought.

You see, if you speak only English you will attract girls who are into Western culture, who want to learn American ( or Western ways) and who want to become even more fluent in English and who think that their lives will now improve in many ways by getting to know a “porener�, a “Kano�. They know that the ways of white/foreign/American people are different, and they generally do not expect you to act Filipino. If you are an American, they often want to become as American as you and will accept your shortcomings easily. After all, Americans once ruled their islands and they were generally well received and a huge percentage of Filipinos admires the US and wants to act American, associate with Americans, go to the US, be friends with you, and many girls would love to even tie a knot with you. It is probably one of the most pro American countries on earth. And since to an average Filipina any white (or even black person) is an American, the admiration and smiles extend to Brits, Scandinavians, Sudanese and even Iranians.

Now, the more you speak Tagalog ( or another Philippine language), the more you will be able to deal with the non English speaking sector of the population- the great masses of the working folks, the stratum that is not interested in foreign cultures but the one that is open to those who want to fit in and do things the local way. The sector is huge and your dating and friendship opportunities multiply by millions since this “market� is open only to those who speak the tongue and know how things are done here. But then, you will have to follow the Philippine way of life- which means- total respect to parents and elders, the girls you will be courting are now mostly virgins and they expect you to give them two years to say yes to your wooing endeavors, they will often ignore you and treat you coldly- the way many pretty girls treat their own Filipino suitors. A girl is not supposed to be easy. “You are now just like a Filipino, so I am going to treat you as one�. Which is, often, with smug disinterest and a mocking smile on her face.

Since Filipino people mainly form their ethnic identity based on the language they speak ( there are some 100+ here) they often say-“ He is a Tagalog, He is a Visayan, He is a Waray. He is Kapampangan�. The nickname “Tagalog� stuck to me, and people often call me- “Hey, Tagalog� when I walk by, especially if I am not in a Tagalog speaking province of the country.

I was also once in a Visayan- speaking region of Mindanao- in the city of Butuan, and I was speaking Visayan ( which is far less fluent than my Tagalog) to a group of people. A passer by saw that I was obviously a Westerner and asked them if I could speak Visayan to which they causally replied- “He is a Visayan�, obviously meaning it.

It was kind of pleasant for me to hear it.

There is a hiddent danger, too. If you are short and dark and of Mediterranean descent and speak Tagalog, you may run the risk of being mistaken for a greedy, bloodsucking Indian loanshark –in the Philippines, they call them “Bumbay 5-6�. These speak Tagalog, and are often hassled by cops and immigration and even the common populace who understandably want to beat them up or report them to the immigration office. So, while a tall white Nordic looking American who does not speak Tagalog will be treated with polite deferral, a short, darker American who speaks Tagalog can get harassed and asked to show his visa and even get beat up by a drunk “patriot�. And it is always better to speak English when talking with Filipino police as they will treat you with much more respect as well. Speaking Tagalog to them, on the other hand, may evoke frowns and all kinds of unnecessary questions.

I do remember those days when I could not yet speak the languages of the Philippines, and I think those days were not so bad. I naturally attracted people who wanted to hang out with me and who spoke with me shyly and with a great deal of admiration and in English. Learning Tagalog and Bisaya, later brought greater understanding and acceptance but at the same time, lots of annoyances of the most unexpected kind.

Sometimes, when I look outside, I enviously watch the dignified local Brits, Aussies and Americans, striding confidently with their heads up; who feel so comfortable in the Philippines, who speak only English and whose attempts to utter even one Filipino word are greeted with thunderous applause. They have girls hanging on their arms warbling to them in English, plenty of money and do not seem to have a care in the world. All of their Filipino friends are English speaking, and high class, and they seem to float up there with the elite of elites.

But I cannot unlearn what I have learned and I am now forever doomed to be some kind of encysted appurtenance to this society, getting a great deal of warmth and acceptance of a brotherly kind, but also treated as some sort of a freak; neither fish nor fowl.
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Post by Repatriate » March 8th, 2010, 8:17 am

One editorial writer for an independent newspaper I used to read would call this the "White God Syndrome." He didn't mean it in a racist way but it is certainly the ignorant perspective of the locals when it comes to westerners in countries like the Phillipines. Even the "educated" middle class doesn't understand enough about foreign countries and they automatically defer according to what they perceive as a higher social strata aka. White God. They are used to being walked over by the higher classes and due in part to the Phillipines history of extreme colonization they don't look down on white foreigners doing the same thing I suppose.

The reason why the non tagalong speaking westerners get treated better sometimes is because the rather ignorant people automatically assume a westerner's class is higher and they deserve more respect based on just race and nationality. Once you demonstrate proficiency in the local language it actually subtly lowers your status from being a mysterious foreign white person to an "equal" to them. It does open up the population to a larger variety of people like you said but there is a trade off.

In a sense the Phillipines does widely practice racism..they are just racist against their own people and stuck in a feudal style corrupt class based society which explains why the GDP per capita for the country is barely higher than Laos despite its vaunted westernization.

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Post by ladislav » March 8th, 2010, 5:35 pm

Well, they discriminate pretty badly against their own people although one cannot really transfer the American type concept of racism onto them to describe the discrimination they display towards each other. I have been helping all kinds of girls here and one girl I know is a very tall, light skinned Kapampangan girl but she has no father and no money and could not finish high school. She was never a bar girl or anything and she tried to dress and act high class but she got treated like crap by others because of her poverty and lack of education. Others who may be darker but with money get treated much better. I am now helping a hill tribe girl from Mindanao and she is not even Catholic and has no Spanish blood at all. But because I paid for her school and other things, she gets treated like a little princess by her compatriots. Not one bad word except those of jealousy. So, here, it is not that simple. The American simplistic white/black/Asian divisions are not really applicable here.

I have also noticed that when I call a girl in Tagalog and talk to her, many of them sound rasp and annoyed with me like I am bothering them. They try and appear disinterested. "So, should I go and visit you?', and they are like, "ah ok, up to you' in an almost chilly, yawning, unemotional tone. When I called in English, the voices were sweet and charmed. Now they are starting to act "Oriental" towards me. I have heard Filipino guys report the same phenomenon-" they treat me like shit". But also, at the same time, the girls who are normally totally indifferent to foreigners are now checking me out albeit coolly. It is now their game and I must play by the rules, Welcome to the real Philippines.
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Post by Adama » April 6th, 2010, 8:22 pm

I encountered a similar problem in Spain, Italy and Germany. As soon as they hear your English accent, no matter how perfect your pronunciation is, they will break out their English. It is hard to learn their language when they wont respond to you in it.

I think deep down many foreigners are dying to practice their English, and if they get a chance to do it with you, they will.

The only time I actually had people respond to me in their language is when they didnt have enough English knowledge. In western Europe, it is uncommon for people to not know basic English. In South America, almost no one speaks any English. Not even your hotel clerk will speak it.

I also think that speaking their language is a definite advantage. Only speaking English pretty much limits the pool of available women. And of the women in that pool, a large percentage of them will be Americanized through US pop culture. They may actually hold feminists in high esteem, and I do think they are more likely to be green card diggers.

If you speak the language, not only cause you understand her better, but there is a much greater chance that you'll have access to better women who havent become Americanized or feminist.

Another thing is, at least for Spanish and German, if you speak their language, it is almost like they fall in love with your accent. If they find your outside attractive at least. To them it actually is charming. You'll never believe how much it works on foreign women.

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Post by ladislav » April 7th, 2010, 4:39 am

Agreed on all points. That is why learning foreign languages is both an awkward and a rewarding field. One thing I must say about a lot of Russian women who ripped American guys off- they are Ameriskansk wanna bes and are not really Russian in the true sense. And the US men who chase those women and who have had a bad experience and who cannot find a good Russian wife have one thing in common- they do not learn Russian language and/or culture. I am not victim blaming - the scammers are real, but a Russian speaking foreigner will have a 10000000000000000000000 times greater chance of finding the right gal there. Or at least if you get ripped off, you will be getting ripped off the way a Russian guy would be- rarely.
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Re: A White Guy Speaking Tagalog

Post by willymonfrete » January 28th, 2018, 10:10 pm

should a guy with a mediterennean appearance never learn local lingo?thats wierd they'd mistake us for indians....I thought they even considered iranians to be american or white?

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Re: A White Guy Speaking Tagalog

Post by chanta76 » January 31st, 2018, 2:52 pm

Indians like from India? They look different from people of Mediterranean decent. How would they get them mixed up?

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