Sunday, January 19, 2014

Speak English and carry a big dollar!

I am an avid language learner, but a white man in the Philippines ( and most of E/SE Asia) will always run into major annoyances when learning how to speak the local language. Meaning- people will often refuse to speak it to you, refuse to give directions in the language, and sometimes laugh at you and mock you. Also, speaking a few words makes you sound cute, but carrying on conversations in the language may not be seen as a good thing by some. Service staff will most appreciate it but will usually answer in English, and very poor people will appreciate it and talk back to you in that language. But quite often, regular people will just answer in English and try to switch to English period. While, at the same time, turning to brown skinned people and speaking Tagalog or Visaya. Their English will also often be rude starting with "Whaaaaaaaat? " instead of "Excuse me?" or "Pardon me?". Many will not use" please". Some will make fun of your accent and mimick the way you pronounce it while laughing at you. Otoh, if you spoke only English, they would often kowtow to you and treat you with deferal. When in Japan, I was told by a very well meaning friend not to speak Japanese when invited to a party in Tokyo. And even in Manila, there was a woman who said-" I will invite you to my home, but don't speak Tagalog!". Then, another one glared at me and said in a low voice- "Speak English, they are making fun of your accent". Some simply lose respect for you if you start speaking the local language. Once, I was in uptown Cebu and I asked a person in Visaya in front of KFC if the restaurant was open. He said " Whaaaaaat?" I asked him why he was not answering in Visaya. He got very rude and started shouting at me that I was not a Filipino ( and had no right to speak it) and that he was in his country and could speak anything he wanted. He also mimicked my accent with mockery. Had I just spoken English, nothing like this would have happened. A very similar phenomenon occurs in Thailand. The happiest expats are the ones who DO NOT speak Thai except for numbers and some set phrases. Instantly, they are sheltered from all the evil around them. Now, granted that majority of people ( over 50%) will still appreciate it but many will be so shocked than instead of just talking to you, they will be commenting with surprise that you can speak it. Over and over again. It gets annoying after a while. They do not treat you as an equal! And occasionally you get mocking and hostile reactions accompanied by overall "reduction" in the level of respect. A friend of mine who was a long time resident in Asia noted that "an Asian will never consider you as his equal so you have no choice but to come off as being superior". Those expats who have money, speak only English ( some 99%) and act superior, do not seem to have all these weird conflicts that a Visayan speaking "poreigner" has. They walk around with a spring in their step, their nose in the air and a proud announcement of their nationality- "I am an American! I speak English!" And they get instant respect. And then you have a linguist like me, who runs into all these weird situations from narrow-minded locals. Some start shouting- "What nationality?" What nationality?" Very annoying. Anyway, sometimes I feel like giving this advice- for peace of mind, speak English and carry a big dollar. And you will be loved and respected by all. Is there any use for local languages,though? I'd say , some 10-20% of people will respond to you in those and treat you OK. Oh, what a blissful feeling. Also, if you are a missionary or a philantropist who wants to work with common, poor masses, or help orphaned kids, you should learn Filipino languages. Otherwise, a nose in the air, a puffed up chest and English Only is all you need.

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