Friday, August 2, 2013

Fil versus Am: Guest Protocol

...Wow, my post heading looks like a movie title.

My household is a Fil-Am one -- half Filipina and half American, and 100% sassy. I spent the first eighteen years of my life being a dutiful Catholic in the Philippines, before Fragrant Mother, by her own account, went out there and lassoed me a scholarship to faraway Canada. That started my journey to Vermont, Kyoto, Boston, and Bangladesh, with some stops in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Australia along the way.

The point is -- and please imagine me saying this in the most obnoxious voice possible -- I am a citizen of the world. Now hand me a barf bag, I'm about to lose my peanut butter-and-cheese sandwich.

Meanwhile, Fragrant Husband grew up a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). He's a voracious reader, and can talk to you at above your pay grade in Life about a variety of topics, especially if science, technology, or law is involved. So we are two harmonious nerds who really need to get out more, is what I'm saying.

But speaking of staying in, one of the differences about our approach to Life has to do with the treatment of guests. In Las Islas Felipenas, a household will drop everything to cater to a guest hand and foot. The best food goes to the guest, who also gets to sit on the best chair, have the electric fan pointed directly at him/her, receive the freshest fruit, and possibly even get water that is purified or has been boiled and stored in the fridge. If no water is available, the lowest member on the household totem pole will rush out and get soft drinks (soda). Causing dysentery in one's guest is considered bad form.

When Fragrant Husband visited the Philippines for the first time recently, he was taken aback by the insistence that he stay right in his chair after he finished a meal. He would sneakily try to put his dishes in the sink, only to be blocked by my sister. He was not allowed to pay for anything. He was fed full meals as much as humanly possible and given beer at every opportunity.

By contrast, here in 'murica, if you go to a buddy's house and he/she gets a pizza for the group, everyone is expected to contribute. Sure, makes sense. It's perfectly reasonable, even expected, for a guest to help with food preparation in the kitchen, which in the Philippines would amount to stabbing your host repeatedly in the chest with a blunt spoon. The insult! The shame!

And, if someone here says, "Come to me, I have food," half the time it's chips and dip, crackers and cheese, raw veggies, or other fares that have previously crushed my dreams of being happy and satisfied at a gathering. The best chance of being fed properly is at a barbecue or a dinner party. What I just described is an over-generalization, of course. I'm sure there are many, many people who are as food-obsessed as I am, and will faint at the thought of serving just potato chips and onion dip to guests.

Happily, there is a confluence of guest protocol values in the Fragrant House of Fil-Am: the quality of mapagsilbi. The root word "silbi" means "service," and the closest English I can come to is "considerate." The term can be used positively--"Malakas ang korelasyon ng pagiging mapagsilbi at pagiging makamandag" ("There is a strong correlation between being considerate and being awesome"), or negatively--"Wala kang silbi!" ("You're useless!") That latter phrase is interesting when you think about the fact that someone who isn't considerate is usually pretty awful at Life (c.f. the man-child).

Sometimes, being mapagsilbi is just a way to signal your high status. A host may offer a feast like a peacock spreads its tail feathers, with a similar message: "Look at me, look at me!" Note that I say similar, not the same--because the boy peacock is saying, "I got yer cloacal kiss right here, baby!" (This is how birds mate, FYI. You're welcome.)

At our home, which sees no shortage of guests--especially since I brought a TempurPedic bed for the spare room--everyone is mapagsilbi. Anyone getting up will offer to get drinks for other people. Everyone will offer to help in the kitchen. It's nice! The only exception is the ironclad Cat in Lap Protocol, which states that anyone who has a cat on top of him/her is excused from standing. Other people must serve drinks or food to that person, which is kind of like how a cat works, come to think of it -- always being served. Huh.

So it's tough to decide which one I like more: the Pinoy or American style of treating guests. On the one hand, you can game the system in the Philippines if you're always the guest. That's actually my strategy. On the other hand, a give-and-take between guest and host a la the US promotes independence and equitability.

Hah, who am I kidding? The answer is, "When in Rome, do what the Romans do." Adaptability is the key to success, my friend.

This post brought to you by a lollipop and hot chocolate.