By Tony Samson
THE BREADTH of the Filipino diaspora hits us whenever we travel abroad. Isn’t there now a Filipino in every country in the world? We bump into these expats in unexpected places. She may be a receptionist in a Bratislava hotel or a chef in a restaurant in Athens.
Resting sore feet on a museum crawl in Amsterdam, you are likely to sit beside a compatriot. He strikes up a conversation by asking where you’re from — do you live in the States? When replying you’re from Quezon City, there is a slight hesitation. Are you staying with relatives here in Amsterdam? No, we’re staying in a hotel.
This exchange can be predictable as there are assumptions made of traveling Filipinos, that they are hosted by resident relatives and live with them for free, or traveling from another first world country like the States — yes, those with jobs like Trump. Parasites living on welfare hate him. And, it’s fake media that constantly criticizes him. (You stay away from that debate.) Filipinos living abroad, especially if they have not been home in a while and carry different-colored passports, are like the very rich. They are different from you and me. They dress differently and have different sports heroes.
Still, they keep track of news from home. They ask newly met tourist compatriots how the economy is doing. They ask surprising questions — do the trains there really leak when it rains?
News about Third World countries, when aired abroad, is often followed by travel advisories. Few feature good news, like the opening of car plants or the rise of the middle class. Pick-ups on countries outside the media capitals of the world must be on disasters of all sorts: a new virus epidemic, infected pigs, and political scandals involving released prisoners — pay to stray.
Residents in a foreign city know the best shopping bargains for shoes and the nearest outlet mall. If these expats have been out of their home country for decades, they presume that Third World travelers like you only have shopping in mind. (Can you get Birkin bags in Manila?) If you want to snap them out of this mindset, you can ask about museums — what’s the quickest way to get to the Van Gogh Museum, and do they require online reservations for every 15-minute time slot?
Because they are outside their country of birth and don’t have any powerful uncle to bail them out of scrapes, expats tend to be law-abiding. Or is it a form of natural selection where it is the civic-minded citizens that migrate and the lawless are left behind?
Still, expatriates will do for their adopted country what they will dismiss for their original one. Lining up for airport security checks in their host country is patiently suffered without any muttering under the breath. The same line in Manila is seen as a sign of gross inefficiency. (Why don’t they open more windows?)
Red tape required for licenses to buy a car, the purchase of coupons for parking, or the limited number of cable channels is shrugged off as unquestioned government policy — It’s just the way things are here. An equivalent bureaucracy in the home country is seen as a sign of backwardness.
The expatriate has made a choice to live elsewhere. And that option is often claimed to be an economic decision — there are more opportunities there.
It is already the season for homecomings when we see long-lost kin being part of us again, temporarily. At the airport pick-up, it is easy to see, even if they look alike, the ones being fetched and those picking them up. It’s more than the attire. There is also the air of discomfort and soldiering on to get the vacation underway.
Because of slowing GDP growth in her host country, the expatriate may decide to come home, even taking a job. The problem for the expat is adjusting to a new and unaccustomed environment — the one she long ago determinedly left behind. She is not confident she will survive the shock of adjustment.
Every returning expat has the same fear when visiting or retiring: that she will be a stranger in the place she was born in. What country does she really call home?
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.