Handshake, by Aidan Jones

Relational Culture and the Filipino

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Thursday, 7 August 2014 - Last Updated on August 7, 2014
Handshake, by Aidan Jones

Handshake, by Aidan Jones

If a reasonable, pleasantly-mannered Filipino is looking for a job, then chances are, the train of events will go like this:

1) He’ll first try and look for a job himself, by going to all the job openings and interviews he can go to. Chances are, in our current economic realities, there will be many job openings, but few, if any that will be good in terms of salary and job description. And the problem is, those that are will probably be full of people applying for the job, too.

2) Once the person realizes that finding a job is either an exercise in idealism over reality, or a classic denial of the self, he’ll go to the next best thing: his network of friends and relatives. At the most blatant, a relative or friend will offer a job. At the most subtle, a friend will talk to a friend, and that friend will give a tip on a job opening that isn’t being advertised, or the job offer will be made privately, so that essentially the job is a shoo-in for our Filipino.

3) Years down the line, our Filipino will be the one on the other side of the coin, ready to help his friend or relative get a job.

Does that sound… wrong? Well, welcome to the “relational culture” of the Filipino.

Everything is connected
In the Philippine society, you simply cannot function well without somehow creating a relationship between yourself and another person. Yes, you can have transactions and other such, but the warmth of the Pinoy is about reciprocation, that you give back some of that warmth, yourself. It’s like how a simple smile or comment made while riding the jeep, bus, or MRT can blossom into a rather involving conversation on politics, weather, or traffic, all between total strangers. In many cases, people don’t even bother to get the other person’s name, and yet they’ve already had a thirty-minute conversation.

It’s all about the Filipino’s need to connect. Living as we do in a culture where community living meshes practically seamlessly with individualism, we expect to be not only recognized by the Other, but to be treated as a familiar face.

The Suki
The most common form of “relational” relations is our neighborhood suki. Quite simply, he or she is our favored shop owner, business contact, or vendor. We know them by name, we give them Christmas gifts, and they do the same for us, too, giving us a smile and good service in return.

Everyone has a suki of sorts, but we usually cultivate them for stuff that we know we will buy frequently, or for neighborhood businesses like the local mantataho, or the local barbershop.

The pinnacle of the relationship is when you are given preferential treatment, in the form of reservations, discounts, or even home service or home delivery.

Unfortunately, like many things Pinoy, some people will abuse this network of familiarity. Just as “knowing” each other engenders smoother business transactions, so, too, does it make corruption easier for both parties involved.

“Pa-usapan na lang natin ito”
The ages-old trigger-sentence translates literally as “let’s talk about this,” but in truth, it really means, “I will open my desk drawer, and my hand better have some money in it, so I can put it there.” Many people take advantage of relational culture to extend the idea of doing a favor straight into bribery and corruption. And it’s no surprise that it happens, since the whole idea of a culture of familiarity used for ease of transactions seems to be custom-made for money under the table.

It is all, really on the intent and what the exchange is. If the special favors given are just about making work more efficient, and getting more clients, then there should be no problem. However, once it becomes about wanting to get more money for one’s self by refusing or giving shoddy service if the “favor” isn’t given, then you know that it’s going far past the boundaries of relational culture.

Leaning heavily on a person for a reciprocal favor
Another way that relational culture can be abused is in how a person can call in favors. Yes, this happens in other parts of the world, but rarely is it such an art form as it is here in the Philippines. With Godfather-like memory, practically every Filipino knows at least one person who can help for a specific problem. And if they don’t know one, they can ask a friend who does. The kicker there is, it usually involves paying off an old favor.

Again, it’s not abuse if the exchange of favors is cheerfully done. However, for some people, the expectation is already there that you’re supposed to do it, rather than give the person encouragement – or perhaps, the encouragement has already evolved into the expectation of payment beyond the norm.

Instant gratification
One of the most annoying abuses of relational culture is how some people simply assume that they can take advantage of it, even if there is no relationship to begin with. This is particularly true come Christmastime, when all sorts of people start going around with envelopes, asking for “Christmas gifts” even though there’s an implication that they won’t do their jobs that well when it comes to you if you don’t pay. It certainly feels like you’re being blackmailed into being nice – before you even get to know them!

This also happens, sadly, with small businesses, where people in the local community will run up tabs that can reach into the hundreds, sometimes thousands of pesos, with the understanding that they will pay it off when they can. And yet, when it’s time to pay, there is no money to be had.

Should we stop being so familiar?
Sadly, one of the solutions that people encourage is that we should actually stop being so familiar with other people. The main idea there is that if you will transact for business, then keep a business-like attitude. Friendliness beyond a smile or a pleasant mood should be discouraged, as that will be seen as an attempt to take advantage of the “relational culture.”

Honestly, that does sound a bit sad: Filipinos are well known for the warmth of their interactions, but now, it is becoming such a liability that we have to dial back on our natural sociability and pleasant attitude.

So how should we be with relational culture? It’s probably a good idea that both sides should start on a more formal basis, particularly if there is business involved. On the other hand, if it’s just for small talk, there should be nothing wrong with being “relational” with each other.

Photo: “Handshake,” by Aidan Jones, c/o Flickr.com

Richard Leo Ramos (73 Posts)

Richard Leo Ramos is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast. When not working, he is a bass guitarist of the metal band Cog. He is also the founding "bar owner" of an online hangout for mecha anime enthusiasts in Facebook, known as Mecha Toys.

About Richard Leo Ramos

Richard Leo Ramos is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast. When not working, he is a bass guitarist of the metal band Cog. He is also the founding "bar owner" of an online hangout for mecha anime enthusiasts in Facebook, known as Mecha Toys.

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