I’ve been more or less regularly publishing a Questions and Answers post every Thursday here at PhilFAQS, the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS) about the Philippines blog. Took Thanksgiving Thursday off, so it’s certainly time to get back into the swing of things.
I saw a good one from “queeniebee”, a regular reader here and on Bob’s flagship Philippines Magazine publication, Live in the Philippines. It’s one I have seen many times since I have been interested in living here in the Philippines and then made the move, so I really appreciate Queenie bringing it to my attention again.
Just How Important is Your Network of Expat Friends?
Actually I paraphrased that a bit just to make an easier to read heading, here’s a quote from queeniebee’s comment I saw this morning on Bob’s magazine:
… I know that you have a broad network of ex-pat friends and people that you have a lot in common with.from many different countries. I know that a lot of it is work related and the nature of your life, but how do you think it would be different if you did not have this network of friends and contacts?…
That’s really a good question and one I have seen so often in so many forms that it deserves a fairly long answer.
I have expat friends, and never doubt that they are important to me. But they are only part of my “support system” in a peripheral way. They all live a long way from me and they are busy with my own lives with their own interests … if I were in big trouble or had a big problem I had no idea how to resolve I wouldn’t hesitate to ask their advice or even direct help if I were in a real bind … but when I think ‘support network’ I most often think of who would I call on if the car doesn’t start or some policeman is knocking at the door with a warrant in his hand ;-).
For those kind of ‘support’ situations I am very lucky to have family close by. It’s been said many times that living close to your wife’s family can be a two-edged sword and that is certainly true for many. For me I believe it’s been almost 100% on the positive side … but just as I don’t spend a lot of time with my foreigner friends I surely don’t spend all my time with my family … and if I were to suddenly be without them I don’t feel I’d really lack for assistance with problems I might have. Wouldn’t want to try that out, but I have a pretty good feeling that I could get by, for at least a long time, on my own with just my Filipino neighbors and the businessmen I deal with.
I’m always a little amazed when fellow Westerners ask questions and make comments that leave no doubt that they somehow think other Westerners live in enclaves, hiding away from the Filipinos and that an American on his own will be unable to navigate through life here … lost in a vast sea of strangers. Quite frankly, this just isn’t so. Believe me, if I felt this was true I’d be gone from here in a heartbeat … I wouldn’t feel comfortable in living in an environment like that and it would be kind of dumb, for me at least, to do so by choice.
Who is my “support network” (aside from my lovely and devoted wife, of course, who spoils me rotten and sometimes tries to do too much to make my life go smoothly)?
Well, quite frankly the number one member of my network is me. I don’t yet know the local language very well at all … and I am a slow and lazy learner … but I wouldn’t hesitate to go virtually anywhere in the Philippines at any time and try to do whatever I needed to do. I’m no kid, I’ve been working my way through life now for a lot of years and I may not be nearly as smart as I think I am, but I certainly didn’t get any stupider when I moved here. If you’re reading this you’re likely an adult with a job or a business and a family, a car, a house, a computer, etc. and like as not you can navigate through a typical day quite well on your own.
If you’re in a store and want to buy something and you don’t see it, what do you do? Well, you ask a clerk. Need to go potty? You follow the sign to the rest room. Need money and only have your ATM card with you? You stick it in the ATM and withdraw cash. In a bus station and you don’t know which bus is the one you want? They have these things called signs on the front and you read them … or find somebody in a uniform and ask him.
In many ways life is much easier here for me because help in a store is ready available and often much more pleasant to deal with than the typical “shoulder shrugger’ busy watching the clock in Wal*Mart or the distinct ‘why did you come in here and bother us’ attitude I’ve frequently seen in banks back home. When I go to the bank here, I always stop by and pass the time of day with the local branch manager, Mr. Favro. Last month I had a problem with a ‘no dispense’ from an ATM … money never came out but of course my account was debited. I went to the bank, told the customer service person about the problem, they submitted a query to the home office and 5 banking days later the money was back in my account. Just as I was writing this my cell phone beeped. It was the customer support desk at the home office texting to let me know the error had been found and that in case I hadn’t looked, the money was back in my account. I had a bad time last month with that error and two separate issues with my US bank … all of them got fixed, not by magic or by needing a Filipino intermediary, just by telling both my Us and my Philippine banks what my problems were. I’m not pleased that any of the three problems happened, but the system ground and churned like banking systems do everywhere, and in the end I was right and they were wrong and they fixed the problems. My US bank didn’t send me a text to tell me theirs was fixed, though 😉
Need to see the doctor? I have his text number as well as his receptionist’s number. I can text her and she’ll text me back a half hour before the doctor is ready for me so I can drive to his office and walk right in. The list goes on.
Now suppose the car won’t start? Well, there’s Mando next door, he’s retired like I am and his marvelous 27 year old Nissan pickup starts every time … I could just call over the fence. He has a cracker jack mechanic friend who keeps that old truck running too, so if I decided I didn’t want to take my car to the dealer I could get a referral in a minute.
Across the street to the left lives Nato … he has a car too and knows everyone in town, including the barangay captain who ‘owns’ the local “tanod”, the first level of law enforcement anyone gets to deal with. If I was in real police trouble, Nato’s uncle lives less than two blocks away, he’s a retired justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines and since his sister was a guest at my last birthday party I would have no trouble asking him for an introduction to a good lawyer.
Jun, who lives two more doors down from Nato is a retired Electrical Engineering professor. If I had some technical problem that I didn’t want to trust to Ponga, my regular electrician (retired from Meralco), I see Jun every night on my way to the family’s house, he could point me in the right direction easily.
I don’t want this aspect to sound too self-serving, I could get in a “pickle” from time to time not knowing exactly what to do, and so could you, but neither you nor I are stupid and more things work here the way they do at home than you would guess.
This post is probably long enough to make my point. or even longer ;-). The ‘take away’ is, even though I value my family ties and my foreigner friends very highly, my life certainly doesn’t depend upon ‘leaning’ on them. It’s easy to meet people here, it’s easy to get to know them, at least in a casual way, and it’s easy to find someone who can help you if you are momentarily ‘lost at sea’. Is here sometimes a language problem? yes, but seldom anything you can’t work through. Is there sometimes a lack of understanding because our upbringing and life experiences are different? Yes, very often, but once again that is no ‘show stopper’ at all, just a part of daily life. If you come here to live you’ll undoubtedly have fellow foreigner friends who you value also, but your life certainly doesn’t have to center around them … in fact I highly recommend you don’t let that situation develop.
if you don’t go out and meet people, interact with them and solve some of your own problems you are going to miss out like crazy on the benefits of living in another country. After all, I was living quite nicely, thank you, back in the USA and if I wanted to live in a “USA-like” environment, why would I try to create one here. I could just take my little Blue passport and fly back to the USA any day I wanted to … and dear wife would probably have her bags packed before I could pack mine …. mmmm, Costco, Target, Wal*Mart, wide roads with no traffic (did I mention Costco?) … (hope she doesn’t read this) 😉