Ba Baba Ba — Going Down in the Philippines

Don’t Ask For What You Don’t Want.

(Last updated 06 October 2018)



Why Don’t People Ask For What They Want?

I came across Don't Ask For What You Don't Want.something a day or so back from a faithful reader, JJ,  which I certainly should have made into an article here a long time ago.

This was originally a comment to my article expressing one of my embarrassing moments at trying to be funny at the expense of a Filipino … never a very good idea.  So, here it is.

Funny Filipino Words

Actually there are a lot of funny Filipino words and even funnier ways that Filipinos use them.

Sometimes Filipinos repeat the first syllable to make the word in future form.

So the word “baba” which means “down” will become “ba-baba” or “will go down”.

“Kain” or eat becomes “ka-kain” (will eat).

“Talon” or jump becomes “ta-talon” (will jump). And so on.

Another word we use like the word “lang” (In English, “lang” typically means “only”) is “ba”.

We use this after asking a question.

So for example if you are going to ask if a person will eat, it goes like this “ka-kain ba?”, of if going to jump “ta-talon ba?”

buh buh buh buh – buh buh buh buh”. Hehe

Ha ha JJ, ha ha (or should I say, ha hahaha ha? 

When I started reading your comment, I was already forming a response, and then you stole it from me.  

Almost the exact same story from an independent source. 

I suspect many others have virtually the same ba baba story.  It’s too funny to forget.

You have to know when to say ba and when to say baba ba.

Years ago when my wife and I were courting, we went to her office here in Manila and went up to some high floor in the elevator.  

Later, when we were going down, the car stopped, the door opened and a Filipino guy started that exact conversation with us: ba-baba ba?  (English meaning, “Are you going down, now”)

Of course, my wife, Mita’s answered to the affirmative,  “ba-baba” (since we were, after all going down).

The guy just stood there, the door closed and we continued down to the lobby.

Later, I confided to her, “I seriously doubt I am ever going to learn Tagalog, it’s all these ba ba ba ba sounds that sound so alike to me.

She explained the conversation, but then as the meaning of the words became clear the really mysterious part came to me.

I’m OK, I get it, about the ba’s and the baba’s and such, but here’s the part that I don’t understand.

Why didn’t the guy get on then, since we were going down?”

Her reply was, “Well, of course, he didn’t get on and go down, because he was going up.”

As my old mentor, Mr. Spock would have said, “Not logical, Jim.”

Over the past few years, I have wasted I don’t know how many words and hours on this because it’s the part of Philippine culture I will never understand. even if I became competent with the language.

Why would the guy ask if we were going down if he actually wanted to go up?

I see this happen day after day if you look for it.

Maybe it is related to the “glass half full, glass half empty” philosophy argument, or maybe I am just reading too much into it … but you see if I was that guy waiting for the elevator and I wanted to know if the car was going up because I wanted to go up, I would have asked,

“Going up?”

I mean, wouldn’t you?  You’re standing and waiting for an elevator car to come along, wouldn’t you naturally be thinking “Hey, this is the one” and ask if it is going up to confirm?

It’s kind of like ingrained in me and most Westerners I know, you typically ask a question phrased so that the answer will come out yes … if that is what you want.

Say you’re waiting for permission to proceed with something … what do you typically ask?  “Am I Finished”?  Or.“Am I good to go now”?

I mean, unless you want to keep on waiting … maybe you are staring at the receptionist’s legs or something else along those lines, ;-).

You certainly wouldn’t pipe up and ask, “You still want me to keep on waiting here, don’t you”?

Of course not.

Here, in the Philippines (and maybe this is related to my philosophical “meek” dissertation, or my story about the daring Philippine airline ticket print out the other day. it seems there are a lot of people who have a subconscious need to be told no … to reinforce the kind of hidden mindset that ‘good things never happen to me’, or something like that.

Someone will go in a store, looking for something, and the question will be phrased like, “You don’t have butter, do you?”.

I’m Different

I go up to the clerk and ask, “Can you help me find the butter, please?”

I guess my thought process is, if the answer is “wala” (there is none), they’ll tell me quick enough, no sense starting out unsuccessful in my search before it even begins.

Who knows, even if I think at first they don’t have butter, maybe I’m wrong and they do.

There’s More To It Than a Simple Yes or No

There’s also a subtle but very powerful component to this way of phrasing things.  Any good salesman knows the principle intimately.   Always phrase questions in a way to help the other side of the conversation say “yes”.

People like saying yes.  It’s psychologically easier for people to say yes.  Getting, and keeping, the other person saying ‘yes” leads to positive outcomes.  This applies equally to selling a car or finding butter when you are in the mood for a butter on your morning pandesal.

And asking if someone does not have something makes things difficult in another way.

It leads to “double negative” type confusion.  If you ask, “Do you have bananas”? and the answer is “No”, then fine, they have none.  The outcome of the conversation is easily understood on both side.

If you ask something like “You don’t have any bananas, do you”?

Well, you have just set yourself up for a misunderstanding.  If the answer is “yes”, does that mean your query about bananas was correct and they actually have none?

Or does it mean, yes, they do have bananas and actually your assumption was wrong.

“Yes, we have no bananas” as the old song says. This drives me a bit bananas myself, really.

It’s Not “Just a Filipino Thing”, Either

And in case you think this is a Filipino-only observation?  Over the years I have had a number of questions flow to me here at PhilFAQS that are phrased like, “I can’t stay more than 30 days without a visa, right”?  

Well immediately my thought process starts me wondering, Do you want to be told no?  Or do you want to know a way you can stay longer than 21 days?

This Is Important

Moral of the story?  Ask for what you want, not for what you don’t want.

This may sound like a bunch of hokum to some of you, but you can trust me on this.

It is a powerful, easy, free technique that can make your life a lot easier to live.

Actually, and this is completely unscientific, of course, but as I was writing this I was mentally cataloging some of the successful and forward-looking Filipinos I know, and know what?

I bet most of them would have asked “going up?’ if they wanted to go up.



How would you ask?

Don’t Ask For What You Don’t Want.

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