By Tony Samson

FOR HOST COUNTRIES, one desirable trait of Filipino expats working there is their ability to adapt to the local culture, with its unwritten rules and taboos. This integration involves the right accent and peculiar turns of phrase. (How you doing? I’m good.) Beyond this verbal skill lies the adoption of the local work ethic (Filipino time is thrown out the window), attire, and observing special holidays like Thanksgiving and getting excited over the Super Bowl.

This blending ability is mainly due to familiarity with the language. But beyond that, the Filipino abroad is a cultural chameleon that can effortlessly chuck his past baggage and readily take on new cultural habits like hockey madness and cheering for the only foreign team in the NBA. He acquires a taste for winter clothes and the intricacies of traffic rules as applied to crossroads.

The chameleon is a reptile that can conceal itself against his background by taking on the color of its surroundings as a defense mechanism. This same ability to blend into a new habitat comes naturally to us as a people. We would rather not disagree even with disagreeable people to avoid making a scene and attracting unwanted attention.

The entry of new top management in a large company requires a display of this chameleon talent. The old guard is not so much eager to please as loath to openly displease and be included in the list of redundant positions. They would rather be left unnoticed by adopting the new culture and attire. If blazers are preferred over grungy tops, then it means getting a new wardrobe.

It is not surprising in politics to find that the biggest party is always that of the victors — “oh so, derecho.” Those who switch to the winning side are not to be derided as turncoats, they are just out to blend in with the new power structure, the better not to be smashed for sticking out of the crowd, like a pesky nail that needs to be hammered. The chameleon is not an aggressive predator. It just wants to be left alone to bask in the sun and stick out its long tongue to catch careless grasshoppers for their protein.

Is it perhaps our four hundred years under four foreign powers (if you count two under the British) that have rearranged our national DNA to be accommodating to the powers that be?

During the 14-year martial rule, this penchant for accommodation (going along and getting along) kept the structure unchallenged for a long time. Relatives that had gone underground were not always treated as heroes even by their family trying to be under the radar screen of the authorities. They were not accorded hero status for their courageous and lonely struggle. Most of the time, student activists who went mountain climbing were perceived as dragging their families to unnecessary scrutiny. Only afterward were their stories and struggles elevated to heroic heights.

The reason over ten million Filipinos abroad do well enough to send back billions of dollars home is not just self-selection which favors the industrious and enterprising, determined to venture out of their comfort zone. It is also the ease with which they absorb the culture they find as they take pains to blend in and not be perceived as outsiders. Many even voted for the candidate rabidly against immigrants — oh, those are the newcomers.

This readiness to adapt to even the most difficult situations makes the country inhospitable to reform, including the struggle against corruption in all forms. For change to be considered, there must be deep-seated dissatisfaction with and raging anger at an oppressive state of affairs. This feeling of dissatisfaction goes against the grain of a culture that can accept chaos as part of life. (It’s just the way things are.)

We really have only two political parties in the country — the “winners” and the “losers”. As for the latter party, one can be assured that after each election, their ranks are decimated as the former party starts to gain new members. Those who refuse to join (or were rejected from joining) call themselves independent.

Still, even these outliers change their colors and start wearing blazers… waiting with their long tongues for the errant grasshopper.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.