When in Rome, do as the Romans do. – old adage.
My friends back home jokingly say “Arabo ka na nga”. Contemplating on what they said, I’ve to admit there’s a grain of truth in it. In almost two decades of working here, I can’t help but absorb some of the customs of my host country. I hardly noticed it since it seems ordinary and natural when I’m here, but it’s evident when I’m in the Philippines.
For instance, I pat my back pocket to check for my Iqama (residence permit) every time we go out. I’m in a hurry to finish any transaction before sunset. I lower my eyes when a lady gazed in my direction. I say “shukaran” (thank you) instead of salamat. And I use a hand gesture, which could be interpreted differently or perhaps rudely, back home. Weird? Maybe, especially the first three peculiarities, but not to someone who had a stint in the Middle East.
When two cultures meet, it’s a give and take situation. Filipino cooks, domestic helpers and nannies can influence an employer’s household. I once saw a local boy buying “patis” and I know of an Arab doctor who likes adobong manok and kare-kare. There’s a commercial district here that is “tambayan” of Filipinos. Most of the store owners knew a thing or two of tagalog if not speak the language fluently. They are even familiar of our regional stereotyping, like if you haggle too much, they’ll say “Siguro, Ilokano ka”.
We might not be aware of it, but we gave a part of ourselves. They might not notice it, but that’s our legacy to them. In a small but meaningful way we have “Filipinized” the Middle East.