Kumusta? This greeting is what we all expect to hear from friends and family when we meet them back home after a long period of not seeing each other. But that might not be the only phrase we’ll hear from loved ones and neighbors when we meet them during our vacation to the Philippines.
“Dumating na pala ang balikbayan!”
In a real sense of description, this phrase delineates what someone just saw: you. It can also be expressed as “dumating ka na pala!” But when you are described as a third person (balikbayan), it could mean something more profound.
The term balikbayan, which means someone who returned to his or her homeland, may connote someone well-off. Depending on one’s interpretation, this expression might range from a genuine welcome greeting to the description of someone with elevated financial status.
Of course, the true meaning lies within the context of how it’s being used. To have a pleasant holiday season, it’s best to treat it as a merry way to reunite with long-lost loved ones.
“Uy, tumaba ka!”
For someone who hasn’t been to the Philippines for a long time, you might observe the constant push of beauty and wellness related products and services. It’s not difficult to find massage and haircare parlors, whitening pills and ointments, weight-loss tea, coffee, and supplements, as well as shampoo and skin care commercials.
The Philippines, in the author’s opinion, is a country obsessed with beauty pageants. A local bet winning the Miss Universe is anticipated annually. Every minute detail about the Binibining Pilipinas winner can be worthy of a tabloid story or talk show topic. No wonder these beauty queens become highly sought-after product endorsers. And also, it’s no wonder body shaming has been inculcated into the Filipino culture that OFWs might feel insulted or shamed when they hear they got darker or fatter.
“Wala ka pa bang boyfriend/girlfriend?”
It’s sometimes inevitable for other people to interfere and influence your plans in life. With peer pressure in high school or college, it’s not uncommon for a boy, and a girl could end up being together as a couple. Now that sort of pressure is expected to build up that you are at the right age and armed with financial security. Those working abroad might find creative answers to counter this 60 million dollar question.
“Career muna ang focus ko Tita”
“Hindi pa kasi dumating si Mister Right”
But they also need to prepare for the upcoming rebuttals, as if you don’t know them yet.
“Tumatanda ka na!”
“Naghihintay na ng apo si Mama mo”
“Si ____ na lang!”
Worse, agitated ones might add fuel to the fire, as if insisting that being unattached is a mortal sin.
“Bakla/tomboy ka ba?”
“Magpapari ka yata.”
Returning OFWs might be better off brushing off these comments before it could escalate into a heated argument that will spoil your holiday mood.
“Bakit wala pa kayong anak?”
Not all who wish to have children can bear children, no matter how they try. This outcome is especially true for OFWs who have been separated from their spouses for a long while. For balikbayans who haven’t got the chance to become a parent yet, such a question may be hard to answer.
The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country where “going to the world and multiply” happens not only to married couples but teenagers. Thus, being childless is often associated with the use of contraception than infertility or other medical conditions.
Answering this question might be best executed with silence and reflection rather than confrontation along the lines of “it’s none of your business.”
“Saan ang pasalubong/regalo ko?”
Balikbayans are expected to bring joy to all members of the family, extended family, including neighbors and children who suddenly call you godmother or godfather. So when they ask this question, it’s joyous anticipation to receive the gift of any kind: chocolates, crisp dollar bills, or anything with any trace of being imported. In the old days, this is more prevalent, but recent free trade agreements helped bring in products made abroad. Therefore, there are fewer items made overseas that you can’t find in the Philippines.
Some of those who ask this question might not even be asking for gifts, but a gesture of welcoming you back. Of course, if you hand over a bottle of Duty-Free whiskey or keychain as a Christmas gift, that’s well appreciated. Filipinos are generally a grateful bunch of people, so even if you don’t end up gifting them anything, they’ll still be happy you’ve made it back safely. Be wary, though, as some people may label you “kuripot” or have forgotten them already if you fail to extend them something.
“Kumusta na kayo ni ___?”
Your Filipino friends or family members are often fond of love stories and willing to keep track of your childhood crush or first love. Where is she now? Why did you break up and why it didn’t work out? Everyone wants to know how the story went, direct from the horse’s mouth.
Inspired by the popularity of Korean TV dramas, they could relate episodes to you in real life. Whether they are genuinely tracking how is your love life or fishing for some gossip, talking about crushes, or first loves to bring back happy memories.
You might also want to reminisce about these stories from a distant past, don’t you? After all, we all wish for that happy ending story scripted just for us.
“Balita ko ang yaman mo na!”
There is this common stereotype that being an OFW is a ticket to building immense wealth. So this cliche exists!
It’s often accurate to say that jobs offered abroad are paid higher wages than in the Philippines. But better-paid salaries are also accompanied by the more expensive cost of living, including outflow remittances and other expenses even out.
So when someone blurts out this expression, he or she might mean you are indeed wealthy by the looks of your fashion choice or ability to go for international travel. Not necessarily, you are more prosperous unless you managed to showcase your fleet of sedans and build your own house in an exclusive subdivision.
You might choose to respond with “mayaman ako sa mga kaibigan na tulad mo.” That’s because wealth isn’t measured only by the number of digits in your savings account or cars in your garage.
“Nag-Dubai lang, ang yabang-yabang na!”
Neighbors who think they deserve a bar of Toblerone from a returning OFW and did not receive one might instantly turn into whining crybabies. These are the same people who did not contribute anything to make the OFW dream happen, and but feel a sense of entitlement.
If ever they received a chocolate bar, they’ll pour heaps of praise — “gumanda ka na ngayon.” Otherwise, you might expect them to accuse you of being snob who refuse to look back where you came from.
“I-apply mo naman ako kahit janitor man lang.”
A friend who sees you succeed might be inspired and wish to follow your lead. Even if that means he or she’ll be willing to take the lowest-paid role and work his or her way out towards success.
Your friend might have tried and failed in their plans to work abroad. He or she might have been conned by an illegal recruiter or cannot afford the high placement fee. Or your friend may have had a stable job and dismissed the idea of going abroad. But later, he or she saw no progress financially or career-wise. Now that you’ve become a testament of success by taking the risk and working abroad, they also wish to be the same. So asking for your help might be a desperate appeal for help to get rid of an unhappy workplace or lack of career development.
A janitor is often portrayed as the most basic job available and paid low wages. But those who take up this job carry a lot of character: humility, hard work, and diligence. No wonder there are lots of stories about honest janitors and those who ended up with successful careers. So we hope they are used as an example because of their character.
“Magpakain ka naman.”
Unlike in many cultures overseas where friends invited to a celebration often bring food or pay for what they consume, OFWs who encourage people over are expected to pay for everything. While it sounds shameful to invite someone for dinner and ask him or her to pay for your food, this is widely practiced within the Filipino culture.
Thus, don’t be offended when someone demands “magpa-burger ka naman.”
OFWs and balikbayans are more than willing to treat their friends over pizza or buffet feast if that’s the only way to gather them around. So much so that they’ll go to greater lengths to make the experience even more memorable. Food gathers everyone to the table, so this request is a fitting “paglalambing” to someone who has spent a long time away from them. Treating everyone for a meal isn’t only a way to gather and share stories, it’s also a way to share blessings and be thankful for the opportunity to work abroad and return to the warm embrace of family and friends.
Families treat returning OFWs with genuine hospitality by offering them to use the only room with aircon, cooking their favorite homemade dishes, and other perks. So a burger joint treat is just a small request every grateful OFW should oblige.
“Pwede bang mag-caroling sa inyo?”
It might be understood as “I expect a gift from you, but I’ll also work for it.” Certain friends understand the struggle and sacrifice associated with working overseas, so asking for gift outright sounds like a shameless demand.
Of course, this could easily be a joke now that it’s Christmas season. But if not, have them prepare their carols, and you prepare your presents or dollar bills.
“Ang dami mo nang utang sa inaanak mo!”
If some parents find their children’s godparents nearby unable/unwilling to give gifts to their godchildren during Christmas, they can wish for a more generous attitude from their OFW godparents. Calculating the years of absence prompts the parent to remark such expression.
As an OFW leaves the Philippines to pursue a job abroad, his or her role as a godparent is diminished in terms of offering guidance. But he remains effective in offering prayer to the godchild. But some parents find them more desirable because of their material gifts such as imported toys or financial assistance.
So when someone makes a remark that you owe a lot of gifts to your godchild for the number of years you were away, offer a candid reply, especially if you’re told the present you provided isn’t enough. Accepting the role of a godparent is mainly to take an interest in the child’s proper upbringing and personal development, to offer mentorship or claim legal guardianship of the child if anything should happen to the child’s parents. That role doesn’t include mimicking Santa Claus and feeling indebted for failure to offer material assistance during a long tenure of work abroad.
Sometimes balikbayans and OFWs feel a bit overwhelmed when they arrive in the Philippines. Many of them are accustomed to the culture of their country of workplace that may be different from what they experience in the Philippines. So families or friends should never feel rejected or alienated if they get an unexpected reply from their Christmas greetings or remarks. OFWs and balikbayans have been exposed to a broader spectrum of cultural experiences and choose what they think and believe is correct and appropriate.
The key to a happy Christmas reunion is respecting everyone’s views.