Life in the Philippines is much different from life in the United States. I’ve known this the whole time I’ve been here, but it seemed just a collection of “different” things. I did not realize there was a theme behind the differences until just last night.
In the Philippines, you can get plenty of people to DO just about anything you could ever need or want (and some things you wish they wouldn’t!)
But you can not get many THINGS that you are accustomed to, or even some things you think are necessary.
So, lots of service, but no amenities pretty much sums up a lot of the differences I’m experiencing here.
For example, my husband and I entered the smallest Toys ‘R Us store I’ve ever seen. It was barely bigger than a gas station that sells snacks. But inside the doors there were at least 8 employees waiting to serve people. And three of them followed us around, offering us various toys. We’d take a look at a xylophone, put it back, and immediately have three similar items handed to us. (One toy piano for the same age as the xylophone, one xylophone of a different brand, and one xylophone for a younger age range.) It was wild. In the USA, you can often not even find one person to help you when you are LOOKING for someone.
And when we went with a local family to a hardware store in search of paint, we had five employees helping us. One was showing color cards of the different brands of paint they sold, the second was moving a display around so we could see it better, the third was climbing the shelves to get something from the top shelf for us to consider (and handing it down to the fourth employee on the ground), and the fifth was collecting the things we were selecting and making sure noone else touched them.
When we went to McDonald’s, the door was opened for us by the employee stationed beside it. Every register was open and had an employee behind it, even though most registers had no customers at them. Then after we ordered, there were more trays filled with food than the person who was still at the register could carry. So two employees came out to carry them for him. And when you are finished, you leave your tray and trash on the table, and a different employee would clear it and wipe the table. Oh, and if you ordered something additional in the middle of your meal, you just pointed out where you were sitting, and when it was ready it would be brought to your table.
But contrast that with the lack of amenities they have.
For instance, there is one mall close to the house that we have gone to several times. It has one bathroom. Just one, for the entire mall. (The ladies’ room has 7 stalls in it.) And in that bathroom, there is no toilet paper. (Toilet paper is a luxury item here, most people do not use it.) And no way to dry your hands after washing them. But back to service, it does have an attendant who mops the floor of the stall after each person leaves it. Most restaurants have facilities for washing your hands, but do not offer toilets. If they do offer toilets, there is no toilet paper.
The only thing you can get a free refill of is rice. No free soda refills, for instance. In many restaurants, there is no ice available so all drinks are room temperature (or cooler to start with, if they have a refrigerator the bottle came out of.) So even when you can drink the water, you pay for it, and pay again if you want another cup of it.
And at the paint store where we went with the local family, paint is sold already mixed. So either they have the color you want in stock that day, or they don’t. Period. There is no mixing it while you wait, the way it’s done in US stores. And the employee was climbing up the shelves to get the paint because all the ladders were intended to be sold, there was not one for the employees’ use. (Definately no OSHA regulations here!)
Stores also have no additional stock in the back room. Heck, there is no back room. Every foot of floor space they have is dedicated to selling space. Even the employee “break room” is in public view, tucked in a corner behind a tall display of something. So either what you are hoping for is on the selling floor, or they don’t have it. There is no “do you have this shoe in a size 7?” or other hopeful questioning.
Along those same lines, my host family has a maid, and a washing machine. In the USA, the washing machine would do almost all the laundry, and the maid would wash out something that was too delicate for the machine. Here, it is the opposite. The maid washes all the clothing by hand except for a few items that are too hard to force the water through manually.
And if a person can possibly afford it, she doesn’t walk anywhere – she takes a tricycle, which is a form of public transportation. It is a rickety sidecar attached to either a motorcycle or bicycle driven by the owner, and it costs 6 pesos to ride. It is considered better to ride in a tricycle powered by a human than it is to wear out your own shoes.
So to sum it up, I have to provide my own toilet paper, I have to visit several stores to find the right color of paint in stock, but someone here will happily bicycle me to where I want to go and someone else will hand-wash my underwear. Quite the opposite of the way we have things in the United States!