I arrived in the States permanently at the age 23. I say permanently because when I was 12, I attended school here but moved back in the islands ‘til I finished College.
I thought I knew English and need no adjustment with culture and the American way of life.
I thought wrong…
I had to learn and still learning like the rest of you…
Ha? Come Again?
I remembered when I worked as a preschool teacher and my boss waved at me at the end of my shift and said, “ See you later.”
With a confused look on my face, I thought, “you must be kidding me, I gotta go, lady.”
Island Translation: Later means happening on the same day.
American Translation: Later does not have to happen on the same day. In the evening if someone told you, “See you later,” it can mean -see you the next morning.
I don’t Care
After church, my Auntie asked his son,” where would you like to eat?” He replied, while shrugging his shoulders, “ I don’t care.”
You don’t care, I thought. Your mother does so much for you. How can those words even come out of your mouth?
Island Translation: When you say, I don’t care back home. It means, you choose not to put any effort or time on something because you don’t find it valuable. It’s translated as Walang Pakialam. You rarely hear Islanders respond in this way because more than likely it might prove insulting to the other person. Instead they respond, “it’s up to you.”
American Translation: I don’t care means I trust you to make the decision for me. It conveys the meaning of “It’s up to you.”
I used to visit an elderly Filipino couple in their home as a Clinician and they would offer me their best prepared food but usually would end their sentence with, “I’m sorry, that’s all we have.” Or, they would apologize for the space of their apartment, “I’m sorry our home is small.”
Island Translation: We spoke Filipino/Tagalog during these visits and I obviously understood what the couple was saying but in English it sounded like they were just apologetic PERIOD.
In Filipino, the word pasensya na does not fully mean that someone is apologetic. It can be a humbling down of a well-prepared task (preparing food for example), giving the other person a chance to verify if the experience was good enough. At times, it truly means that the person is somewhat apologizing but mainly due to the discomfort they may have brought others without the recognition of any wrong doing .
“Sorry that you might not be comfortable in our tiny home but we love it nonetheless. “So, the word sorry in this example can mean more like,” Please excuse my ….(home, food, etc).”
American Translation: You’re sorry that your home is tiny? “You don’t have to be sorry,” is your response. Precisely the point-they’re not truly sorry ala American talk but simply concerned about your comfort. Since, there is no direct translation for Pasensya na in English, the word sorry is the closest call.
It’s Up To You
One of the most confusing language that Filipinos from the Islands use, especially to their nagging teenagers is the word, “ Bahala ka (it’s up to you).” I want to clarify that the context of using this phrase is when someone kept asking the same question (can buy this Nike sneakers pleaszze?) or seeking the same favor (can I go out with my friends) over and over again, hoping that the initial unfavorable response would be revoked. The parent in this example would eventually blur out the phrase, “ Ay Naku, Bahala Ka na.”
Island Translation: “Bahala ka na (especially when it ends with—sa buhay mo) is not the permission you are longing to hear. Many understand that this is like buying a home with the lowest price in the market. You end up being sorry you took the deal in the first place. Bahala ka na, is contrary to permission granted. It’s a test for you to honor the first response or suffer the consequences later on.
American Translation: Some may take this as the ultimate permission and celebrate ala fiesta style. Be very cautious 😊-“ Bahala ka na,” in this context might mean, “ok, it’s up to you”, in pure American translation but in reality, it warns you to-Better not do it!
I grew up being taught to be confidently humble. Two opposing poles? In the islands staying humble is a core character. A person who is arrogant (mayabang) is not a popular persona. One way to stay this way is to oppose flattery, say, if someone say, “You were the best singer on stage!” You would reply, hindi naman ( not really, and then maybe thank the other person for their kind words).
Island Translation: Someone who sound like they oppose flattery or keep themselves out of the spotlight may not always have hidden inferiority (some might) but is simply practicing humility as valued by their life teachers. They DO take kind words in but is trying to repel arrogance that might creep in inside them without this vigilance.
American Translation: If you tell someone, “ Wow, you have a voice of an angel,” and that person replied, not really (hindi naman). You might immediately view that person as someone who needs a boost of self-confidence or that they should embrace their talent more (could be in the case , just sayin’). In reality, it is possible to be self-confident and be humble at the same time.
There is so much more to learn about our language not just by interpreting words in English but interpreting cultural meanings that our words are trying to convey. It was fun writing this post 😊.
Tell me what other ways you had to learn to adjust to living abroad/in America? I would love to hear your story.
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