Advice to Pinoys working or studying in the US for the first time
Someone on one of my Philippine-based teams is going to be studying in the US for a quarter in 2024, and I offered to share some cultural advice/reflections to her prior to her departure; I figured it might be a fun post to open-source & share more widely, so here goes…
In no particular order — and being super explicit, even if some of this is obvious — as that’s kinda the whole point of this post:
- In American culture, it’s common to ask “How are you?” (e.g. when walking past each other on the street or seeing each other for the first time in the morning). If you respond with more than 3-5 words, the American will likely to start to feel uncomfortable, as they likely don’t really care how you are feeling. (That is, unless they ask a follow-up question to your initial response.) “How are you?” or questions about the weather are basically the American equivalent of saying “good morning” or “good afternoon.” 😉
- Americans are direct. This can often be misinterpreted (e.g. by my Pinay wife!) as rudeness, but it’s not that for the most part. Sometimes, we are just really busy, focused, or stressed! Especially living & working in America, where time is super scarce. (Sometimes, Americans are just rude AF too; but this one is tough to generalize and very context-dependent.)
- Attitude towards time — in America, time is money! If you’re more than 7 minutes late to a work/semi-work event, it’s generally considered rude, with some contextual exceptions of course (e.g. weekend brunch with co-workers). People drive aggressively to shave 5 minutes getting from A to B just a little faster; if you’re on a sidewalk/entryway lingering (e.g. blocking the way), it’s not considered super-rude by American norms to just kinda plow into you; work meetings/calls are expected to start & end on time, because people got sh*t to do. 😜
- Safety. America has very high, legal gun ownership and some cities are rife with extremely scary “red light” district areas and areas with large, aggressive homeless populations. I know, they don’t show you that in Hollywood/Netflix movies! Be careful, y'all!
- Personal space — you should imagine that all strangers/people on the street/people in stores have an invisible, 3-foot air bubble that encases their person. It’s actually culturally rude to “invade” that space with your own body! Hard to explain, but hopefully you get it…
- Climate — For the most part, the air is a lot less humid than the tropical Philippines, bring extra moisturizer otherwise you might be wondering why you’re itchy all over! (Florida/Deep South is probably the exception here though.)
- 💯Grocery store tier list — Best-in-class in terms of value for money: Trader Joe’s, alta at mahal: Whole Foods, medyo masa pero ok naman: Safeway/Nob Hill, medyo chaka best to avoid for non-canned/manufactured foods: Walmart.
- Health insurance — don’t get sick in America! Especially without health insurance, it’s like the #1 cause of bankruptcy. Health insurance companies are super politically connected & corrupt AF. Out-of-pocket costs (e.g. the price to those with no health insurance) for a Tylenol in a hospital is like $300 if you’re admitted.
- National Parks — an amazing institution & America’s “best invention.” Visit! They are free/extremely affordable and even have great camping/lodging options in the parks. Yosemite is my personal favorite!
OK those are the main suggestions!
Here are a bit more random thoughts, depending on your particular interests:
- Pick up sports — are quite intense/competitive in the US; American culture has quite strong militaristic undertones and, it has to be said, is overtly competitive/violent
- Online dating — very much a thing/expected for ages 20-30+, and really not stigmatized like it is by Tito/Titas of Manila. The basic stereotypes for each app/site as of 2017: Tinder/Grindr — for hook ups; Coffee Meets Bagel/Bumble — for more intimate/serious/intellectual tie-ups; OKCupid — somewhere in the middle, ostensibly data-driven
- Do a little bit of import/export! Many local, Philippine distributors have exclusive importation monopolies on most luxury, manufactured items for which they add 30-70%+ margins. Grab yourself some Aeron chairs, Sperry shoes, Tempur-Pedic mattresses, Dyson devices, Apple devices — chuck ‘em in a balikbayan box and get that 30-70% for yourself! (Note: I don’t know how legal this is…and just make sure you’re aware that the Philippine electric grid operates at 220V vs. the US 110-120V.)
Overall, and most importantly:
- Enjoy & take advantage! America is a wonderful place — still in many ways the land of opportunity, the dominant global hegemon (for at least a few more decades!) and the driving engine of economic growth. Make the most of it! Don’t be afraid to shoot your shot!