October 03, 2015

Expats’ Guide: Understanding the Filipinos’ Mushy Side

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  • Yes, they love sentimental old songs and soap operas.

    Filipinos are a fun-loving bunch of people whose sentences are often punctuated by a hearty laugh. They abound with humour, love fiestas, and are all smiley and giggly that foreigners can easily feel at ease with them at hello. It is often said that in a crowd of people, you can tell who the Filipinos are by how they laugh – they know how to really do the LOL.

    But then there is also the other side, the Filipinos’ penchant for all things sentimental – from soppy love songs to melodrama shows and every other mushy stuff in between. Foreigners are amused at how Filipinos, in this day and age of One Direction and Iggy Azalea, are still able to sing (with complete lyrics and full emotion!) Air Supply or Patti Austin songs, from albums released a generation or two ago (they still get a good amount of air play).


    Photo from thedailypedia.com

    Except maybe for some millennials, practically all Filipinos know the lyrics of Stephen Bishop’s It Might Be You by heart (a staple at most proms) and some local Filipino classics that are mostly about unrequited love, heartbreak, and the like (with the singer’s voice so sad you could almost picture him or her crying while recording the song.)

    it might be you

    Ballads, ballads, the Filipinos just love ballads. (Left: Promo poster of young Filipino actor Daniel Padilla’s cover of the classic ‘It Might Be You’ in a love songs collection album. Right: International balladeer David Pomeranz regularly goes to the country to serenade Filipino concert-goers.)

    And how they love tearjerkers! In fact, one of the longest-running shows in local TV is a weekly drama anthology that features true-to-life tales of pains and struggles (with some occasional funny scenes that still tug at the heart) called ‘Maalaala Mo Kaya?’, or ‘Can You Still Remember?’ or ‘Is it Still Part of Your Memory?, translated literally. And sorry but local primetime TV (after the newscast shows are done) is all about one thing – soap opera! (or teleseryes or telenovelas in local lingo) Those nightly serials whose ratings shoot up when a major crying scene is shown, or when the protagonist is reduced to ashes (sometimes literally) only to rise up again like a phoenix, avenging a painful past filled with injustice and ill-treatment courtesy of the hateful mestiza villainess.


    Drama shows and soap operas are very much a part of the Filipino pop culture

    Cinderella stories are always a hit in the Philippines and so no matter how overly rehashed that plot is, Filipinos still patronize it, to the point that characters become household names or a brand line even. A good marketing strategy actually. So now, popular characters like Amor and Claudia (from a phenomenal classic Filipino soap opera that’s been recently revived) have become a collection line under a high-end fashion brand. This only means that soap operas in the Philippines transcend social classes.


    Iconic local soap opera characters have crossed over to the world of fashion brands

    And since much-loved Filipino (even Korean or Mexican) soap operas of yesteryears are revived featuring younger generation of actors, mom and daughter have something common to talk about. Ain’t that sweet!

    Some expats even comment that even some Filipinos guys can be quite in touch with their feminine side (the emotional side that is!). From talking about sports, cars, and women, Filipino men do not find it hard to share a thing or two about their personal struggles (sans the crying please) without them losing their machismo. Something most foreigners do not find comfortable doing.

    This predilection to all things sentimental can be traced to Filipinos’ sense of passion and attachment to their past long gone, or future yet unseen. They are always drawn to things that make them touch base with the things that matter to them, inspire and strengthen them – love, family, dreams, struggles, triumphs. If you will check the country’s history, you’ll know how it went through a great deal of oppression for a number of centuries under the hands of some colonizers and so this thing with sob stories that they seem to have is actually deeply ingrained – throughout generations. Filipinos can identify with the underdog, they know how it feels and what needs to be done about its pitiful plight.

    But then again, balanced off by their love for fun and laughter, the Filipino character as a people is much like the soap opera characters they love – struggling but resilient, knocked down but graciously standing up, wiping tears off their faces, keeping their heads up as they flash a wide grin and say, “To heck with those emotions, life is still worth smiling about!” Because the Filipinos’ mushy side may look weak, but it actually speaks volumes about strength. The stuff that most soap operas and sentimental songs are made of.

    Article by Ingrid Soriano

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