Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Dr. Jovy Miroy alerted me to the work of Judy Ick who (if I understood Jovy correctly) says that a certain way of speaking was promoted in the Philippines through theater, especially when the Americans were still hanging around. I have yet to get hold of her article but hearing that I had one of my "oo nga" moments.

The Ateneo called it eloquentia and was embodied in the likes of Henry Lee Irwin and is embodied in Reuter and Pagsi. Reading through The Guidon of old, theater was very much part of the life of the community. Students were also made to recite speeches in Latin and Greek. Debate was already very much alive back then.

Eloquentia was the sister of sapientia and these two were the cornerstone of Ateneo education.

In the 1970s, eloquentia and sapientia were replaced (by among others, Ben Nebres who gave a canonical speech questioning the thrust of forming Christian gentlemen) by persons-for-others, faith that does justice and all those other slogans we know so well today.

I think that debate is one of the last hold-outs from the past, but even then, the debate today is much different from the debate of yesteryear. I have a sense that the debate of the past was more play (there was even a balagtasan before!) and less competition.

Theater is still around but except for Sibol, plays emphasize the cadence of Shakespeare less than before. And of course, Latin and Greek were gone by the mid- 1960s.

Now, more than ever, I realize that the emphasis on eloquentia was formation and one could even say, leadership formation. One thinks of the Ateneo leaders of this country: Raul Manglapus, Dick Gordon, Tito Guingona. Orators and leaders.

Of course oration was also a way of creating distinction by providing instruction in a language that was not common leading to speeches where people end up saying, ang galing niya magsalita. (Note that the complement is best said in Tagalog. In English you usually say, "That was a good speech" rather than "You spoke well". In tagalog, it is the person, not the speech that is emphasized).

Jovy alerted me to the work of Ick because I was telling him that society today is not a knowledge society. It is a communication society where the people who get ahead (or are the very least included) are not those who know much or who have much substance but people who communicate well, who give a good performance.

I know so many people who get ahead because they have a certain manner of speaking (usually described as confident) even if the things they did of which they were asked to speak were hollow. In a communication society, it is not substance that matters but the manner of speaking. (To be fair, Saint-Exupery points this out near the beginning of The Little Prince).

The Ick reflections make me wonder if we teach our students how to communicate nowadays. I don't know of any college teacher who requires students to give speeches (or sermons) or perform plays or read their poems to the class. There is still an emphasis on writing but I don't know to what extent we teach that well either.

We could argue that the kind of communication taught before is elitist, which is true, but we are not even good at forming students to communicate to their fellow Filipinos (and so many of them cannot even write or speak, much less think in Filipino).

I think one of the last hold-outs is Sibol and you can see it in the quality of students from Sibol. I have had the privilege of teaching the likes of Nic Chua, Boyet Dy, Pao Abarcar and working with Luis Abad who is one of the best political speakers I know. Or you get teachers like Bobby Guevara or Henry Totanes.

Debate people get that training too and they seem to be able to build for themselves steep trajectories.

If society today rewards good communication, then we must train our students to be good people, good thinkers, good professionals who are good communicators. Maybe that is the best thing that education can do for our students.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Why Money Alone Does Not Make You Rich

The reason why we distinguish the nouveau riche from the rich is because it is not just money that makes the rich rich. Being rich is an entire manner of being that money cannot buy. Such a manner of being can only be acquired through upbringing, “good breeding”, so to speak which only comes with constant exposure from a very young age.

The nouveau riche give away their being nouveau in many ways. In their manner of speaking and degree of (dis)comfort with the language of the rich. In their degree of (dis)comfort (and the discomfort they generate) in the presence of “good” company. In their clothes which cannot replicate the understated wealth of the truly rich. In their manner of spending with their tendency to display their happiness at their newly acquired wealth. The truly rich tend to be frugal.

The children of the nouveau rich have a better chance of truly assimilating the culture of the rich as their parents invest their newly acquired economic capital into access for their children to “good” schools and “good” company.

A corollary to all of the above is that it is possible not to be financially wealthy and yet still acquire the manner of being of the rich. A child who enters a “good school” (especially in the early years) through a scholarship for example (or because their parents invest almost everything they have in a child's education), may develop a taste for “the finer things in life”: poetry, travel (abroad), “good” books, classical music, theater, art and all the other things that are signs of cultural distinction.

Next Post: Friday, 12 October 2007. Practical Mastery
I am running out of things to post! :-)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Effort, Effortless

* This breaks the flow of the recent essays. Back to habitus.

It is easy to think that self-advancement is only possible through hard work. The reality is that successful self-advancement is possible through a combination of hard work and good strategy with an emphasis on good strategy, rather than hard work.

It is a strange phenomenon, for example, that obtaining a Masters degree in the Philippines is infinitely more difficult than obtaining a Masters degree (anywhere) abroad. I have experienced firsthand and witnessed through the experiences of my friends the difficulty of obtaining a Masters degree in the Philippines. On the other hand, I have heard from my friends and former students that obtaining a Masters degree abroad is easy. I have heard stories of how masteral work abroad is comparable to undergraduate work in the Philippines, theses being the equivalent of long essays submitted in local universities. Of course, it is the getting there that is difficult, which is why those with deep pockets or good connections get further ahead compared to those who only have brilliant minds in terms of being able to enter prestigious universities even if these students who are economically or socially endowed may not possess the sharpest brains in the universe.

And yet despite the fact that local Masteral degrees put you through the wringer while courses abroad are relatively easy, it is the foreign degree that has more economic and social value. Good strategy trumps hard work in this case.

In many fields, hard work is not even to be associated with a demonstration of technical knowledge or technical skill but could take the form of giving a “good performance” (even if that performance has very little substance) or good relations (social capital is after all capital that takes effort to accumulate) or good presentation of the self (which is why people say socially processing their bodies to make themselves “presentable” takes a lot of hard work). All of these investments pay off more than a demonstration of technical knowledge or technical skill not because of the amount of effort put into them but because to begin with, they constitute good strategy.

Next Post: Friday, October 5. Nouveau Riche

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Social Limits to Equity

Almost 10 years ago I read a book by Fred Hirsch entitled The Social Limits to Growth. My reading of the book is that it is essentially a critique of socialism which, according to some interpretations, strives for equality of all.

Rather than approaching the problem as that of the impossibility of designing a system that will generate economic equality, Hirsch asserts that the true limits to socialism are found in what he calls the social limits which I take to mean is the impossibility of social equality.

Humans have a natural need to distinguish themselves from other humans not merely in the sense of difference but in the sense of hierarchies. In Hirsch's architectonic, humans struggle to distinguish themselves vertically from others, to set themselves apart on another, higher level relative to others.

Therefore, the whole notion of economic equality is bound to fail because people will resist attempts at generating homogeniety by placing everyone on a single level. Such homogeniety can only be enforced through force (and even then, the fact that there are those who control that force and there are those on whom that force is applied already denotes inequality).

Softer approaches call for growth with equity and the most popular form of this is the basic needs approach. The call here is not for equality but for all to have access to certain basic needs. Hirsch's argument here is that this is all fine and dandy but the consequence of ensuring basic needs for all is the need for those who always had their basic needs to feel the need to re-establish some measure of distinction from those who are newly non-poor. An analogy here is that when minimum wages are raised, everybody's wages have to increase because heirarchies have to be maintained. So the consequence of ensuring basic needs or raising minimum wages is that while poverty defined by some “objective” standard is addressed, it will never ever be able to erase the whole notion of some being (relatively) poorer than others.

Next Post: Friday, September 28.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Competitive Filipino

Filipinos are a very competitive people but they fail to recognize it. They criticize it in others and even identify a phenomenon for it (the talangka) mentality but they fail to recognize it in themselves.

One phenomenon that has not been adequately explained is the phenomenon of Filipinos doing better in other countries than in their own country. I think this can be accounted for by two things.

First, people in other countries are not ashamed to admit that they are competing, and in fact, people are encouraged to compete. There is no effort wasted on the act of misrecognizing competition. Competition is laid bare for all to see.

Here in the Philippines, relations are never viewed as being competitive (except for the higher levels of competition, ex. for an award, for a promotion). That is why a person who is considered competitive is looked down upon. That is why exhortations are made for the values of pakikisama and pagkakaisa usually by the dominant who try to forestall competition.

But the reality is that the state of competition is everywhere in the Philippines (made more intense by the fact that it is misrecognized). We see it the talangka mentality. We see it in the propensity for backroom gossip and personal commentaries even during work hours. We see it in classroom settings where students who are excellent are considered arrogant/ mayabang. We see it in the competition for space on the road and in public utility vehicles.

Second, there are a great number of competitors in the Philippines, referring not principally to the population size (but of course that also matters) but to the size of the population who are neither “above the competition” (i.e. above a certain level of competition) or who are too weak to compete. In other countries, most people are competing on another level and the Filipinos who enter do not compete on that same level and on the level in which they do compete, there are very few people (ex. nurses, caregivers, maids; occupations which the locals shun). It is also true that within the level they compete, they are ascendant for various reasons (because they know some English and they are maalaga or maybe because their salaries which are relatively smaller than the salary of the locals mean more to them than it means to the locals (who are surprised that Filipinos are willing to work so hard for so little) and so they work harder).

Next Post: Friday, 21 September

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Unconsciously Competitive

There are some people who strike others as being competitive. But among those who are identified as being competitive, there are those who would deny that they are competitive. At first, I thought those who seem competitive but deny that they are competitive are merely projecting themselves in an acceptable way but know they are competing. Now I realize that they really think that they are not competing. Now I realize that they really are competing despite their sincere denials.

To some extent, the old adage, beauty, or in this case, being competitive is in the eyes of the beholder and now I realize it also is. Those who brand others as competitive are competitive themselves, otherwise the branding would be an irrelevant act not worth making. But the competitiveness of the labeler does not detract from the fact that those perceived as being competitive are really competitive.

Those who are competitive (and isn't everyone competitive?), who sincerely think they are not competing believe that they are merely behaving as they think they ought to. They are merely acting out their social position, walking down a path that seems absolutely natural for them to take. Without realizing it, by acting out their social positions and by walking down the path that is laid out for them, they are competing in so far as their actions have consequences on their share of the market for economic capital, social capital and prestige. When others think that the actions of these individuals leads to certain consequences in terms of the market for various resources, then they are branded as competitive.

The natural defense of those labeled as such would of course be to say things like they are just doing their jobs, or they are misunderstood, or they are victims of envy, or they aren't doing anything wrong or any other kind of legitimation except for the naked fact that they are in the market for resources. But for these individuals who misrecognize their actions, their act of taking resources is simply like taking champagne from the tray of a waiter who offers the champagne to them. Reaching for resources (not even struggling for them) is a legitimate act which they would not consider competition.

The real winners in society are those who are acknowledged to deserve the resources that are in fact consider “theirs” for the having (not even for the taking). These individuals are not even seen by others as competing for resources. In their case, the misrecognition that all individuals are competitive is universal, affecting both the person whose entitlements are publicly acknowledged and the public that does the acknowledging.

Next Post: Friday, September 14. The Competitive Filipino

Friday, August 31, 2007

(Other-) Worldly Competition

It is possible to think of all individuals as being engaged in the struggle for valued resources, whether these resources be economic, social or cultural.

A strategy of those who have more resources than others and less than some is to contest the valuation of resources to make it appear that the resources that they have more of are actually more valuable than the resources that those who have more resources have more of.

More often than not, it is those who have more economic capital than others but less than some who find themselves in this position. Their natural response then is to ascribe to themselves some other form of distinction which more often than not is defined in direct opposition to a desire for economic capital. They proclaim themselves ascetic whether they be academics who perform the (thankless) social duty of reproducing the dominant classes and laborers for production; the artists who produce for arts sake; or the religious who forsake wealth in order to save souls.

In defining themselves as ascetic, they legitimize their lack of economic capital and think of themselves (and want others to think) as having won the battle (which they themselves defined and against whom no one else cares to compete).


To think that there are different kinds of resources for which people are in competition is to expand the reach of accumulation beyond the economic realm.

Some sectors say that they are beyond worldly concerns and yet in so doing, they have effectively accumulated prestige along the axis they defined which runs along the worldly- other worldly continuum, the other-worldly pole of which would be ascendant in their hierarchy.

This can be said of academics and artists and the religious who legitimize and valorize their position in society precisely by ascribing value to their otherworldliness. And yet in their wanting to ascribe value to themselves, they are accumulative as much as those in the economic sector.

And the accumulation does not stop with their positioning themselves vis-a-vis other fields. Within their field, they too are engaged in struggles over valued resources , which need not be monetary (positions of control, prestige) and in this they participate in the act of accumulation.

Furthermore, if we look at the actions of academics and artists and the religious, they too participate in the act of economic accumulation except that they find ways to justify and hide such accumulation. Academics will complain of the low salary from teaching and yet some will accept consultancies which pay a generous amount. Religious will speak of the poverty of the individual religious who owns next to nothing and yet live in orders which allow them to maintain their social standing.

But since their social position is defined in opposition to the worldly, they cannot explicitly say that they are in the business of economic accumulation. To admit that they desire to accumulate economically is to admit their subordinate position in terms of the market economy and to acknowledge that that is a criteria they choose to live by. And so they accumulate economically while professing something different rhetorically and their economic accumulation remains the subject of whispers far from the public rhetoric.

Contrast this with the economically dominant (especially those with something left to prove) who choose openly to donate to the other-worldly sector in order to enhance their other-worldliness by sacrificing some of their accumulated labor to demonstrate their capacity for other-worldiness (and detachment from worldly values) to obtain the values the other-worldly claim they have.

Next Post: Friday, September 7

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fear, Second Nature and Accumulation

"Accumulate, accumulate. That is Moses and the prophets! “Industry furnishes the material which saving accumulates.” Therefore, save, save, i.e, reconvert the greatest possible portion of surplus-value, or surplus-product into capital! Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake".
- Karl Marx, Das Kapital.

Those who have a lot of capital have a lot more capital to lose and that is why they tend to be more conservative. And yet at the same time, because they have more, they have a greater fear that they could lose everything they have and this drives them to need to have more which then leads to a viscious cycle of fear and accumulation.

Even in the absence of competition, most especially in the context of multiple sources of vulnerability (economic, life cycle, social, political, etc.) fear drives those with capital to accumulate more.

There is a second, more potent dimension which explains accumulation by those who have a lot and this is their predisposition to accumulate. This is a more acceptable reason than to admit being afraid and yet these dispositions are at the same time not consciously transformed into action.

Maybe if they were to work out the numbers (especially if money can work for them), they would realize that they need not accumulate more and they even have sufficient hedge against catastrophic events. But they still accumulate because accumulation is “in their blood”.

Their entire environment is their conscience reminding them of the need to accumulate. Their family environment of course is a main influence. Either they grow up in a poor family that has become rich and thus they imbibe the need to avoid a return to poverty, to run away from it, as it were, as fast as they can, as far away (even geographically) as they can). Or they grow up in a rich environment and they fear the fact that they have to find ways to re-create that wealth on their own.

Then they encounter others situated in other families with similar environments directly through schools or indirectly through the media. All these influences, of course, affect us all and we find ourselves embedded in a culture of accumulation whose origins none of us can adequately trace. We then take for granted that the products of accumulation defines a good life, and that the process of accumulation defines a good way of living.

We, the rich more than others, would then consider ourselves less of a person (a loser, a failed man, a wasted life) and living less of a life if we did not accumulate.

Next post: Friday, August 31.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


We identify ourselves consciously by our location at the present and also by our location in our past. But what others see in us (but which they often do not articulate, even to themselves) and what we more often than not do not consciously recognize in ourselves is the likely trajectory that our past and present social location and actions bodes for us in the future.

When others look at us, they get a sense of whether or not we will “go places”. They (think they) can tell our future by the way we carry ourselves (by our accent, by our “presence”, by our ability to interact with them, by our level of comfort with social situations, in the words that we say and the manner that we speak, by the things that we wear) and in doing so they decide (unconsciously) whether or not we are to be taken seriously.

To some extent, our past does not really matter in their assessment of our trajectories unless our deportment places us in locations where we would not be expected, either because we are too high for somebody with such a deportment (in which we would be a puzzle bordering on a mistake) or too low (which is rarely the case but if it were the case, then we would be considered a waste, sayang siya). The past matters only in assessing whether or not they can be comfortable with us.

To some extent, our disposition towards the future matters much more than the past, the question being how we intend to spend the capital we have accumulated in order to accumulate more capital. Those who have little capital are not expected to go very far and oftentimes they are blamed for having little capital to begin with. Those who have more capital are expected to have steeper trajectories and for them to choose not to maximize their capital would be considered foolish in the eyes of the world.

[I remember telling my father, who was at some point a small farmer, a jeepney driver and a gasoline boy that I was considering helping in the agrarian reform effort (inspired by my degree in Development Studies) and he said, Nagpakahirap akong pag-aralin kayo tapos babalik ka lang sa pinanggalingan ko. I eventually ended up teaching and he talked to my sister about me and told her that there's no money in teaching. It is only now that I understand where he was coming from. From his point of view, I was squandering accumulated labor. Parents know (unconsciously) that accumulation is the name of the game (To his credit, I knew I could count on him no matter what I decided to do. I did take Development Studies and I did teach and aside from those small pitiks, he did not really let me hear about it)]

Next Post: Friday, August 24

Friday, August 10, 2007

May ambisyon

Isa sa mga tinitignan ng mga magulang sa mga nanliligaw sa kanilang anak na babae ay kung may ambisyon ang lalaki na nanliligaw. Ang paghahanap ng lalaking may ambisyon ay paghahanap ng isang taong hindi kontento sa kanyang kinatatayuan kung hindi naghahangad ng mas mataas na lugar sa lipunan. (Kaakibat dito siyempre ang paghahangad na kumita ng mas malaki sa hinaharap)

Sa ganitong pamamalakad sa lipunan, hindi katanggap-tanggap ang isang lalaking kontento sa kanyang kinalulugaran lalo na kung ang kanyang kinalulugaran ay hindi naman itinuturing na mataas kung ikumpara sa ibang kinalulugaran. Hindi rin katanggap-tanggap ang lalaking mababa lamang ang hinahangad para sa sarili sapagkat ito'y isang palatandaan ng pagiging kontento. Hindi rin katanggap-tanggap ang isang lalaking mabagal kumilos sa pag-angat ng kanyang katayuan.

Nababatid natin sa ganitong pagpapahalaga sa lalaking may ambisyon ang kaayusan sa lipunan kung saan may kinalulugaran na tinuturing na mas mataas kaysa sa ibang kinalulugaran at nababatid rin natin dito ang pagturing na natural sa isang taong naising umangat ang kanyang katayuan.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Language, the biggest buy-in

Language appears to be the most natural thing in the world, and in that regard it is the biggest taken-for-granted. Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language knows that there is nothing natural about language. We might be tempted to say "foreign" languages are not natural languages but we must remember that what is to us a natural language is to others a foreign language.

To speak a language is to participate in a particular collective game whose rules are socially constructed. To say that the rules are socially constructed is to say that there is nothing natural about these rules.

At its very base, there is nothing natural about alphabets. Letters (unlike some sounds we make or reproduce) do not faithfully reproduce anything in and of themselves except "A" and "I" but I does not in any way look like any person who utters the word.

Beyond letters, words and sentences are even more complex creatures. English, for instance, betrays this fact more than other languages (German, for instance). It is pointless to ask for example why it is that e comes before i but not before c or why ___'s is possessive unless the word is it's. There really is no rhyme or reason for these rules. People are just taught to accept them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Game Ka Na Ba?

Rica Peralejo, a 26-year old actress, entered the Ateneo as a Freshman this month and the first issue of The Guidon for the school year (the campus newspaper) had a picture of her on the front page participating in group dynamics during the Freshman Orientation Seminar and looking like she was having fun. There was a part in an article by Boy Higad in The Katipunan which noted that Peralejo did not exhibit any “diva-ish” behavior during the Orientation Seminar.

To be 26-years old in a freshman batch whose average age is probably seventeen and to be a national celebrity in the midst of freshmen who on average are local heroes of their own school and to be “game” in participating at the Freshman Orientation Seminar speaks well for Ms. Peralejo.

Being “game” is very much part of Philippine culture. People are judged on whether or not they are “game”, especially in situations where a certain degree of informality or generosity of self is expected. To be “game” is to participate in the game in several ways, not just in terms of following the rules. After all, one can be part of the game and let everyone know that you do not like the experience. Then you wouldn't be “game”.

To be game, more importantly, is to want to play the game while playing the game and that takes a buying-in of the game itself. To be game is to (appear to) accept a collective game and in the process, accept a collective ritual. In the end, especially here in the Philippines, to be game is a symbol of one's acceptance of the collectivity itself.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Kinagisnan: Pagrorosario

Natanong ko sa isang nakatatanda kung kailan tinigil ang paggamit ng Latin sa misa (Gusto ko kasing malaman kung may kinalaman ito sa pagtigil ng pagtuturo ng Latin sa paaralan). Ang sabi ng nakatatanda sa 'kin, mga 1965/66 daw.

Maliban dito, nabanggit niya na dahil Latin ang misa at hindi rin naman maintindihan ng maraming tao ang pinagsasabi ng pari, kadalasa'y nag-rorosario na lang daw ang mga tao habang nagmimisa. Tinanong ko kung anong wika ang gamit sa pagdasal ng rosaryo, kung Latin ba at ang sagot niya'y hindi.

Nakakatuwang malaman ang konteksto ng pagrorosario ng mga matatanda habang may misa na paminsan-minsan nakikita pa natin hanggang ngayon (at kahit na pagsabihan na sila ng pari na hindi ito dapat gawin, patuloy pa rin itong ginagawa). Old habits die hard ika nila. Nakakatuwang isipin na ang pagrorosario ay isang pamamaraan kung saan naiintindihan ng karaniwang tao ang sinasabi niya sa Diyos.

Meron kaya itong kaugnayan sa pagkamalapitin ng Pilipino kay Birheng Maria? Kung sa pakikipag-usap kay Hesus kailangan mag-Latin, kay Maria, hindi ito kinakailangan at puwedeng kausapin ang mahal na ina sa salita ng karaniwang tao. Ito rin kaya ang dahilan kung bakit ang mga Atenista ay naging kilala na nagdadala ng rosario sa kanyang bulsa hanggang sa kamatayan?

Ngayon na ang wika sa misa ay naiintindihan ng karaniwang-tao, hindi na laganap ang pagrorosario habang nagmimisa. Sa panahon ngayon na ang Diyos ay minsan tinuturing na kaibigan, hindi na rin nakikitang kinakailangan ang formula prayers na kabahagi ng pagrorosario (Wala na akong kilalang Atenistang nagbibitbit ng rosario araw-araw). Ang bawat isang tao ay inaakalang puwedeng kausapin ng diresto ang Diyos na hindi nangangailangan ng pamamagitan ni Maria.

Kung meron pa kayong nakitang matandang nagrorosario habang sila'y nagmimisa, huwag na itong suwayin. Ang matandang ito ay nakikipag-usap sa Diyos sa wikang kanyang naiintindihan.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


I've been going over issues of The Guidon from 1956 to 1970 and doing so makes me understand a little bit what is meant by reflexivity. The Guidon of that period showed a world that was really different; debates making headlines, a strong American presence, Ateneans seemingly bolder than they are now.

While I read the articles, I notice things that are very different now or I notice things that began way back then or I locate individuals I know now in a different period in time and I understand them differently now.

If I step back from my thoughts, I begin to realize that while I am studying that particular period in time, I realize that I can only understand it from my point of view in the present. What I notice depends on that point of view. What I consider different depends on a definition of what is not-different. A person from that particular point in time might notice something different from what I did (or not notice what I noticed), much more a person from a completely different culture who is not an insider to the University even at the present.

So a reflection on the elements that I consider relevant to my understanding of the past tells me something about how I think at the present. I have a lens through which I see the past and yet, if I step back, I also become conscious of the lens itself through which I see, especially if I share with others what I see and they see something different.

In seeing something different, I begin to realize my way of being and my way of seeing that I have always taken for granted.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Arrneow Accent

Ateneans of an earlier age were well-known for their so-called Arrneow accent. Reading through the issues of Guidon from 1956 onwards, I realized that the accent came from the preponderance of American Jesuits from the New York Jesuit Province who volunteered to come to the Philippines and teach at the Ateneo. Looking through the yearbooks from 1956 to 1967, one could see that an overwhelming majority of administrators were Americans and that a number of teachers were also Americans. I guess boys who lived 16-17 years of their lives with these Americans eventually picked up the accent, most probably without really intending to. Now that most of the Americans are no longer around, Ateneans have managed not to inherit the accent.

Accents are indicative of where we came from. One of my all-time favorite movies is My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison where Harrison plays the part of a phoneticist who can tell where a person is from and has been based solely on their accent. Harrison asserts that, "Anyone can spot an lrishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue... but I can place a man within six miles. I can place 'im within two miles in London.Sometimes within two streets". Having lived in Thailand for seven years, I can pretty much tell if people are Thai even if they are speaking in English.

In the Philippines, especially in Manila, one can tell if someone is a probinsyano based on their accent. One of the professors in our school who knows how to speak French tells the story of hearing Filipinos speaking French at an airport with Ilocano, Bicolano and other Filipino accents.
We can tell more about where a person from the way they speak a language and not just the language they speak.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Secret Handshakes

I remember the movies of old where spies would greet each other with innocuous phrases and expect a particular response which would indicate that the respondent was the person being sought. And then of course there are the secret handshakes which served the same purpose.

I think all cultures have these codes for greeting others and the person being greeted can be easily thrown off balance if the response isn't what is expected. The Japanese bow and the greeted person must bow at the same depth as the other person. The Thais do not shake hands but wai (A bow accompanied by a Catholic-type amen gesture of the hands). Traditional Filipinos greeted their elders with a mano. Some cultures even expect males to kiss each other like females do (the Russians and the Arabs, I think).

There are some rules regarding greetings that are familiar to people within cultures. Ang hindi pagmano or not kissing an adult relative is considered an insult in the Philippines. Shaking the hand of an adult relative is relatively strange. (I don't remember ever shaking my brothers' hands to greet them Merry Christmas for example. Usually we give each other a hug or a pat on the back).

I remember one famous incident where an American President and a Russian President kissed each other and the American President did the unthinkable by wiping his mouth with a hankie after the kiss.

The only difference between spies and all these cultural form of greetings is that spies keep their codes secret while cultures do not. The greeting forms of all cultures, however, are codes no less which are as loaded with meaning.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Of Skirting Rules and Jewelry

Most of the rules we live by are not codified. In fact, if a particular practice is officially made illegal through codification and requires enforcement, the rule is weak because the presecribed practice does not come naturally to the collective.

A rule requiring students to wear IDs on campus is weak because it goes against the natural tendency of students not to want to wear their IDs for whatever reason. Even with guards posted at strategic points on campus, students sometimes still walk around without IDs or with IDs borrowed from their friends. The long list of students violating the ID rule is an indication that the ID wearing rule is weak. (Moralists beware: I am not saying that the rule is wrong. I am just saying that the prescribed behavior is not natural)

A lot of rules that are not codified are strong. There was a time when I sat on a committee tasked to institute a dress code in the University and one member suggested that there should be a ban on garish jewelry. My reaction back then was that students never wear garish jewelry implying that it must already be an unwritten rule among students that they should not wear garish jewelry.

This afternoon, while waiting for something at the administration building, I saw two girls wearing skirts from some school with a uniform. I realized then that I almost never see female students wear skirts in the university where I work. It must be an unwritten rule that discourages them from wearing skirts. I remember girls being teased, "Wow, mukha kang babae ngayon" if they come to school in skirts.

Some rules need not be written and these have become very much part of our taken-for-granteds. These unwritten rules are more powerful than any security guard lurking behind a post waiting for unsuspecting students who fail to wear their IDs.