On matters of culture: to give or not to give

Centuries ago (at least it feels that long), even before there was Facebook, I started this blog to sort of serve as my journal and confidante. I have read blogs where the bloggers say that they blog because they live for comments. Not me. Except when I write about updates where I ask for prayers, I blog because writing whatever comes to mind is therapeutic and having readers is secondary. I do not care if I am read or not because what I really like is to reread whatever I have written in the past and compare what areas in my life have I experienced growth and where I have not, based on the thoughts I have put down and the thoughts that are currently running through my head.  But then real life hit me between the eyes, and I stopped blogging for months. Well, actually, the real reason maybe because Facebook happened. After all, Facebook only needs a short sentence or a quote every now and then to keep the status message fresh and that does it for most everybody. But then I miss writing something longer.

In Facebook, some of my friends think that I do not reply to comments enough. I was told I should reply to show my appreciation of their taking time to read what I have written. But I guessed when you write to unload and not to be read or appreciated, then I am justified if I do not reply. I am just lazy that way but I appreciate the corrections and comments I get, and I am working on it by starting to click "Like" at least to let the commenters know that I did read their comments.   You see, I am not one of those people who can easily make friends or chat up anyone to have a conversation, so I am glad there are avenues such as blogging where I can talk about or share my thoughts on subjects that I'm interested in.

One of the subjects that turn the wheels in my brain is anything that has to do with cultural differences.  At breakfast this morning, while gobbling on some scrambled eggs and pickled green papaya, I overheard some colleagues talking about how it is such an important thing to let people pay for something rather than giving it to them for free or for a fraction of the price.  The rationale is that people tend to keep and value what they have paid for or worked for more than the things that were freely given to them.  Like an automaton, I butted in and vehemently stated that that statement is not entirely true! In fact in my case, it is almost never true.  Obviously, we usually butt in into other people's conversation when we hear something about which we have a strong opinion (or at least when we think so).  They were startled by my mini-outburst but they listened to what I had to say anyway. I don't go around thinking that I'll keep this or that thing because I paid for it with my own money. I easily let go of a lot of books that I bought but the ones I received from friends and other people as gifts, I never could find the strength to give away even if I do not find them that much interesting.

When I was a little girl, my uncle whom my mom and dad were sending to university at the time bought me a dress.  Years later, my mom who is very practical gave the dress to a cousin because the dress no longer fits me, but I cried until the dress was returned to me, I kept wearing it until it looked like a shirt rather than a dress in its shortness whenever I wear it. I also remember buying a branded pants with my first paycheck ever, and after a few months, a relative commented that it's cute and that she likes it and wants it. There was no hesitation, I gave the jeans away even though for months, my conscience kept bothering me about the price tag. The price tag that says I should have kept and used it for as long as I can.  In my closet is an old shirt. It is so old I can no longer wear it and appear respectable. I wash it every now and then when it gets moldy.  I treasure it because it was given to me by a mother-figure a decade and a half ago. In high school, I owned three Bibles, one that I bought myself and one that I won at a Youth Camp one summer, and another one that was given to me as a gift.  I no longer have the Bible I first bought with money  that I saved after skipping lunches and snacks for months to pay for that Bible, nor the Bible that I won answering Bible trivia questions. I am pretty sure I gave those away, or I might not have cared enough to make sure I packed them up with my other belongings after I left the city.   But I still have the one that I received as a gift.  I still use it even though  at my fingertips are all the Bible versions I could ever need. Call me sentimental but that is the truth and I am relatively sure that this is how a large percentage of Filipinos feel about things given to them compared to what they themselves paid for.

One colleague also told me that years ago, she donated something to a church and recently, she went there after so many years. And when she saw her donation, she exclaimed, "Wow! Buhay pa pala  ito!"  (Wow, so this is still being used until now!) "Of course it is. It is because it was given to us therefore we took good care of it,"  was the reply she got. Perhaps this has something to do with the shame and 'utang-na-loob' culture among Filipinos. It is not good manners to pass on to someone something that was given to you. Doing that is short of saying that you do not value the person who gave you that particular gift except when you're dying and you are bestowing it as some sort of an inheritance.  The opposite is also correct--that as much as possible, when you give a gift, make sure that you at least spend for it either with money or effort.  Everyone has his or her own experience with different cultures, and I am sure, there are also other forms of culture in the Philippines that are opposites of the examples I have given above.

This of course is not to say that we have to give everything freely at every opportunity but only to say that in my humble opinion, the belief that anything someone did not spend for is usually underused or undervalued is not true across the board. In fact, it seems to me that it is purely cultural.  In my limited cross-cultural dealings, I observed that the people who grew up in individualistic cultures are usually the ones with this belief. I am not also claiming that what is true for me personally is true for all Filipinos but I can testify that ever since I was old enough to have the capacity for observation, I have not observed or met any Filipino who, if given the choice to give something received as a gift or something s/he personally spent for, would choose to keep the one bought over the gift.

So where do we draw the line?  I do not in any way advocate dole out giving, but I also do not believe that the particular belief that something will not be cherished because it was not personally paid for by the recipient is a good enough reason to withhold gifts when we do have the capacity to give and the other party is hard up on contributing a counterpart.  Just a thought.

Now, I am thinking that it is not entirely true when I said I do not really care whether people  read my ramblings or not, because if that is 100% true, I would have written  this in Kalanguya where only a few can understand and I would be free to be as creative or bad as I want since no one would really read it except if I bring it to the attention of the few Kalanguuya friends and relatives who have access to internet. But here I am struggling to write in my fourth language and trying to avoid too much unnaturalness and wrong grammar. 

So now I have gone crazy over that conversation I sort of eavesdropped on and had to write a boring reflection about how unrealistic it is IMHO. I even obsessively forced random innocent bystanders (and by bystanders I mean my poor husband who could not care less) to pretend to care and do some opining with me.

I don't know!  Like I said, these are products of my momentary insanity so take it with a grain of salt.


Suzanne Jacobson said…
I like your thinking. :) I've said things like that before, that the item is worth more if it's bought... But, like you, I value gifts for the sake of the giver. If I don't value the giver, well, that's another story, right?

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