When Janet and I were engaged and spending hours daily chatting online or video camming, she would periodically express exhaustion and blurt out, “my nose is bleeding.” As a protective, soon-to-be husband I advised her get a wet wash cloth, lean her head back, and apply pressure. After all I had two kids and despite general parental incompetence did know what to do when a child had a nose bleed.
She’d look at me like I was nuts. She’d say her nose was fine and not literally bleeding, but her “nose was bleeding.” I didn’t get it but then again I didn’t understand lots of aspects of Filipino culture, such as why my lovely wife-to-be would be caught dead with a mope like me. I tried to keep such thoughts to myself.
She’d say her nose was fine and not literally bleeding, but her “nose was bleeding.” I didn’t get it but then again I didn’t understand lots of aspects of Filipino culture, such as why my lovely wife-to-be would be caught dead with a mope like me. I tried to keep such thoughts to myself.
“I am sorry, darling. I don’t understand.”
“I am exhausted from speaking English,” she responded.
“I see. And that gives you a nose bleed. Sometimes nose bleeds are stress related,” I assured her, again drawing from my vast parental expertise.
Again she looked at me like the idiot kano she knew me to be. “My nose is fine. My nose is bleeding is what we say in Visayan.”
“You mean it’s an expression?” She nodded. “Where does the expression come from?”
“I don’t know – it’s just what we say.”
“Does it have anything to do with nose size?” I had already noticed that Filipinas are obsessed with nose size and shape. They consider their noses, which tend toward the short and flat to be unattractive, whereas they believe that Western “long” noses are superior and coveted. I have never had anyone compliment me on what I view as my too Jewish of a nose but even before I met Janet I’d received numerous compliments from Filipinas regarding my long nose. It was months before I understood what they were talking about, assuming at first the interest in my long nose to be tied into the Western stereotype of the size of the nose equating to the size of another part of the anatomy. I would just thank them for the compliment and agree that it was “pretty damn long indeed.”
It took many conversations but finally I pieced together the idea that the girls generally hated their noses and loved our noses and it had nothing to do with the Jewishness of my nose, nor the size of that other anatomy part. I was a bit disappointed yet excited that one of the things I had always disliked about myself seemed so attractive to Filipinas. For that matter their short noses were very cute as far as I was concerned. It’s a win-win for everyone.
The same can be said of skin color. Mine’s white (very white) and pasty. To quote the old Woody Allen line, “I don’t tan – I stroke.” This made me as a teen decidedly conscious of roaming the beach where I reflected light like a bright white beacon.
Conversely, I discovered that Filipinas generally hated darker skin, especially if it’s on them. This leads to a booming industry in the Philippines designed to sell every Filipina umbrellas, sun screen and skin whitening products. Many Pinays carry umbrellas on the most beautiful and sunny days and they all use some whitening product apparently designed to turn them into pasty white Jews. The products don’t work and I have had many discussions bordering on arguments, trying to convince Janet that I love her dark skin and to please don’t think it ought to be lighter. My arguments make no sense to her since “everyone knows that white skin is better!”
And in the Philippines she is right. Actresses and models all look nearly Caucasian, billboards are Photoshopped to remove any melanin from the color of the billboardee. Many of the girls I spoke to online were unabashed in expressing their excitement at the prospect of having a long-nosed, white, blue eyed baby – and apparently having it with me.
“I can provide the ultra white skin and long nose, but forget the blue eyes,” I told Janet. “Just because Paul Newman had them doesn’t mean the rest of us do.”
I’d see Janet staring incredulously through the screen. “Who?”
The point of all this is that just as we Americans are delighted yet mystified by Filipino culture, they are equally mystified by ours. Janet’s English is excellent but American conversational English is a different matter. She’s much too nice or at least too embarrassed to admit she doesn’t understand something.
“It’s dollars for donuts,” I told her recently.
“Are you going around the corner to get donuts?” she asked.
“No baby – not what I meant.”
“How many dollars for the donuts?”
“No, no. It’s just an expression.”
“Oh, I see. What does it mean?”
I hesitated and finally said, “I have no idea.”
“Well, the next time you go around the corner, I want one of the ones with cream inside.”