Wet Kano with Family

Say it Loud – I’m a Foreigner and Proud

A lot of expats and visitors to the Philippines get pissed off that many Filipinos refer to them as a “foreigner.” I have never completely understood the beef – we are foreigners. Most of us are not Filipinos culturally, ethnically, via language or by citizenship. So I have no problem being referred to as a foreigner – except when my wife calls me “that foreigner”:)

So I have no problem being referred to as a foreigner – except when my wife calls me “that foreigner”:)

The other clichéd name you get called in the Philippines is “Joe”. Walking down the street I have occasionally heard calls of, “Hey Joe.” I turn around expecting someone to start in on the old Jimi Hendrix tune, but no, they’re calling to (or at) me. Some “foreigners” are very offended by this, as if every street kid ought to know their real name, or come up to them and respectfully say, “Excuse me, Sir. Are you a foreigner? Is your name actually Joe? If not, can you tell me your true name so that my friends and I can yell your correct name as you and your inappropriately young and quite guapa wife, saunter by?”

For that matter the name I am most often called and that puts me off the most is “Sir.” In the Philippines seemingly everyone calls foreigners “Sir or Ma’am” or even “Madam.” “Good morning, Sir.” “Here’s your coffee, Sir.” “Would you like a date, Sir?” (ok, that’s a joke, Janet).

Equally sweet but odd, they call Janet “Ma’am,” at least when she is with me. I suspect, at 26, she is not called “Ma’am” when conversing in Visayan.

The whole thing would lead to giggle fests between me and Janet, with our calling everyone “Sir and Ma’am” all day long. Calling a 20-year old waitress “madam” illicits some odd looks.

On a related, though reversed note, Janet and I were in Thailand last April. Virtually everyone we encountered assumed she was Thai. They’d walk up to her and begin to speak Thai and she would look at them, speechless, like a deer in the headlines. Or they would come up and ask “what part of Thailand are you from?” I would have to be the one to say, “She’s Filipino.” They were all shocked and my wife hated it and never wants to return to Thailand because they refuse to recognize the fact that she is a foreigner.

And frankly I am no better when it comes to identifying nationalities. I worked for ten years with a woman and had no idea until I began to travel to the Philippines that she was a Filipina-American. To me she was just “the cute, small Asian woman” I worked with. Nor did I realize that the Starbucks barista I’d been getting coffee from and talking to for a couple years was Filipina. She’s now good friends with my wife and me.

Few of us are very culturally or geographically knowledgeable. Ask the average Amerikano high school kid to identify the Philippines on a map and they can’t. Hell, most probably couldn’t point out Washington, DC on a map either. For that matter, my son can’t find home without GPS assistance.

So Amerikanos – be proud of your foreigner heritage. There’s a lot worse things I’ve been called in life than “Joe the foreigner.”

9 thoughts on “Say it Loud – I’m a Foreigner and Proud”

  1. HA HA HA…

    I am well known for my objections to being called JOE. I do not hate the word, I already know that nothing insulting is meant by this universal racial slur.

    My greatest complaint about this term is that when you are speaking with a person who refers to you as “Kono”, you know right off that he only sees you as something other than a distinct personality, you are simply one of “those people” to him. It is a great barrier to true communication/cultural understanding.

    I have, on occasion, when drinking a little too much and with friends who already know me, speaking with a stranger the first time, after telling them that my name was Tommy several times… and they still address me as Joe, I preface ever sentence in reply as “well monkey” this or that. Got some VERY pissed off Filipinos doing that. But when finally challenged, they explaining, saying that this is the Philippines and Filipinos call people like you Joe, do not take it badly, I reply… I am from the USA and we call people like you monkey, do not take it badly. Surprisingly, at least to me, monkey is a vastly greater insult to them than they could ever imagine Joe was to me, but ya know, not a single one ever asked me.

    After living there so long, and the vast majority of my interpersonal contacts were with Filipinos, Filipino family those who I identified with, it shames me to think I belong to a culture that thinks shouting a racial slur at a passing stranger is OK. How far would I get if I were in Chicago shouting “NIGGER!” ever time I saw somebody I thought was from African decent? We all can imagine that dong this might be hazardous to our health, but why is such behavior endorsed even by authority in the Philippines? The obvious answer is that blacks have more political power than white guys in the Philippines.

    I have met many who think that this practice is “quaint”, a hold over from WW2. Both Filipinos and foreigners alike. Virtually all of both groups feel it is just a harmless activity. I will agree that I personally have never been injured, emotionally or financially by some incredibly stupid man addressing me as “Joe” in my presence. But, every time I hear it I think “This place is stuck in the 1940s, they are ignorant in the extreme” So in reply I either pity them, or feel shamed that I identify with them.

    1. I think you’re all over the map with this one, so I’m not sure how to respond. If it offends you, of course then it offends you. Me? I ultimately think it’s pretty harmless. OTOH, I don’t agree that it is similar to calling someone “monkey” or the “n” word. And I don’t understand the statement that blacks have more political power than whites in the Philippines. Like I say – you’re all over the map on this one.

  2. While “Joe” is a common way to say hello and is a rather ignorant holdover from WWII, and while I understand the historical context in which it is being used, I don’t aggree with the notion that nobody has done anything to change this outdated traditional greeting. Or better yet, in holding with this tradition of identifying somebody by their nationality or cultural heritage, then why are the kids not trained to first identify someone and call all Muslim males Mohammad, all Japanese men Suzuki, and all British guys by the name Harry. hile I personally fee it to be rude, iIt doesn’t bother me to be called “Joe”. And anyone with the birth given name of the same should definitely not be upset. It’s the Aussies, Brits, and Germans who should have the real beef as it not only signifies that they are a foreigner, it also accuses them of being American!

    1. Nice to see you, Randy! I certainly agree that “Joe” just lumps all foreigners together, or at least all white foreigners. They probably can’t tell the difference and guys from various countries have reported, “I am Polish and was asked what part of the U.S. Poland is in?” That is ignorance but probably not meant to offend. As i said in my piece, before getting familiar with the Philippines, I just lumped all Filipinos into the “Asian” category. I meant no harm by it – I was just ignorant.

  3. Nothing wrong with ” Hi Joe” it’s just a kind of recognizing your presence as a foreigner in that particular area.

    For ex. in School . A Kid notices that there’s a foreigner coming. So, he’ll tell the other kids and say ” look,there’s a foreigner.Then by the time the foreigner getting closer to them they will say ” Hi Joe” ( with smiles in their faces or shake hands) rather than saying ” Hi Foreigner” or “Alien “.

    The most important in this world is to learn how to appreciate & not just complain in a very puppy reason.

    1. Jannet,

      I am so very much more than my place of birth, my DNA, or my lack of local contacts. In fact, those things so adeptly pointed out by childish minds are probably some of the least important things, to me, to those who select to interact with me, to the information I posses, or what I want/need to learn.

      Of course “Hey Joe” is most often not a part of communication with that white guy, but a signal that the local scene has a new feature, a foreigner, as you point out. This says to me that “those boys” as you call them, not only do not feel that that new sight has anything to do with them on a personnel interactive level, but, that they have no interest in changing that position. Would it not be kinder, more courteous, to simply call to his own friends in a way that did not get that foreigners attention?

      I made at least 5 points that showed that shouting racial slurs is not in keeping with intelligent dialog. You ignored all of them, and instead made a broad claim that because you are not offended, that I should not be, totally ignoring that I am offended. How Filipino of you.

      1. Not that it necessarily matters but the post you are commenting about is 15 months old and your original comment and Janet’s reply are also from the Spring of 2014. So we had to get up to speed with what you were referring to.

        The fact that you are offended by being called “Joe” is of course your business and you wouldn’t be the only foreigner offended by “Hey Joe.” But claiming it’s a racial slur is a bit exaggerated. Janet tried to explain from a Filipino point of view why some Filipinos call out to foreigners. I am sure there are Filipinos who don’t think well of foreigners but in my experience they are in the minority.

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