So which is it? What is life really like in the Philippines?
Depends on where you live, of course. If you're in any of the provinces outside Metro Manila, life is quieter and simpler. But if you're in Makati, or anywhere else within the National Capital Region, this is what you should prepare for.
The "daily grind" is a grind, indeed.
Granted, traffic isn't a Manila-only phenomenon. Metropolitan areas tend to be jampacked, so it's something you learn to deal with.
However, in the Philippines where populations are as dense as urban planning is poor, you can really feel the effects of heavy traffic. During "peak" periods (usually before 8 A.M., and after 5 P.M.), vehicles can take several minutes to move a few inches. And if you're lucky enough to get on a bus/jeepney/train that looks spacious at first, it eventually gets packed with people in no time.
Plus, hiccups on Manila roads are considered normal. The LRT and MRT, for example, are notorious for stopping operations at the least convenient moments, and collisions between buses/PUVs/private vehicles happen almost every day.
How to Deal With It: Get up as early as you can. Add 30 minutes (or more) to your usual travel time to allow for traffic. Pack only what you need, and as much as you need, into your bag, so you don't have to worry about too many things at once. Have a backup route to your destination, and save local emergency hotlines on your phone just in case.
Cost of living is relatively low, but you get what you pay for.
You might've read on the Internet that US$1,000/month is enough to let you live like a "king" in the Philippines. In fact, even in Manila, it's possible to live for even lower than that. However, the "bargain" comes with a price too.
For instance, Metro Manila has many mom-and-pop restaurants where you can eat for much cheaper than, say, restaurants in Greenbelt or BGC. But since the former are less likely to be sanitary than the bigger establishments, you also have to be more careful when dining in them. Unless a hole-in-the-wall receives consistently good reviews from several, independent sources, you're better off shelling out a little more for increasing your chances of eating a healthy meal.
How to Deal With It: Before you jump on any bargain — online or offline — in the Philippines, do your homework. Research what makes a product/service "good" or "bad," and stack up the pros and cons against your budget. When in doubt, always go for quality over quantity.
Filipinos are different kinds of "friendly."
Finding a friendly Filipino is like finding ice on Antarctica. If you're the only Westerner in an office full of "Pinoys," expect them to always invite you for Happy Hour. They may even offer to foot your bill, especially when it's Pay Day!
Be careful about letting Pinoys spoil you, though. In the Philippines, there's a concept called utang na loob, which means that if you owe someone a debt of gratitude, you're expected to repay it with something that's of equal value, at the very least. Otherwise, you'll be considered walang utang na loob ("ingrate").
Also, Filipinos are very interested in the lives of others, regardless of how close they are with those "others." You might feel uncomfortable about getting bombarded with statements like "You're so (insert adjective here)!," or questions like "What's life like in (your home country)?" Usually, the people who do this don't mean to be malicious. They just have a different concept of "personal boundaries" from you.
How to Deal With It: Choose the "Happy Hours" you join carefully. If you accept a favor from a Pinoy, prepare to return it. Diffuse awkward, uncomfortable statements/questions with humor. (Filipinos love a good sense of humor.) Be nice, but firm, about asserting your personal boundaries.
You don't have to learn Tagalog (though it helps).
As you know, most Filipinos can speak, write, and understand American English almost as well as native speakers can. That's because Filipino children are taught the language from the moment they can read and write, and are immersed in English almost every moment of their lives — through books, TV shows, movies, and road signs, among others. Still, Pinoys are a proud people, and if you can say something to them other than "Kumusta ka?" and "Mabuhay!," that would make them really happy.
What are your impressions about life in the Philippines? Can you imagine living the rest of your life in the country? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!