In dealing with the subject, “Women between two cultures”,
I would like to share five areas of operation:
l. division of work
2. time and effectivity
4. duty for the family
5. faith in God.
Here I will share some very personal experiences which perhaps can speak partly of the Philippine culture and then I will attempt to relate this personal background to this new culture where I am now, the Danish culture.
l. Division of work
My mother was a mother to nine children. She had to work by her bare hands: to cook food, to wash dishes, to wash clothes, to clean up the house. She had to support the work of my father. My father was a hardworking man. He had to work, to earn and to give his earning to my mother who was to budget the income. I never saw my father cooking food, washing clothes or washing dishes. My mother`s duties were the household chores, taking care of the children and serving as a faithful wife. My father was the strong person, with the function to earn being the family`s breadwinner.
I got married to a Dane. He can wash clothes, he can cook, he can wash dishes. He works and earns and yet he also reads stories for the children. I can come to a conference like this without worrying about the chidren. I was able to go home to the Philippines for one month and assured that the four kids were in good hands while the old women in my village reacted how on earth I could leave the children all alone to my husband for one month. I think the good thing about the Danish culture is that men are also considered having motherly instincts. They are fathers but at certain times they also can be mothers.
2. Time and effectivity
In the Philippines we have what we call siesta, the need to take a nap, a short sleep in the middle of the day, maybe about 30 minutes to one hour. Maybe it is necessary because it is really warm during daytime from 35 `C or more and one can feel so tired. But I felt that time was always there, that everyday was long. During my first three years in Danmark I experienced spontaneous aborted pregnancies. I could not have a nap or siesta during daytime. I felt that I had to run all the time, to catch up for the train and the bus. I had to arrive at an exact time or to be punctual in all other schedules. I felt that I was panting. Ha, ha, ha.
Filipinos are very notorious for coming late to some schedules or appointments. I am conscious about it that all the time, but I have resolved to come on time because I take it as a mark of a responsible person.
Time is very short in Denmark. I wish a day would have more than 24 hours. I think, here in Denmark there is much demand for effectivity and preciseness. In the Philippines we have so much time to be with others and time to slow down. Here in Denmark time is very precious and yet there is no time, time is so precious and yet it is marked by much pressure. One has to run and pant if one has to survive. And of course, I admire the way the Danes cope up with this panting and running by spending special holidays many corners in the world. That is your great privilege .
And I think for us as foreigners, this kind of effectivity or preciseness makes it so difficult for your social or political systems to accept us. We have to learn and master your Danish language before one can talk of integration. We have to go through a Danish education or repeat an education if only we have to be secured of a job within your own system of doing things. The Danish effectivity or preciseness makes the Danish culture quite snubbish and exclusivist against others coming from other cultures. For others and to some extent this can be taken as a hidden form of oppression. I am sorry for this remark.
I grew up in an atmosphere where there were always other people in the house, friends or relatives or people from the church. During our mealtime, when somebody would drop in, mother had always a way of inviting the person or persons into the table without calculating whether we had enough food or not. We could have our friends or classmates eat and sleep in our house. Here in Danmark we make our home open to the friends and classmates of our children. Our eldest daughter has her best friends who are Muslims and they often come without eating during our mealtime but they can come anytime. Three of their Danish friends once I a while come and ask if they could spend a week-end to sleep and eat with us. And for us, that is much okey. The children know that they can take their friends into our home.
But a part of their Danish culture has come to expression. Let me share one example. One day I was in one of the streets at Nørreport. I heard two men speaking in Nepali language. I started exchanging Nepali sentences and they spoke to me thinking I was a Nepali until I had to say that I was not a Nepali and it ended as a very joyful encounter on the road. We exchanged addresses. They were students from Nepal at the Danmarks Lærerhøjskole. I invited them to come to our place at Brøndby Strand so I could cook Nepali food. And they came for a Nepali and Danish meal at home, 26 of them. One of my daughters made a remark which I cannot forget. She said, "Mother are you crazy? You are inviting people whom you don`t know". It is funny but I think this comment reflects the hospitality within the Danish culture.
I say that the Filipinos are noted for their hospitality but I think that hospitality can be spontaneous, without much calculation. I say that the Danes are also noted for their great hospitality. But I think that kind of hospitality is marked with much formality and calculation. The Dane will usually say," You can come to me if you call. You can come and visit me, if I have time. You can come and eat with me only if I have ordered my house very well. " The joy in spontaneous encounters and spontaneous friendship is not very much often experienced. I admire so much your way of celebrating round birthdays. Think of the preparations given for these celebrations but this is hospitality given to people whom you know already within a long period of time.
4. Duty for the family
At the age of l0, I broke the tradition in my village that boys or men were the ónes to help the fathers in earning money for the family. For a number of times, I insisted to go fishing, partly because I was so in love to experience looking at the sea creatures at the bottom of the sea, seeing the fishes giggling when they were caught, being fished out by nets. But also it was because I enjoyed so much the idea that I was helping my family. There was a period when harvesting seaweeds was what young boys enjoyed doing and earning some money from that. I remember I was the only girl among the the circle of boys who should go out to harvest seaweeds. I was so proud coming home and giving my income to my mother, minus an amount for my own for some bread or candies. When my father died when I was l6 years old, it came very clear to me that I had to support my family. After graduation, it became clear to me that I should not marry early because I had to support the education of my younger brothers. I had to give my salary to my mother.
This sense of duty for the family, for the parents and sisters and brothers is very strong among Filipinos. According to recent statistics, there are about 7 million Filipino immigrants spread all over the world. I am sure majority of these immigrants and Filipino workers send support to their home families. One of the reasons that the Philippine economy has not really collapsed is because of the financial money transfers that Filipino immigrants make for their families in the Philippines. Though it is a joy to give, to some extent this kind of duty can be a great burden to a number of Filipino women.
What is it in Denmark? In Denmark there are still close ties in the family although families are often threatened by divorce. But this sense of duty that a Filipino child has is not that strong because there is the commune/the municipality that takes care, there is a clear retirement plan, or savings plan or there is a home for the aged where the old parents can be sent to and be taken cared of. The Danish children enjoy much amount of independence and freedom. Self fulfillment as an individual matters a lot. There is much individualism.
5. Faith in God
When I was growing up, I woke up every early morning finding my parents saying their prayers between four and five in the morning, singing songs, reciting some verses from the Bible and saying their prayers, just in time when the cock would crow. "Tuktugaok", was the usual sound of the crowing cock or hen. The existence of God is something not doubted. God is part of life. Among the most common people there is that absolute dependence on God. God is the sole refuge and this kind of declarations can be heard in common remarks that come out in common conversations: Thanks be to God. God is great. It is by God`s mercies.
It is here in Denmark where I met persons who proudly say that they are atheists, that they don’t believe in God. I have met them among my Danish teachers, Danish and foreign classmates in schools. My first striking experience was a child in our neighborhood who often played with our daughter. One time we invited her to come to our local church because the children`s club was having a theater show. She said that she had to ask her mother first. She came back running and and said, that she was not allowed to come.She said, " My mother said, that we don`t believe in God. All the time I have thought that we are Christians."
That left a deep impression on me about a bit of the Danish culture. There is a seeming fear to be branded as someone religious. Of course, I also have met very committed and active Christians from whom I have learned a lot. But I think that in a secularized culture like in Denmark, to affirm that one does not believe in God is like a fashion, a mark of being smart and being modern.
However, I think that the Christian values are very much incorparated in the Danish social systems, in your way of caring for the weak, the sick, the handicapped or unemployed or the refugees. While we say in the Philippines that we are a country which is the only Christian nation in the Far East, yet we see before our own eyes that our collective Christian faith has not really broken down the social systems that oppress our own people. Our Christian faith has not really changed the systems that could have given abundant life for every Filipino citizen.
Of course, we toppled two dictatorial and corrupt governments through non-bloody revolutions but we have not really yet come to the point of providing economic justice for all the Filipinos in our land. I think in this particular area, I say that the face of Denmark as a Christian country can be seen in its systems of caring for the weak and through fair distribution of wealth to all citizens but the individual way of affirming God as central in life and central in existence is also getting less popular among individuals in this country. And this is very much a mark in many secularized societies.
I have my wishes and dreams for my own children who are grown up between two cultures. I want them to value and appreciate the good things about the Danish and Filipino culture. I want them to be conscious of the richness of these cultures and to be critical enough. I want them to visit my homeland, to know the stories of my home people and to be thankful that having belonged to two cultures, life has provided them the greater possibilities for seeing the rich beauty of the wider humanity.
(shared to the Inter-cultural Conference, TværkultureltCenter, Copenhagen 2005)
Elizabeth Padillo Olesen