Nobody arrives in the big city carrying a tampipi anymore. Newcomers don’t wear floral camisa de chino, and they generally leave their wide-brimmed buri hats at home.
When we came to Manila we had overstuffed knapsacks instead, and we wore plaid shirts like everybody else. Maybe the shirts were a little more colorful than usual, but we got away with it. We blended in. We studied hard at a top university, one that at least shows up in the global rankings. We found Manila girls who laughed at our jokes and married them. Our sons studied at The Ateneo, De La Salle or the other expensive school nearby, and our young daughters can proudly call themselves Old Girls or whatever. We worked diligently and rose to positions of power. Now we almost look like we belong.
Deep in our hearts, though, we are still probinsyano. Every now and then, our provincial backgrounds sneak to the surface and the old insecurities make us look furtively around to see if anybody noticed. Here are a few examples of ‘syano-ness getting exposed:
1. After you make a presentation at the office, your colleagues smile at each other and say, “He has a point.” What they’re really saying is “Meron siyang puntó, hahaha.” You might not notice it, especially when you’re nervous or intensely focused, but your accent and sing-song delivery mark you as having grown up far from Imperial Manila.
2. At the airport, you ask for directions to the check-in counter and people wonder why you’re looking for poultry. It’s because what they’re hearing you say is “Where is the chicken counter?” Eventually, they will figure out that you are flying home to one of the cities in the south.
3. When you tell stories about your childhood days, someone comments that the great-grandparents of your playmates seem to have been absent when Governor General Claveria was giving out Spanish surnames. Worse, none of your old friends back home were sons of national government officials. In a city where pedigree and connections count, you have none.
4. When your friends start singing praises to Puccini’s “Turandot” your contribution to the musical discussion is that you prefer Heber Bartolome to Florante. You also let slip that to you the Cultural Center of the Philippines is a place where you can rent a bike.
5. At a fancy dinner, when you are asked what you’d like to drink, you say beer and everybody else goes for the lovely wine that pairs well with the appetizers that are not sisig. It doesn’t end there. You pour your beer slowly down the side of your glass to try to minimize the bubbles, only to be told that in Germany and Ireland, both great beer drinking countries, beer without a thick head of foam is totally wrong. Your lack of sophistication thus becomes painfully obvious.
6. For a major formal event, you decide to wear a barong with khaki pants. The president may have 16 million justifications for his choices, but on you it’s just plain ugly. It’s much worse than the “double formal”—barong with neckwear—that had its heyday on the noontime shows decades ago. It screams to the business class flying set that you only recently got off the inter-island boat. As one online wag put it, it’s like wearing a tuxedo with flip-flops.
My advice to my fellow province boys? Own it! Be proud to be promdi. When you trip, you might as well fall all the way down, roll around for a while and have a good laugh.
Remember Lord John Clayton III, Earl of Greystoke, was not really happy until he tore off his multiple layers of clothes and became Tarzan again, and the world was better for it.
BUT—and here’s the big game changer—be a probinsyano by choice. Make the conscious decision to speak with a regional lilt because you think Manila exclusive school affectations are ridiculous. The Brits don’t force themselves to speak like Americans. Why should the Visayans? You prefer Pinoy Rock because it speaks to you. You’ve spent time enjoying other music, including opera, but somehow they don’t mean as much to you. Admittedly because you don’t speak Italian. You stand up for your boyhood buddies because they know the meaning of loyalty, unlike these big politicians who shift parties like changing their t-shirts on hot summer days. Explain to those snobs you call friends that you drink your favorite beer because you find the wine on offer cloyingly sweet. Life is too short, you say, to waste on bad wine.
Deliberately choosing to appear less refined or less worldly is not only acceptable, it may even be the patriotic or honorable thing to do. What is inexcusable, especially in this age of easy travel and the Internet, is not to know anything better than to be a boor.