Where are you going, ma’am?” the building guard’s voice booms, as I enter the Makati Stock Exchange along Ayala Avenue. “To the Instituto Cervantes, Sir,” I reply. “Aaaaah, buenos dias, Señora!” comes the guard’s cheerful retort, with just a hint of self-satisfaction in his voice.
This encounter amuses me, and I enter the premises with a silly smile across my face. My amusement gives way to a realization I have had countless times in this country: Filipinos are truly a gracious people.
The backbone of hospitality
Filipinos have a far-reaching reputation for being a hospitable bunch. Most any traveler to these parts will sing the praises of Pinoy hospitality. In fact, the country is renowned for its openness to foreigners – so much so that, historically, it has been invaded and colonized multiple times!
Without convoluting the discussion, though, suffice it to say that a quick search of travel reviews online bears witness to the Filipino’s warm, welcoming spirit.
“I had never experienced before what I got to experience in the Philippines. I have never met such kind, giving, friendly, hard-working, outgoing, proud and happy people,” says Canadian blogger Kyle Jennerman, who is so enamored with this country that he goes by the very Pinoy moniker, “Kulas.”
“I don’t see any aspect of fear or subordination in Filipino hospitality. All I see is very genuine wanting to connect and share with another human being. That saying, ‘strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet’… I wouldn’t be surprised if it was coined by a Filipino!” says American blogger, Nathan Allen.
Those are just two of many examples of foreigners who have fallen head-over-heels for the Philippines and its people’s hospitable heart. And I wouldn’t be sticking my neck out too far in saying that this hospitality is rooted in nothing less than grace.
Ease of movement – and of attitude
Grace, in its most basic of definitions, is the ease and refinement of movement and is also courteous goodwill. Now there’s another word which so typically describes many Filipinos – goodwill; that sense of generosity and compassion that prods, for instance, someone with barely anything to sincerely offer you a portion of their already meager meal. I find it utterly poetic that a race so gifted with outward grace (have you seen a Filipino dance? It is art in motion) is also blessed with inward decency. And, if you’re in touch with global news, decency is a human trait that is in very short supply, nowadays.
Not here, however.
My Mom passed away mid-November of this year, a life event which left me heartbroken, for a variety of reasons. In the midst of heartache, though, I found great comfort in people’s sense of decency. Friends, many of whom I had not heard from in ages, reached out and offered not only words of sympathy, but also concrete expressions thereof. Those around me made sure I was okay, they sent food, flowers, gifts of cash, and even offered to run errands and do my chores for me.
But, the random acts of kindness were the ones that truly soothed my spirit. For instance, commuting to the wake merely hours after my Mom breathed her last, the cab driver notices my despondence.
“Are you okay, ma’am?” he asks, gently.
I say no, far from it, as I recount the sad turn of events. He offers his sympathies and engages me in light, non-pressuring conversation. We arrive at the memorial home, a considerable distance from my point of origin, and the cabbie tells me to disregard the meter and just pay him what I could comfortably afford.
“I know what it’s like to lose a mother, Ma’am. And I want to help you, somehow,” he says in Filipino.
I bawl, but my heart is deeply touched.
Honor under fire
The word grace also connotes a sense of dignity and honor, despite external factors, and we all know how much of that it takes to survive in this country. Look around you – life here, for the most part, is not easy, for most people. Yet, Filipinos manage to smile through their sorrows, with a “never surrender” mentality that is downright enviable.
This is the bedrock upon which resilience and fortitude are built.
Grace is a gift. It has been gifted to Filipinos so they can rise above a life which is often marred by hardship. It is a gift Filipinos give to the world, so that the world learns value where there seemingly is none. Best of all, grace is a gift that keeps on giving.
Take it, but pay it forward. You never know who may be in your “cab,” in need of a little grace.
By ANGIE DUARTE