Tuesday, November 29, 2005

An apple is not an orange

I had a blooper last weekend albeit non-life threatening when I was with my in laws celebrating my little niece’s 11th birthday. I was having a pleasant conversation with my mother in law and across us were 2 little girls eating their tarts with gusto [they are not directly related to us though].

Out of the blue I blurted out, “The older sister is better looking than the younger.
Well… but they are both nice girls…” said my mother in law hesitantly.

Notice my mother in law didn’t really respond to my statement? It took me sometime to realize that I, with my haste, actually made a slight faux pas. I should NOT have COMPARED the children with each other.

I am not really certain if it’s a Dutch ingrained trait to not compare and judge against people with regard to their physical appearances, although I know for a fact that they don’t assess your intellectual capabilities against others, or perhaps my mother in law is just too decent?

Alas, I can’t turn back the tide. The dark side took the reigns of power, although for a minute only, and sealed the malevolent act. But I will have to admit that unconsciously, I noticed the physical distinction between the sisters. And my shallow excuse for this behavior? Back in the Philippines, it’s normal to compare apples to oranges.

Growing up in a society where people are so gung-ho on evaluating the physical attributes of individuals has sometimes made me clumsy during certain uncalled for situations. Without understanding the finer nuances in each of our cultures, we will not be able to see each state of affair objectively. A part of the culture we grew up with will always remain engraved in us and sometimes these nuances manifest automatically in unexpected circumstances. No matter how rigid we are, there will always be times when we are caught off guard.

Additionally, watching too much TV substance in the past has made my senses blurred. In that case, the Philippines is not alone in this nonsensical crime of measuring up people or yourself to someone else. But I have another excuse, this time upgraded to disclaimer: We are human therefore we are weak, we commit mistakes.

These are some of the phrases I often hear from people back home or on TV:

A mother to her child: “Why can’t you be like your sister [who looks nice in any dress she wears]?

A father to his child: “You will never become a scholar like your cousin!

A sibling to another sibling during a fight: “You have big scary eyes, I don’t! Bleh!

A child to a parent: “Why am I not pretty like her?” or “Why am I not bright like him?

An acquaintance to a mother: “Why is your eldest too dark compared to the other siblings?” [the naked truth, the Philippines is struggling with color identity. dark is supposed to be ugly. ah, this would be a separate discussion altogether]

In the Netherlands it’s forbidden to compare the intelligence of the kids at school. Unlike other educational approaches, the Dutch do not believe in the class honor roll system. The teacher will not announce to the group who is the number 1 or 2. There is no public distinction of the cerebrally elite. Everyone will receive an equal individual appraisal talk and rating from the teacher. During graduation there is no recognition event to reward yourself and revel at the expense of the less gifted.

And within the social loops I mix here in Holland [which is not much]; I do not really hear the comparison of beauty. I do hear people saying, “Your child is pretty” or “You are pretty” but comparison? NO, I haven’t heard yet. Or perhaps I am moving within the highly etiquette circle?

What I do know is the typical Dutch characteristic of, they don’t like praising and elevating someone up in the pedestal against another person in public lest that child or person will start behaving like he or she can float on air and walk on water. The message clearly means that, if you think you’re special, gloat by yourself!

An ORANGE is not the same as an APPLE = Therefore, we cannot compare them. In the same message, people are unique. Very true I should say...

Well back home, it doesn’t help when relatives join the fray in this sizing up brouhaha during clan reunions, which has become a typical amusement or habit. I have seen and heard it many times from families of friends, acquaintances, colleagues and so forth. Say... who’s pretty and not, who is fat, who’s intelligent and dumb, who’s the tallest, who has the biggest eyes, who’s darkest or fairest skinned and whatever they can think of. Why are we so mired with having these local titles? Is it just for fun?

Theoretically, the above are honest examinations, but helaas, they are all plated with a fine touch of unnecessary discrimination. Interestingly, the people who cast such judgments don’t see the blunt biases in there.

My ex-superior once told me that he noticed Filipinos love to play little games. And he pointed outside of the car towards the side pavement where two construction workers were waiting for their bus to arrive. They were busy playing; doing a mock-up boxing fight with each other in the street. That got me thinking.

And what’s even hilarious, many are found accountable in bringing up this comparison to their adolescent lives. Two women fighting in the street or in an internet forum:

Woman 1: “Hoy, mas maganda naman ako sa iyo ano!” [Well, I am much prettier than you!]

Woman 2: “Mas maputi naman yung singit ko kay sa masama mong mukha!” [My groins are much whiter than your ugly face!]

Woman 1: “Eh, walang lalaking pupulot sa iyo kasi mukha kang kabayo!” [No guy would ever pick you because you look like a horse!]

Woman 2: “Yung boyfriend mo mukhang unggoy! Mas mukhang tao pa tingnan tong aso ko!” [Your boyfriend looks like a monkey! My dog looks more human than him!]

*Rolling on the floor laughing*

I personally don’t like to be a part of this mudslinging contest. If someone attacks me maliciously in this manner, cold as an ice, I just put on my earmuffs or type delete and push on the ignore button. BUT being the onlooker, it sure is fun to watch! I’ll have to add that I am not into the Jerry Springer extreme but I am also not the prude type.

Anyway… I guess in the above scenario with my mother in law, I was found guilty. My weakness is a product of culture reflex although right now I am starting to slowly accept responsibility [insert sarcasm]. Crucify me!

These are indeed some of the bad habits to break. But what can we do when Hollywood has even lifted up the gauge meter by encouraging everyone to keep up with or be beter than the Joneses?

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