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Intersubjectivity

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Oct. 20th, 2014 | 10:53 am

“Either Filipinos have the greatest service culture in the world, or they’re secretly plotting to take over,” I tell my mom on our weekly call. “Every retail worker here is Pinoy, they greet me with smiles, they remember me—I mean, the Dubai Mall gets twenty thousand patrons on a busy day, Dean & DeLuca probably sees three thousand upscale-grocery shoppers, but I go to the café section and they say, ‘You like to sit here again, ma’am? Fresh juice Tropical and a latte?’ I ask for Eggs Benedict and they remember I like runny yolks.

“And maybe that’s true at Dean & DeLuca in New York, too, but here, even in Starbucks if I set my laptop bag down beside my seat, they pull up another chair for me to set my bag on.

“When you pay, the cashier always says, ‘I receive from you one hundred’—or whatever bill you’ve handed over—and counts the change back out loud. I was at Julius Meinl for coffee and breakfast yesterday, and I needed my power cord. I asked the waitress to watch my stuff while I went to the car. About fifty yards down the mall, it hit me that I’d left my bag open, my purse full of cash and cards in the top, my phone on the table, and my laptop open. It didn’t feel like a security risk. I just kept going.”

* * *

“Either Filipinos have the greatest service culture in the world, or they’re secretly plotting to take over,” I tell my mom. Our weekly call has taken three tries—Skype-to-phone only works if you’ve got a Virtual Private Network concealing your IP address. The UAE government owns the phone—and the Internet—and they’d rather you not make an end run around their income or their security. Every now and then a screen flashes up:

SURF SAFELY. This website is not accessible in the UAE. If you believe the site you are trying to access does not contain prohibited content, click here.

Once, I clicked there. I was invited to fill out a form detailing the site I’d like to visit, my contact information, and my passport number. I decided I didn’t need Literotica that badly.

The labor market is hierarchal. All government jobs are staffed by Emiratis, the UAE nationals. Government jobs involve air conditioning, seated positions, and perhaps two hours of work stretched into an eight- or nine-hour day. Government jobs get every holiday off and often the days before and after. A local satirical news site posted the headline QATAR TO TAKE REMAINING SIX MONTHS OF 2014 OFF FOR RAMADAN, and like The Onion, it’s the underlying truth that makes it funny.

The hierarchy continues socially and financially downward. All non-government white-collar jobs are filled with Emiratis, white expats, and affluent, well-educated Indian and Asian expats. But mostly white expats. All retail and service positions—mall salespeople, restaurant staff visible to the public—are Filipino. All skilled laborers are educated Indian and Pakistani. Maids are Filipina. Nannies are Indonesian Muslims. All unskilled labor—construction, the portable carwash guys in every parking lot—is done by Bangladeshis and uneducated Indians and Pakistanis.

Retail staff seldom work alone. They say the denomination you hand them out loud so that their coworker is a witness to what they got, a witness to the change given. I do not ever complain about service, not only because it’s always good, but because my white-expat complaint would be taken seriously. There is an edge of fear under the cheerful subservience. They need this job, and a complaint—or a girlfriend they aren’t married to, or a child out of wedlock, or a debt they can’t pay, or a male server making too much eye contact with a female Emirati—could get them fined, jailed, de-visa-ed and deported back to whatever crap-ass ‘developing nation’ they scraped up their pesos, rupees or rupiahs to get here from. Send them back shamed and broke to share a room again with six sisters and the goat.

In the UAE, most jailed Pinoy are there for unpaid debts. They rack up credit cards and loans to pay tuition and clothes and food for the family back home, the family that asks and asks and asks in a culture that doesn’t say no. Sometimes a Filipino languishes in jail, owing for a car accident or a bad check, their embassy sending respectful requests, please, just deport him.

I shouldn’t leave my bag. It’s safe enough to leave our doors unlocked here, half the time we don’t lock the car. No-one’s likely to steal from me. But if I missed something and complained? I wouldn’t be the one that suffered.

* * *

“Don’t worry, Mom,” I say, “ISIS would have to get through Saudi to get here. No, no-one’s got Ebola. I’m safe here. Everyone’s very nice, and it’s very safe.”

I hang up and think about visiting the Philippines, about whether they will look after me this well in their own country, and how that, too, probably depends on money and skin. Then I draw the curtains, so my boyfriend and I can kiss.


________________________________________
whipchick spends her days in coffee shops, trying not to be too much work.

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Comments {28}

drwex

(no subject)

from: drwex
date: Oct. 20th, 2014 04:55 pm (UTC)
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But if I missed something and complained? I wouldn’t be the one that suffered.

This marks you as a special person, because most people wouldn't notice that, let alone take care to act with that knowledge in mind.

I'm glad you're writing about where you are now. It's a place I have no experience with so seeing it through your eyes is fun for me. I wonder about the structure here - the double start, the near repetition. Are you trying to convey something? If so, I missed it.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:45 pm (UTC)
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Thanks, I'm glad it's a little postcard :)

I was trying for the sense that it's the conversation, and then what's underneath the same conversation. Hmmm....have to see if there's a way to make that clearer...

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dmousey

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from: dmousey
date: Oct. 20th, 2014 06:05 pm (UTC)
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It is interesting to read how white privilege is global. I grew up with a Filipino 'uncle'. (Found out later he was my grandmother's lover, and possibly my grandfather.) in Philadelphia, Pa. My family has always had to deal with some form of bigotry because of it, and this was in a supposedly liberal city.

It did teach me how to compassionate and 'colorblind' however. It also taught me to stand up to asses and not toe the partyline that still exists in the murky undercurrents of American society.

I've also come to the sad conclusion that if people didn't use skin color to create tiers of superiority, some other form of prejudice would arise.

Humans... sigh.

(Beautifully written as usual. :)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:46 pm (UTC)
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So global. So very global. What I don't get is how light came to mean 'better' and 'prettier'. Because even in tribes in Africa that hadn't seen whites, and even in ancient China and Japan with no whites, pale skin was valued.

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Laura, aka "Ro Arwen"

(no subject)

from: roina_arwen
date: Oct. 20th, 2014 08:52 pm (UTC)
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I love the way you can get underneath the surface of the topic so well, and shed light on a culture that is so oddly stratified in a way that is easily understood.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:47 pm (UTC)
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Thank you - I spend a lot of time in malls (it's the only public space around here) and it's a lot of chances for observation!

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medleymisty

(no subject)

from: medleymisty
date: Oct. 20th, 2014 11:23 pm (UTC)
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You are a good person, you know.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:47 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :) I wish there was more I could do, but it's a tight system around here and I don't want to get deported.

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theun4givables

(no subject)

from: theun4givables
date: Oct. 21st, 2014 01:28 am (UTC)
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It is always fascinating to read these nonfiction entries from you. Other cultures can be so vastly different, yet that pesky thing of white privilege is still prevalent in so many of them. It just feels wrong.

Complaining is overrated, anyway. But thank you for being so considerate of the consequences it might bring on others. The world needs more people like you.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:48 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :) It's weird, really, to get treated so well by servers and shopclerks, and I feel like I have to try not to be any trouble!

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: Oct. 21st, 2014 06:40 am (UTC)
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This sounds like such an unfair set of distinctions, for so many people, though it is also opportunity for those whose economy is worse. They patience they must have, to put up with such limited status all to earn the living they and their families need.

I'm surprised that there are so many Filipino workers simply because it seems like that would be geographically inconvenient. But I suppose being welcomed to work, at all, might make it worthwhile.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:50 pm (UTC)
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Yeah - it's the same with the construction guys. The work conditions are deplorable and the wages are awful, but it's still better than Bangladesh.

I don't know why Filipinos picked here! But I think it's easier to get in as a guest worker here, and they all speak good English, which is the functioning language. There's whole Pinoy sections in the grocery store.

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bleodswean

(no subject)

from: bleodswean
date: Oct. 21st, 2014 01:42 pm (UTC)
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This is skillfully done and works perfectly. Reading your precise words is always a pleasure because of the intelligence imbued in each carefully crafted sentence.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:50 pm (UTC)
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Wow, thank you very much :) I'm glad to hear that - I've been focusing this year on working on a sentence level, so it's nice to feel improved!

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bleodswean

(no subject)

from: bleodswean
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 07:30 pm (UTC)
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You're very welcome. :) Well, of course I don't know any of your work prior to this Idol season but I think it's fair to say you've mastered writing on the sentence level.

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n3m3sis43

(no subject)

from: n3m3sis43
date: Oct. 22nd, 2014 09:58 am (UTC)
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OMG, can you please tell me everything about how hierarchy works there?? Just kidding - I can Google it, but THESE ARE THINGS I NEED TO KNOW because reasons. Holy fuck, that's creepy.

(Also, you are a good person and I like the structure of this piece.)

Edited at 2014-10-22 10:01 am (UTC)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:51 pm (UTC)
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The hierarchy is totally creepy! Everyone I meet is either enormously subservient or grossly entitled.

Thanks :)

Structure - did you get that it was a repeat, with the literal conversation and then what's underneath? I don't know if that was clear...

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n3m3sis43

(no subject)

from: n3m3sis43
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:53 pm (UTC)
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I totally got that about the structure - that's what I really liked about it. So it was clear to me. But please bear in mind that what is totally obvious to me never seems to be to other people. I am probably the wrong person to ask. XD

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Teo Says

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from: eternal_ot
date: Oct. 22nd, 2014 03:53 pm (UTC)
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It's nice knowing about Dubai through your eyes...it did make an interesting read and you sure are a good observer..:)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:52 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :) Come visit!

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rayaso

(no subject)

from: rayaso
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 04:04 pm (UTC)
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I love your Dubai entries with your personal observations. The personal service sounds nice, but it seems to come at the price of fear, and the racial/national hierarchy (not that the US is without it) is unfortunate.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:52 pm (UTC)
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Yeah - it's a country full of guest workers, so everyone is good at their job, but it's such a weird social structure...

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adoptedwriter

(no subject)

from: adoptedwriter
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:33 pm (UTC)
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So interesting! AW

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 06:52 pm (UTC)
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Thanks!

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favoritebean

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from: favoritebean
date: Oct. 23rd, 2014 11:17 pm (UTC)
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I have a former student who is currently living in Dubai while she performs a set of shows at the Waldorf. I have a cousin (through marriage) who lives there as well, but she only posts pictures of sites and pujas. Neither discuss the underbelly of Dubai, but that is what makes your entries so interesting.

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A Karmic Sandbox

(no subject)

from: karmasoup
date: Oct. 24th, 2014 12:09 am (UTC)
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I'm familiar with a bit of Filipino culture because there are a few in-laws in my family, and it is the home of the martial art with which I have some association.

For me, it's amazing to see how quickly a life that once involved dirt floors and one pot over the fire continuously added to for more than a week to keep the family fed can turn into such a sense of entitlement. On the other hand, though, interestingly enough, in a neighborhood where I never bother to lock the house, much less the car, the in-law on the other side of the duplex (same house!) got all in a tizzy if the curtains were open for half a second, and even insisted that family had to knock. I guess, where they (the women who've married into the family... there are 4 of them) come from, there is enough violence that, while they have learned to take technology for granted (I've never seen someone spend so much time on FB games!), there is something about the insecurity over safety that never lets go.

Thanks for being sensitive, and for sharing this spotlight on this way of life.

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ArmagedDan

(no subject)

from: hosticle_fifer
date: Oct. 24th, 2014 01:21 pm (UTC)
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This was a very interesting peek into another world. There are a lot of emotions around seeing a stratified culture like that, even more pronounced than our own, and being from a blue-collar background myself I felt for the nameless peons you described. Our customers wouldn't even look at me, but being white I suppose they didn't assume I would rob their house, so I guess I had that.

I also read with pretty keen interest because this is a depiction of my direct competition - my company has given me another position, because our entire department has just been outsourced to Manila.

It's hard to undercut desperate people who can do tough work, at night, for under 10k a year. At least until they quit, we have a 70-90% turnover rate there compared to a US ~5% turnover rate, but they can't shovel American jobs over there fast enough regardless.

Wow this ended up being a book. Sorry. :D

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am a filipino...

from: anonymous
date: Oct. 25th, 2014 09:13 am (UTC)
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This article made me proud to be filipino. Yes it is true, it's a second nature for us pinoys to be hospitable to the point of being subservient not just to other nationalities but basically to our family. You are also right in your observation that pinoys say yes to almost all the requests of family members to the point where we couldn't give anymore. It is hard to break out of that culture because it's what our elders did for us and it seems like we are just returning the favors. But I must say that we do it whole heartedly,although sometimes you may hear us whining or sounding fed up,but make no mistake we are happy that we make them happy. Am based in England,works as a nurse and I'm proud to say, boasting aside,the patients and their family love us and are so pleased that we look after their family.

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