The fine art of losing a sale

Yesterday I went to visit my friend who is a vendor on the street outside where we used to live.  She sells banana-Q, a yummy banana fried in oil and brown sugar and served on a stick.  We were happily catching up on the latest happenings in life since I hadn’t seen her since our return from Canada.
A rather well-dressed man with slicked down hair appeared out of nowhere and flashed a toothy smile at us.  Judging by the stack of glossy pamphlets in his hand I had a feeling we were in for a sales pitch.  I was right.
“Good morning, Ma’am, I am speaking to you on behalf of so-and-so Fancy Spa Company,” Slick Street Sales Guy began in flawless, yet somehow slightly awkward, English.  He pulled out one of the pamphlets and laid it on my friend’s vendor cart.
I exchanged a look with my friend who raised her eyebrows at me slightly.  I could tell she wasn’t going to help me out.  “I’m not interested, sir.  But thank you,” I declined politely.
He pushed it.  “Oh Ma’am, we have five main and easily accessible locations as you can see listed here in our brochure.  Please may I tell you about a special deal we have for you, today only, ma’am.”  He paused briefly then plunged bravely on. 
“We have a special deal, ma’am, and free services worth thousands of pesos, all for the low, low price of 460 pesos if you would just fill out your name and number here in the space provided.  Let me tell you about the services you may avail of, ma’am.”
I glanced at my friend again.  She wasn’t even listening anymore and was quietly having a conversation with another friend nearby.  Sighing, I turned my attention back to Slick.
“First, ma’am, your free offer that I may draw your attention to is a free diamond peel service worth 1600 pesos.  This ma’am is yours for free, no questions asked.”  He looked at my face.  I tried to look pleasant but was failing to find value in what clearly sounded like a painful procedure.
“Next, ma’am, may I direct your attention here to the second free offer at our spa.”  I could tell he felt was on a roll.  “A free session of skin whitening, ma’am!”  He triumphantly pointed to the offer on the pamphlet. 
At this point I’m wondering if he is thinking about his potential client (me) at all.  I looked at him with round eyes and protested in shock, “Skin whitening?  Like a ghost?”  I was hoping that he would crack a smile.  Ok, I was actually hoping he’d stop the sales pitch.  But after one humorless chuckle he quickly recovered, “Perhaps you may give that part to a friend.”
Moving quickly on he said, “Perhaps you would like to avail yourself of other services at the spa then, ma’am.”  His eyes quickly scanned me up and down.  I knew where this was heading.
“Here, ma’am!”  He pointed to a list printed on the brochure.  “Did you know that we provide many services for your beautification, like for example, if you want to become sexy?”
I feel the need to interrupt here because I’m treading on some ground I haven’t yet covered on my blog:  Filipinos and their use of the word ‘sexy.’  I was shocked when I first came to the Philippines and heard this word used so often.  Like Inigo Montoya’s quote in the movie, “The Princess Bride,” I often feel the urge to say, “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.” 
I’m actually not completely sure what the word means to them, but my first clue that it wasn’t defined the way I thought was when my four year old daughter was called sexy.  Umm, ok…?  Somehow the word is linked to beauty in a way that is well, nonsexual.  (Really hoping I haven’t lost any sensitive readers at this point- it’s the culture here, folks, I’m just telling it like it is.)
It is also perfectly acceptable in this culture to discuss another’s weight and body image.  Imagine my shock when a stranger at the market declared that her vegetables from her stall would further me on my journey to “being sexy” (oh, that really endears me to you, thank you very much).  After attempting to discretely inquire among friends about the subject and beauty perceptions here I was told repeatedly that discussion of weight, even with a total stranger, is totally acceptable and doesn’t carry with it the connotations of judgment that we in our culture so quickly associate with the subject.  Indeed, it seems to be true- the topic is not taboo and thus we all must develop a very thick skin in order to survive here.
So having that clarification hopefully you have been able to pick your jaw up off the floor and we can continue the story with some understanding.
“Did you know,” he said, “that we provide many services for your beautification, like for example, if you want to become sexy?”  I knew where this was headed and steeled myself for some typical (or should I say ‘blunt’ by my culture’s standards) remarks on the subject.
“Hmmm,” I murmured, trying to warn him with a half-smile and a raised eyebrow that he was treading on dangerous ground.
“You know, ma’am, let’s say for example that you wanted to become smaller in your, um…” he eyed my torso, “your…” his hands skimmed the air in a curve, “you know, ma’am, in your abdomen.  To become slimmer.”  He paused.  “We have services for that, ma’am.”  His finger rested on the list of services.
I looked Slick straight in the eyes.  “Sir, buntis ako,” I stated flatly.  He ignored me and continued to mutter things about slimming and services.  “Sir!,” I interrupted more clearly, “Buntis ako!  I’m pregnant!”
After staring at me for a few moments he vainly attempted to continue but all I heard was unintelligible gurgles.  Recovery from that faux pas was apparently insurmountable even for Slick.  He finally gave a nod and a quick, “Ok ma’am; if you’re sure, ma’am,” conceding defeat.  He ambled away, presumably to find a more fitting candidate for his spa. 

Perhaps he needed a better training course on knowing his target demographic.  Rule number one: don’t offer slimming services to a pregnant woman.

From a 5 year old’s perspective-

So, humbling can take different forms…

After our really busy weekend of travelling we were all pretty tired this morning.  We decided that the girls would stay home from school today to get a rest but Winnie really wanted to go.  I asked the other two if they wanted to go and they both agreed with me that it would be good to have a day at home, so we ended up sending Winnie to school by herself.

At supper time I asked Winnie if anyone at school had asked her where her sisters were today.  She said, “No, I just told them!”

“Oh, what did you tell them?” I asked.

“I just told them that Mommy asked my sisters if they wanted to go to school and they said no, they didn’t want to go, and I said ‘yes’, I did want to go.”

“Oh, really.  Hmm, did you mostly talk to kids, or did you tell that to some adults too?”

“Oh, it was mostly adults I told that to, Mommy.”

Way to cast my parenting skills in a great light, Winnie!  Ha.

W is for Wreck

Our family in 2007

One day a several years ago when we still lived in Canada I was picking up our babysitter for the evening.  Dennis and I had a special banquet to go to so I left with enough time to pick up the sitter, get back home, dress up and make it to the banquet on time.  As I left the sitter’s house I guess I was in a hurry and didn’t notice a stop sign that was tucked up high on a corner, partly obscured by a pine tree.

I sailed through the intersection and in slow motion the scene unfolded in front of me. My van, a four door sedan coming from the right, the collision right on top of the manhole, the slow, scraping journey of momentum that took us to the curb on the other side.

I was stunned.  It was my first accident and to top it all off I had someone else’s precious teenage daughter in my passenger seat!  As steam poured out from under my hood I looked behind us to see what had happened to other car.  It was full of people and they were starting to get out.  Four tiny little ladies.  Long black and white cloth.  I couldn’t believe my eyes: I had hit a car full of nuns!

The neighbors started pouring out of their houses to see what had happened.  It isn’t every day you see four nuns in a car wreck.  Someone let me use their cellphone to call Dennis.  It took me about 10 tries to get my shaking hands to dial the number properly.  The police came.  One of the nuns was taken to the hospital to get checked out; she had been very shaken by the crash.  It appeared that no one had been seriously hurt.

Right away I admitted to the policeman that I had been at fault but he still crossed himself when I told him that perhaps the nuns had been speeding.  Maybe if I had whipped out my habit I usually keep in the back seat he would have been scared to give me a ticket?

After it was all over and I rode away from the scene one impression lingered in my mind- the sight of the travelling saint bobble-head figurine on the dashboard of the nuns’ car, nodding away vigorously.

Pious Technology

Dennis surprised me with a new cell phone for Christmas!  I wasn’t expecting it at all and he came up with the idea all on his own.  We are fairly new cell phone owners; we never had any before moving to the Philippines.  We had only been here for two days when our friends helped us each get one.  It was a steep learning curve at first but since we only purchased the cheapest, most basic model available I managed to figure it out.  We quickly discovered that cell phones are not really a luxury here- if you don’t have one you could easily get lost amongst the 20 million people in our city or waste lots and lots of time looking for something when you could send one text and be on your way.

Well, this new one has lots of bells and whistles.  I spent about an hour last night trying to figure out the new settings.  I couldn’t figure out how to put the time on a.m. instead of p.m. before I went to bed.

At midnight I awoke to a loud voice next to my ear.  Disoriented, I couldn’t remember where I was or what this voice could be!  Then I realized it was my new cell phone and I managed to push some random buttons to make the thing be quiet.

At 3am the voice startled me awake again.  I leaped out of bed and grabbed the phone, trying to shut it off. This time I took it into the bathroom and left it there on the counter lest I hear from it again and mangle it in my surprise.

This morning I took a good look at it trying to figure out what on earth was going on with it.  Apparently my phone is Catholic.  And likes to pray.  So at midnight I was hearing the “Angelus,” and at 3am I was hearing the “3 O’Clock Prayer.”  A very devoted phone, don’t you think?

It’s just too bad the a.m. and p.m. were so mixed up.  I might have been a little more heavenly minded had it happened during the day….

Oh, be careful little tongue what you say…

For the past year I’ve happily been calling this

a ‘plastik’ which is just a Tagalog-ized English word, obviously.  It seems to be the most common term used here.  So, surely you can sense my excitement at discovering after another full year here that there is a real Tagalog word for it after all!  I stumbled upon it during one of my language helping sessions.  I happily started trying it out in a few difference contexts so that it would become part of my vocabulary.

Imagine my surprise when someone quietly told me that I should probably be careful- if the wrong syllable is stressed the word actually means “uncercomsized mail.”*

I apologize to my sensitive readers but honestly, what a funny mistake!

*words intentionally misspelled so as not to attract unwanted traffic to my blog.

Payong- Umbrella

Last week Dennis went out in a torrential downpour with his umbrella. Now, I have known for a long time that his umbrella was on its last leg, but he kept insisting that it was still usable. So… imagine him walking down the street- all eyes on him because everybody always watches us anyway- and he is holding… this.Then the rain really started pouring. He made some valient attempts to stay dry. Even the lady at the cart selling barbequed banana and the lady at the other cart selling newspapers on the corner were laughing. I laughed all the way to school.

Peanut Shell Obligations

We are now in our third week of full time language and culture study. For Dennis this means that his waking hours are scheduled around 8 hours of study a day, both in and out of the “office.” I have 6 hours of study a day which is a bit of a challenge as I endeavor to manage the homefront at the same time.

Some of our study tasks are actually really fun. We are to have a certain amount of exposure time each day; time when we go out and actually experience the culture. This could be as simple as going grocery shopping with the intent to try and speak the Tagalog that we know, or watching an interaction take place in the market. Last week Dennis and I hopped on a jeepney and went down to Quiapo market to experience some culture. We had been there before on our immersion excursion trips when we first arrived here, but finding our way and doing it all on our own was a whole different ballgame.

The week before Dennis and I went out together to a neighborhood market and bought some fruit and a couple of bags- using our Tagalog and the cultural tidbits that we’ve learned to haggle for a good price. It is an art.

Here’s a funny little story for you. Every week we are given a set of questions on a particular topic as a part of our Philippine cultural study. It is our job to find a Filipino and ask our list of questions before our group discussion time on Fridays. Last week the topic was “Household Duties of Men and Women.” Our questions explored gender roles in this culture and helped us discover some of the cultural values that exist here.

Dennis interviewed one of the guards at the gate of our neighborhood. One of the questions was about why more Filipino women work abroad than men. Our ears are starting to get used to hearing the accent here, but sometimes comprehension is slow for us even when people are speaking English. The man Dennis was talking to waxed eloquent as he explained about women and men working abroad. He lapsed into Tagalog and Dennis carefully took notes although he had a hard time following him. The man kept using the phrase “peanut shell obligations.”

When we got to our discussion class Dennis brought the phrase up. We were hoping we had stumbled onto something really deep and meaningful about culture. But when he mentioned it to our Filipino teachers their faces wore question marks. Everyone was trying to figure out what the phrase could mean.

Finally I turned to Dennis and said, “So, how did the guy say it? How did it sound to you?
Peanut shell obligations?” I said the phrase with a thick Filipino accent (as best I could anyway). Suddenly one of our teacher’s face lit up. She waved her hand in the air, “I know!! I know what it is!!! Pea-nan-chull obligations!”