CONSUMER CUSTOMS IN THE PHILIPPINES
The Filipino writer Nick Joaquin described the Philippines as a culture of smallness. Many people still do the bulk of their shopping at small sari sari stores, often bamboo huts, where individual cigarettes are sold, sugar is dispensed in tiny bags and rice is measured out in scoops. At school children sing a popular folk song called the Nipa Hut. It goes: “No matter how small, the nipa hut has bountiful plants.” There is also a tradition of peddlers ranging far and wide and a strong relationship between seller and regular customer known as suki.
Filipinos love to bargain. Unlike other Asians, Filipinos have traditionally not been very good savers. Whenever someone loans money from you and says "ilista mo na lang sa tubig" (just list it down on water), it means that the person asking for the loan has no intentions of paying you simply because... it was listed on water and there's no way for you to go back on that "list".
According to everyculture.com: The local market is a key factor in retail trade. Larger municipalities have daily markets, while smaller communities have markets once or twice a week. Trade at the market is conducted in a barter system. Suki relationships are established at the marketplace so that the buyer returns to the same vendor. Markets are divided into "dry" markets where clothing and household items are sold and "wet" markets where food is sold. Sari-sari establishments are small neighborhood stores. They are convenient since they have packaged products and are in the neighborhood, but no fresh foods are available there. In larger towns, supermarkets with fixed prices are adjacent to the market. Electronic equipment, furniture, and clothing have fixed prices and are sold in stores or at kiosks. Shopping malls are found in most provincial capitals. Malls with Western shops are found throughout metropolitan Manila. [Source: everyculture.com]
Money-related Superstitions: 1) Paying a debt at night brings bad luck. 2) Never let money pass through a window because money will run away from you. 3) Avoid borrowing money on the first hour of the day, the first day of the week, the first week of the month, and the first month of the year. You will never become rich and will always be haunted by creditors. 4) Black ants inside the house are an omen of good fortune. 5) Placing money bills or coins on top of the dining table attracts bad luck for it means that all your income will go to food expenses and nothing will be left for other things. 6) Showering the rooms of a new house with coins before moving in will bring prosperity. 7) Ornamental plants with round leaves inside the house are signs of good luck, while keeping vines that grow downward are bad luck. 8) Bills should be arranged neatly inside the wallet or purse from the largest to the smallest denomination in such a way that when you open your wallet the first to be seen will be the largest bill. 9) Do not shun or avoid keeping creased or dirty money. You should not regard money as something filthy. 10) Don’t put your bag or wallet on the ground because it is debasing the worth of money. 11) Do not hoard money. Let it circulate by putting it in a bank or buying something with it. 12) Use your right hand when paying money and the left hand when receiving money. 13) Use green-colored objects to attract money. 14) If you keep money in a pouch roll the bills into circles because circles represent infinity. ^*^
Bargaining in the Philippines
For people in third world countries, bargaining is always worthwhile, whether for five cents off a bundle of peppers or an extra handful of rice. In part this is because there is so much underemployment that most people have a great deal of time and very little money. In part it is because $300 per year income doesn't get you very far. [Source: Hitchhiking Vietnam, PBS, pbs.org/hitchhikingvietnam
Bargaining in third world countries is also a form of social oil, a way to create and sustain relationships. When I lived in a village in the Philippines I always went to the same fish stall, the same tomato seller, the same rice woman. They knew my name, put aside my favorite cuts, and (usually) didn't cheat me. We laughed and joked while I made my purchases. If you watch any transaction in a village marketplace you will probably see two women bantering and exchanging gossip while they examine produce. Now watch a Westerner prepare to make a purchase. His back is stiff, his jaw is clenched, his face is an angry shade of red before he even makes an offer. He's expecting to get ripped off and By God he's not going to let it happen.
Filipino Shopping Habits and the “Tingi” Culture
According to casaveneracion.com: “In Philippine markets, it is possible to buy cooking oil by the cup. In Philippine neighborhood sari-sari (literally, variety) stores, it is possible to buy cigarettes by the stick, shampoo and coffee by the sachet, garlic in packs containing as few as four cloves or peppercorns in packs equal to about a teaspoonful. We call it “tingi” — the practice of selling and buying goods in amounts less than the smallest retail packaging. [Source: casaveneracion.com, Mar 3, 2013]
“What’s behind the practice? The average income is low and majority of the people have to budget carefully. While it may be cheaper in the long run to buy in bulk, I suppose it just doesn’t work with a lot of people. It is more realistic for them to buy only what they need for the moment. Immediacy, I think, is the proper word. To cater to the segment of society who can only afford to buy basic goods in the “tingi” manner, sellers repackage everything into smaller amounts — from sugar to cooking oil to laundry detergent to every imaginable thing. The irony is that the “tingi” packaging raises the price of the goods by as much as a hundred per cent. While the lower-priced small package may be more affordable for the masses, in effect, they are paying so much more. The system seems to work though.” [Ibid]
Apol Danganan wrote in vagabondjourney.com: “ This style of buying is prevalent in the Philippines. This is brought by the Filipino culture of tingi-tingi, or retail, which mirrors the financial status of most of the people in this third world country. Not all consumers can afford to buy products in bulk, so this tingi-tingi culture is a way that people can buy units of an item rather than the entire pack. Scattered around the Philippines are sari-sari (variety) stores that sell the basic stuff for the daily needs of the locals — sachets of shampoo, toothpaste, laundry powder, coffee, milk, soy sauce, vinegar, tomato sauce, even repacked salt, sugar, cooking oil, macaroni and charcoal — in smaller quantities than the original packaging. When there was no cheese in packets yet, they even sold it by slices. Cigarettes are even divided up and reassembled in smaller quantities in sachets — yes, vices in micro packaging. Even 10-peso cellphone credits are available too! [Source: Apol Danganan, vagabondjourney.com \*/]
“It may be financially unwise to buy a sachet of shampoo everyday versus buying a bottle of shampoo for much longer use and cheaper cost in the long run, but most people only live on what they can afford each day. What I find beneficial is with this style of buying you can get only what you intend to use or limit your usage because you have only a little. In some ways, people get to save money by not wasting away quantities they don’t need. \*/
“Even if malls abound in the Philippines, these sari-sari stores thrive everywhere in the country. Big or small, they are always there. There’s one on almost every street, sometimes even more than one, to cater to the needs of the locals. Even those who can afford to buy in larger quantities, when they run out of something they can just go out of their house, choose a nearby sari-sari store to buy from, and get what’s needed. In the Philippines where everything must come small, this tingi culture definitely is one tactic to survive each day.” \*/
Cigarettes at Four Pesos a Stick
Apol Danganan wrote in vagabondjourney.com: “You run out of cigarettes and you badly want to smoke but you are at home and too lazy to go to the supermarket. What would you do? In the Philippines, people can just go to the nearest store and buy a stick. A stick? Yes, a stick or two. Especially now that the Sin Tax Bill has been signed into law, imposing higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco products, it is anticipated that more Filipino smokers will resort to buying cigarettes by the stick rather than by the pack. A lot of them will even be forced to lessen their usage or even quit. [Source: Apol Danganan, vagabondjourney.com \*/]
“I sat with a cigarette vendor last week and had a little chat. The exact spot where he sells candies and cigarettes is the same spot where he and his wife sleep every night. I initially addressed him as Tatay (father in Filipino) and through our conversation I learned that his name is Jose. He is 66 years old and his main livelihood is selling cigarettes. He can no longer do heavier jobs because he had two operations due to some kidney disease. His wife is 50 years old and works as a sweeper at a park. Their kids live around the area and are quite dependent on them. \*/
“I don’t smoke and didn’t have any idea how much a single cigarette costs, so I asked, “How much does a stick of Marlboro cost?” “4 pesos, it used to be 3 pesos per stick.” The most he could earn everyday is 100 pesos. He buys the cigarettes in a store around the corner that had already increased the prices due to the new law so he had to hike up his prices as well. I continued chatting with Tatay Jose asking him about his family. He was very respectful in answering my questions. What really impressed me was his usage of “po” in each sentence. Po and opo are words used by Filipinos to show respect to other people, especially elders. It was very unusual for me to be addressed like this by an old man. I felt so humbled. \*/
“During our conversation, two customers bought one cigarette each at different times. It was pretty obvious they were old customers.They just placed 3 pesos on the board and took a stick on their own. “Sir, it costs Php 4 already po.” The 1st customer claimed it was only 3 pesos the day before and Tatay Jose told him that the price had been 4 pesos for a week. The 2nd customer was more respectful; he just said alright and added another peso to his payment.
"Balato" Mentality in the Philippines
Balato is a giving or sharing of a new fortune. For example, if win at a casino you are expected to share some of your fortune (for luck or the goodness of your heart) with a friend, loved one, or anyone. On this topic, Bong Austero wrote in his blog: “Someone finally won the pot money of P2 million at last Saturday’s episode of “One versus One Hundred,” an ABS-CBN’s game show that pits a contestant (so far, all celebrities) against a “mob” of 100. Igot glued to the show because of two things. First, because it is always interesting to watch someone win in a game show where millions are at stake. The penultimate question (the location of the Philippines in relation to the equator) was, at least as far as I am concerned, a giveaway. When the contestant keyed in his answer, I knew he was going to win. As we all know, our TV stations have this habit of milking every ounce of drama it could every single time someone wins a major prize in their game shows. [Source: bongaustero.blogspot.jp, October 22, 2007 /=\]
“The second reason I was glued to the television set was because of the reaction of the 100 kids that comprised last Saturday’s “mob.” When the contestant won, the kids began chanting “Ba-la-to!” The chanting, which lasted all throughout the last few minutes of the show, almost drowned out the chatter between the host (Edu Manzano) and the winner. What made the incident even more disturbing was that the kids on that episode of the show were supposedly comprised of some of the “brightest” hope of this country—some were scholars, young chess masters, etc. /=\
“I am sure that there are people out there who will insist that there is nothing unusual about asking for “balato” probably insisting on the literal meaning of the word, which is “a share of the winnings.” I am neither a sociologist nor an anthropologist, so I will not attempt a discourse on the many permutations of the concept. However, I don’t think people can deny that balato does have negative implications. Very often, a balato can refer to a share of the booty, of the take on something illegal. Many people use the concept interchangeably with the word “commission” the other word that has acquired a negative connotation as well. We may recall that the whole stink around the national broadband network deal started off with allegations of bribery, euphemistically called “commission.” Kids demanding balato on public television as if it is the most natural thing in the world is a deeply disturbing sight. Need we ask where they got the idea that asking for a share of the loot is a normal thing? /=\
Poor Service in the Philippines
Winston posted in his blog happierabroad.com: “Many businesses have low ethics. The business mentality is generally stingy and greedy at the same time, a bad combination. They will charge high prices for low quality and services if they can get away with it. The mentality is "to hell with customer satisfaction, there is always another sucker out there to profit from". Filipino people may be kind and non-anal, but Filipino businesses and organizations are anything but, and in fact have low ethics and are stingy. They think nothing of using misleading advertising and claims. [Source:Winston, happierabroad.com, December 22, 2011 >>>]
“The customer service concept is still undeveloped. There is not a real understanding of the relationship between "price and value", probably due in part to an overeager desire to make a quick buck. This is why in restaurants and stores, some items are underpriced while others are overpriced. They don't even understand the concept of giving discounts for buying more. For example, in a grocery store, if a 100kg product sells for 100p, then a 200kg case of the same product will sell for 200p, exactly double. Usually, the more you buy, the more discounts you get, but they don't get that concept. >>>
Waitresses are also not trained to come to your table after serving you and asking "How is everything? Is there anything else I can get you?" Instead they just ignore you after serving your order. Many hotels do not even check that their toilets and showers are working before renting out their rooms to customers. This is true even in expensive hotels and resorts! There are simply no quality control standards.” >>>>
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015