It’s that time of year when friends swap their holiday stories and chat about how it feels to be back in town. A couple of non-Filipino friends of mine made identical observations recently – and in each case I knew exactly what they were going to say: “The thing I really notice about being back in Manila is how slowly people walk here.”
One of these guys, a well-traveled chap, has it in mind to conduct a private survey in 15 countries to prove his hypothesis (using what means of measurement I am not sure).
Assuming you are prepared to accept this observation, and I have a (few) friends who contest it, why do Filipinos saunter along more at a snail's pace? I have been offered a number of explanations.
We are shorter than you
All other factors being the same, I suppose people with longer legs will walk more quickly than short people, although sprinters are rarely very tall. However, I had a five foot two British girlfriend who could outpace me to the pub every time. Nor have I noticed people in Japan, Hong Kong, or Singapore (not the tallest people) meandering along in the desultory fashion of the Mega Mall crowds. So, I’ll say that height may be 10% of the answer.
It’s too hot
I don’t find this terribly convincing either, partly because I am not talking about people toiling up mountains in the mid-day sun but metropolitan types strolling in air-conditioned malls or taking short trips from their car to the office. No doubt climatic conditions play some role in conditioning the way people move, which explains why people in the tropics are, sensibly, more languorous than their bustling northern counterparts. Still, I reckon a contest between Filipinos and walkers from Africa, South America, or the rest of Southeast Asia would still see Pinoys crossing the finish line last. Climate: another 10%.
We are lazy
Now we are getting somewhere. A preference for mechanized means of transport is evident across all social classes in Manila; from the tita whose driver will take her to mass literally around the corner, to the jeepney passenger who would rather sit in the traffic for 30 minutes than get out and walk for 10. The redoubtable Pinay in Barnsley has a very funny post here about her alienation from the British concept of “going for a walk”:
Last weekend, myself and my whole tribe went for a 'walk'. (A very curious English trait.) As a true blue born and bred pinoy, I was baffled by this strange activity the Brits seem to be so passionate about. For years as a Makati working girl, I have unashamedly taken cab rides from Rufino Tower to Greenbelt to have lunch. The distance from point A to B I'd surmise to be no more than 0.2 mile. In all the time I've worked in the said building, it has never occured to me to brave the heat/dust and toxic fumes and rely on my reasonably fit legs to take me to lunch, sales calls or what have you. Little wonder Legaspi & Salcedo Villages are in a perpetual state of gridlock. This attitude I've no doubt is shared by the majority of the Makati labor force. Well, I know for a fact that I wasn't the only one in my office taking those cab rides to Greenbelt on a daily basis, although some preferred to drive! In Manila, why walk when you can: drive, take a cab, jeepney, trycicle, side car or get an angkas from anyone you may or may not know? The only walking I ever did was when I got into a mall. And even that was done at a leisurely pace.
So I’m giving “laziness” 40%.
Slow walking is more equitable
Improbable as it sounds, I think there is something in this. What better symbol of Western dog-eat-dog capitalism is there than the far-striding and long-legged and healthy young man or woman with granny or the tubby cousin wheezing at the back. The Filipino group ethic—which must necessitate a slowing down to the pace of the slowest member: 15%.
What’s the rush?
What indeed? Walking speed is just another cultural difference between so-called goal-oriented Westerners and people from other cultures. Is it any “better” to stride through a mall than to loiter checking out the scene? Unless the building is on fire, I doubt it. Westerners may find it frustrating to be stuck behind packs of imperceptably moving Filipinos, but slo-mo Pinoys probably feel trampled in Tokyo or New York. It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, as they say. Different philosophy to getting places: 25%. .
Having said that, cultural differences are easy to accept in theory, but difficult to live with in practice. I reckon a simple issue like how quickly you put one foot put in front of another is probably a major cause of friction in many relationships between Filipinos and foreigners, I’m afraid it has been in ours. But perhaps Frayed just hopes that one day I’ll sweep her off her feet and carry her home.