The Wit of the Filipino
THERE’S A SIGN ON Congressional Avenue in Manila that says: “Parking for Costumers Only.” This may be a misspelling of “customer.” But the Philippine capital is so full of theatrical, brightly dressed individuals that I prefer to think it may actually mean what it says. This week, we’ll take a reading tour of one of the most spirited communities in Asia. The Philippines is full of wordplay. The local accent, in which F and P are fairly interchangeable, is often used very cleverly, such as at the flower shop in Diliman called Petal Attraction.
Much of the wordplay in the Philippines is deliberate, with retailers favouring witty names, often based on Western celebrities and movies. Reader Elgar Esteban found a bread shop called Anita Bakery, a 24-hour restaurant called Doris Day and Night, a garment shop called Elizabeth Tailoring and a hairdresser called Felix The Cut.
Smart travellers can decipher initially baffling signs by simply trying out a Taglish (Tagalog-English) accent, such as that used on a sign at a restaurant in Cebu: “We Hab Sop-Drink In Can An In Batol.” A sewing accessories shop called Beads And Pieces also makes use of the local accent.
Of course, there are also many signs with oddly chosen words, but they are usually so entertaining that it would be a tragedy to “correct” them. A reader named Antonio “Tonyboy” Ramon T. Ongsiako (now there’s a truly Filipino name) found the following: In a restaurant in Baguio: “Wanted: Boy Waitress;” on a highway in Pampanga: “We Make Modern Antique Furniture;” on the window of a photography shop in Cabanatuan: “We Shoot You While You Wait;” on the glass wall of an eatery in Panay Avenue in Manila: “Wanted: Waiter, Cashier, Washier.”
Some of the notices one sees are thought-provoking. A shoe store in Pangasinan has a sign saying: “We Sell Imported Robber Shoes.” Could these be the sneakiest sort of sneakers? On a house in Jaro, Iloilo, one finds a sign saying: “House For Rent, Fully Furnaced.” Tonyboy commented, “Boy, it must be hot in there.”
Occasionally, the signs are quite poignant. Reader Gunilla Edlund saw one at a ferry pier outside Davao, southern Philippines, which said: “Adults:1USD; Child: 50 cents; Cadavers: subject to negotiation.” But most are purely witty, and display a love of Americana. Reader Robert Harland spotted a bakery named Bread Pitt, a Makati fast-food place selling maruya (banana fritters) called Maruya Carey, a water-engineering firm called Christopher Plumbing, a boutique called The Way We Wear, a video rental shop called Leon King Video Rental, a restaurant in the Cainta district of Rizal called Caintacky Fried Chicken, a local burger restaurant called Mang Donald’s, a doughnut shop called MacDonuts, a shop selling lumpia (meat parcels) in Makati called Wrap and Roll, and two butchers called Meating Place and Meatropolis.
Tourists from Europe may be intrigued to discover shops called Holland Hopia and Poland Hopia. Both sell a type of Chinese pastry called hopia. What’s the story? The names are explained thus: Holland Hopia is the domain of a man named Ho and Poland Hopia is run by a man named Po.
People in the Philippines also redesign English to be more efficient.”The creative confusion between language and culture leads to more than just simple unintentional errors in syntax, but in the adoption of new words,” says reader Rob Goodfellow. He came across a sign that said “House Fersallarend.” Why use five words (house for sale or rent) when two will do?
Tonyboy Ongsiako explains why there was so much wit in the Philippines. “We come from a country where you require a sense of humour to survive,” he says. “We have a 24-hour comedy show here called the government and a huge reserve of comedians made up mostly of politicians and bad actors.”
-article by Nury Vittachi of Far Eastern Economic Review