‘Pag may time’: The Pinoy art of not doing something

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By Richard Leo Ramos Philippine Online Chronicles.


I’m sure that most people reading this article has either been exasperated that someone is avoiding giving you time for something you want them to do, or have themselves avoided doing something for someone else, citing time issues. Among Filipinos, this habit can reach epic proportions, and may, in fact, be the root cause of many social issues today.

The inability to say “No”
The first facet of this habit of finding ways to avoid doing something is rooted in the Filipino inability to directly say “no.” That’s because for the Pinoy, that can be tantamount to admitting that they are lacking in some sort of skill. It’s so deeply ingrained that there isn’t really a true word for “no” in the Filipino language – “hindi” comes close, but it has so many shades and nuances that it usually has to be expounded on.

This sometimes works to the Pinoy’s advantage, in that if they don’t want to do something, it’s easy to come up with an ambiguous way of saying that there is no time, it can’t be done, or that it shouldn’t be done, even.

And yet, when a Pinoy wants to do something… you don’t even have to finish your sentence. “Sige” is great, “oo” even better, and if the person simply asks what the requirements and deadline is in an enthusiastic manner, you know that stuff will be done.

System and structure
When dealing with “can/can’t do” situations in the Philippines, you should also check if your request may actually have an issue with the overall situation.

On the most objective level, Pinoys don’t like rocking the boat. And if that means that your request may cause them to do things that may raise eyebrows, or at the very least isn’t what they normally do, there’s a good chance that they may put up excuses to the effect that it can’t be done, it needs clearance, or it needs much more time than your request requires. Depending on how strict or traditional the structure or system in place is, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if you have to go through some clearance hoops and formal letters of request (triple-approved, no doubt), before something will be done.

And if it’s on a personal level, the same thing applies: anything out of the comfort zone is usually met with some sort of excuse. If you’re thinking that this may in part be the “indolence of the Filipinos,” then you would be right. Pinoys aren’t necessarily lazy as they calculate if it’s worth doing something.

However, if you think that that is the dark side, then you would be very wrong.Money Hand

The dark side of system and structure issues is that Pinoys easily fall into corrupt practices, given this mindset. In other words: you want them to move? Then all you have to do is grease the wheels. Preferably with cash and gifts.

It all starts, again, with that Pinoy thing about not rocking the boat. However, some Pinoys, being, ahem, enterprising, will make it profitable for them to accede to certain requests. The sad part is, they probably won’t find a shortage of people wanting to take advantage of the shortcut they offer.

Of course, some people will ask: why not change the system? Well, the answer to that is that it’s a bit of a closed loop, in the sense that since the system or structure is traditional… cultural inertia makes changes difficult. And given that some (all right, many) people in the system are profiting from the use of shortcuts, it will be even more difficult to institute changes.

Another reason why Pinoys can and will find ways to not do something is the simple matter of avoiding responsibility. It is becoming more common in local culture that people who just keep their heads down will usually have reasonably quiet lives. So again, why rock the boat? This makes people strict about what they will do or not do. After all, there are many stories of people who stuck their neck out for someone, only to find themselves in more trouble, be it figurative in the sense of more administrative paperwork to do, or in a literal sense, as their jobs or even their lives may be at risk.

However, even if it sounds like Pinoys really just don’t want to do anything, there’s a flip side to the Filipino story of “pag may time.”

Asking too much
The problem, on the other hand, is that Pinoys do tend to ask rather big favors. On one hand, a misplaced sense of Pinoy pride will also prevent some people from asking help until the favor will become something that’s very big, and will entail a lot of issues on the side of the person being asked a favor from. On another point, it’s also about how Pinoys love to “lean” on people whom they know they can ask favors from, so much so that for many Pinoys, a request is a balance between authority of the one asking and the amount of work and hassle it will entail from the one to whom the request is directed.

Business is personal
In Filipino culture, there is no such thing as an impersonal request. All requests are, on some level, personal in nature. To request something implies that you either have authority over the other person, or that you know the person – and for Pinoys, authority is very much related to knowing the other person, if only on a perfunctory basis.

What to do
As you can see, the act of asking something from someone in the Philippines can become rather complicated. At the shallowest, a refusal can certainly be borne out of laziness and not wanting to do something that can raise eyebrows.

However, as the request becomes more important and larger in scope, it’s a good idea to look, also, at the situation as it relates to the person you are making a request to. If you can figure out how to phrase your request properly, then you should have minimal issues that you can negotiate or even handwave with what you are asking from someone else.

So if you get hit by the “pag may time” term while asking a favor from someone, all you have to do is find a way to make the request more acceptable – and if you really think that it’s all just about being lazy, then at least you know whom not to ask a favor from next time.

A fool and his money
“Time Card,” by Matti Mattila, c/o Flickr.Com
“Money Hand,” by Neubie, c/o Flickr.Com
“A Fool and His Money.” by David Goehring, c/o Flickr.Com


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