Soooo…when I’m complimented by a Filipino for my barely-conversational command of Tagalog, should I be offended? Should I think it’s a “microaggression”, especially when I’m staying at our home in the Philippines?

You’re essentially a native English speaker — after all, you grew up in New York. That also means you may not fully realize just how insanely difficult English is when compared to many other languages. I remember reading somewhere that Korean is one of the simplest in the world, but I do know firsthand that Tagalog is much simpler, much more sensibly constructed than English (and it’s almost completely gender-neutral, too). I can teach you how to properly pronounce almost every word in Tagalog in two minutes flat…and once you get used to that, with a bit of practice, the moment you hear a word in Tagalog, chances are you can spell it without ever having seen it written down.

Can you say that about English? Ha! That’s why, when I compliment an immigrant (regardless of status) for whom English is a second language, I mean it.

I remember during my Navy career, on one ship I used to receive written statements from much of the crew…and I remember being astounded at two enlisted men whose spelling, grammar, and style were superior to that of anyone else among the 660-man crew (even over that of the college-educated commissioned officers). They were both Vietnamese refugees who’d learned English in a Filipino refugee camp about ten years before.

The point is this: yes, the people you describe are idiots for assuming that you’re not American, for not realizing that skin color is no automatic indication of one’s nationality, culture, preferences, what have you. But you can’t fix them — they have to unlearn their own racism just as I did. But if you can, let it pass. Why? Because ignorance and malice are two very different things…

…and that’s the key. Ignorance can be forgiven and corrected in a relatively short time…but not malice. Judge others not on their ignorance, but on the presence or absence of malice.

Lastly, I realize that my tone may sound as if I’m talking down to you, and please understand that is not intentional, but the product of fifty-odd years of ADHD-fortified arguing (and you may be younger or older than I). I just hope that since you grew up in the world capital of arguing with attitude, you can forgive my impertinence.

Here’s a side story (unconnected with the above): one night I was walking along in Kowloon and I saw two old Chinese men having a heated discussion over the price of something. They were both in traditional Chinese garb, complete with white beards nearly down to their belly-buttons…but how did I know they were arguing over price? Because they were arguing in English. This was long before I knew that Mandarin and Cantonese are two very different languages, and that around the world, English (that Frankenstein monster of linguistic communication — see “Abby Normal” (welcome to my ADD moment)) is often the only way for two locals in Asia or Africa to communicate with each other.

Written by

Retired Navy. Inveterate contrarian. If I haven’t done it, I’ve usually done something close.

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