Let’s talk about the toxic pasalubong culture in the Philippines

Christmas Scene

Whenever we travel, we always have to worry about our itinerary, our accommodation, ticket prices, and the pasalubong we have to bring home. The last part has become a high-pressure thing as friends, relatives, and officemates eagerly await the gifts and treats we bring home. Of course, we have to bring something good or else they’ll complain about it.

This is especially true for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who return home or visit for the holidays. Suddenly, relatives they haven’t seen or spoken to in years reappear to ask for money or rubber shoes.

In a Reddit thread that went viral a few months ago, the son of an OFW visited the side of his family he hasn’t spent time with before. Despite still being in college, his relatives asked him to pay their bills and tuition in school. He would also pay for their meals in restaurants, even if they were the ones who insisted on eating out. They would demand for pasalubong, get mad that they didn’t get what they asked for, and even steal gifts meant for other people. To top it off, they asked him to pay for a P17 toothbrush they got for him during his trip.

SpongeBob Asking Patrick to Give Him Patty Pal

What people seem to forget is that people work abroad to support their family. They’re not there for a good time. My mom, who used to teach in Japan, would eat convenience store food just so she could send more money home. A friend of mine, who is considered rich in the Philippines, had to learn how to cut hair so she could be the family’s hairdresser when they move to Canada. These stories are not unique and there are worse, especially for illegal workers who take on menial and demeaning jobs.

Travellers have it easier but that doesn’t mean we should pressure them into getting us anything. They’re all working with a budget since things are usually more expensive abroad. Don’t force them to buy things for you pay for it. And just be grateful for whatever they give you, whether it’s food or a keychain.

I travel every now and then and I’m lucky I don’t have people who harass me for better, or any, pasalubong. That doesn’t mean I don’t bring something home. I keep in mind the true essence of the gift: that even if I’m away, I’m still thinking of you.

I’ve perfected the art of pasalubong already: buy them food. It’s hard to think of non-food items and I’ve seen lukewarm reactions when I hand over a coin purse from Thailand or a postcard from Hong Kong. But everyone’s face lights up when I hand over a bag of local treats. But steer clear of tourist traps in areas and airports as they’re bound to be expensive. Go to a convenience store and buy the local snacks and pastries there. They’re affordable and they can’t be found in Manila. As with everything else, food is always better.


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