Today will be spent at iBlog2, and then advancing work because the next few days will also be devoted to Free Expression in Asian Cyberspace: A Conference of Asian Bloggers, Podcasters and Online Media. So for this week, I won’t be able to do the usual roundups. I’ll focus on putting forward some extracts from a book for discussion, instead.
Among my holiday reading was “The Italians” (Luigi Barzini), which together with “Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French” (Jean-Benoit Nadeau, Julie Barlow), makes me wish someone would undertake a similar book about Filipinos.
One of the unintended benefits of the Filipino diaspora, I always try to suggest to others, is that the exposure of so many Filipinos both to democracies and undemocratic countries abroad, serves to banish one of the dangers of living in an island nation: the tendency to be insular and unaware and unappreciative of what is going on elsewhere.
Most of all, to examine others is to examine ourselves. To study other peoples is to make possible seeing ourselves in others -the delight, or horror, of discovered similarities. It is also to see how similar problems entail solutions that differ from our own, that may be superior, or prove inferior to solutions we’ve devised.
From Barzini’s book, these passages (from Chapter Five, “Illusion and Cagliostro”):
Polite lies and flattery can be utilitarian on occasion but, most of the time, must be honestly classified among the devices disinterestedly designed to make life decorous and agreeable. They are the lubricants that make human relations run more smoothly… Almost imperceptibly flattery is in the eagerness with which your orders are obeyed, or the obsequiousness with which your advice is sought in matters in which you have no particular experience. It is in the use of academic and other titles; people affix it to your name, as if to prove that you so visibly deserve such honors that it is impossible you have not been awarded them…
Most polite lies, like flattery, are too transparent really to further the liar’s interest. When the shoemaker convincingly says, one hand on his heart, “of course, sir, you will have your new shoes on Thursday, without fail. Do not worry!” he is aware that he cannot fulfill his promise. The shoes will not be ready on time. But he is lying not for himself. He is lying for you. He wants you to feel at peace until Thursday, at least, warmed by the hope that your shoes will arrive…
Even instruments of precision like speedometers and clocks are made to lie in Italy for your happiness. The instrument in your car always marks a figure which is between ten and twenty per cent above the actual speed at which you are traveling. It is meant to make you feel proud of your automobile and your driving skill, but also to make you slow down sooner than you would otherwise and possibly save your life. The clocks on railway stations are all five minutes fast; everybody knows it, of course; and yet travelers, who would arrive on time even if they walked, are stupidly encouraged to quicken their step. Only foreigners are sometimes discouraged sooner than necessary and miss their trains. The electric clocks on the trains themselves, on the other hand, are often a few minutes slow, to give passengers the illusion they arrive on time when they are late, or a little ahead.
“FIlipino time” -it seems less surprising in the light of Italian Time; just as the frustrations of the Westernized Filipino and the Westerner over the honeyed but meaningless words of those who promise, but don’t deliver on time, seem echoed in Barzini’s description of the Italian propensity for making soothing promises.