Last Ash Wednesday, I came out of the Mass quite seething. I was just subject to rude line behavior – twice! Since it was Ash Wednesday, churchgoers had to fall in line on the aisles twice during the Mass – first for the ashes, then for Communion. I sedately rose from the pew and went to fall in line. Or rather, I was PUSHED into the line. Then, some people formed a third line, and when the usher told them nicely to merge into the existing line, they shouldered and shoved their way into it. There were a lot of frowns and raised eyebrows (mine included) on those who fell in line properly. I think some would have raised hell if we hadn’t been in church. What bothered me most was that majority of these rude people were old ladies. It was as though their being older gave them the right to push us around. Filipinos are very respectful of the elderly so they didn’t need to do that. They would have been given their place in the line easily. If that wasn’t enough, the entire thing was repeated during the Communion – with the same cast of characters! These people were oblivious to the glares and exasperated sighs they received earlier. THEN, when I went back to my pew, two people were already sitting in my place – despite the fact that I left my fan there to mark my place. Normally, it’s not a big deal for me. I would just pick up my fan and stand elsewhere. But I’ve had enough that day. It’s not like these people were elderly or sick and really needed a seat. They’re younger than me, darn it! So I raised an eyebrow, stared pointedly, and said “Excuse Me” in a get-your-butts-out-there tone. They had the grace to look sheepish enough, but no apologies.

There’s another reason (aside from laziness) why I don’t like walking on busy streets here in Metro Manila. I’m a no-nonsense city street walker. Unless I’m lost, I don’t meander around, staring at everything around me. Or when I do, I at least make sure to stay on the side, out of the way. I also don’t make sudden stops as much as I can avoid it. Unfortunately, a lot of people on the streets are just the opposite. A lot of times, we can’t even walk 10 meters in a straight line. We have to weave around people who block the path for various unnecessary reasons. One of the most irritating is a group of people who just HAVE TO walk side by side the entire time, occupying the entire sidewalk, taking their sweet time, talking loudly and incessantly, and just totally oblivious to everyone. I could enumerate many other annoyances, but I’m sure many of those who have walked on Metro Manila’s streets know what I mean.

I sometimes wonder what’s behind all these inconsiderate behavior on the streets and on other public places. When Filipinos go abroad, we are law-abiding, considerate persons. Is it because we are not in our territory and therefore have to fit in? Well then, if we can do that in other countries, why can’t we do that in our own? We admire the orderliness in other countries. Why can’t we be orderly in our own? I remember in high school, one of the coolest “What I did last summer” stories was from a classmate who was stopped by police in Singapore or Hong Kong (I forget now) for jaywalking. She didn’t do it intentionally. She was just so used to the anything goes street system here. Rule-breaking is cool when you’re a teenager, but as an adult… When I got back from a trip to Paris, a lot of friends asked me what impressed me most, aside from the obvious beauty of the place. I said that I liked their unwritten rules for street behavior. For example, I’ve noticed that those who walk slow keep to the left. The right side is always clear for those who walk fast or are in a hurry. This is especially true in the human conveyor belt (the correct term escapes me at the moment, but it works like an elevator except it has no steps and goes forward instead of up; can someone please tell me what it’s called?). Also, pedestrians rule in that city. Apparently, in the smaller streets, cars stop to let pedestrians cross even if the light is still green. I learned that the embarrassing way. I was waiting to cross the street and I was looking at the traffic light to wait for it to turn red. Someone honked and when I turned my head, there was already a line of vehicles, and four hunky French men (ooh, gorgeous, but so not the point here, heehee) in a tiny Citroen car were frantically gesturing for me to cross the street. At least I can say that for once in my life I literally stopped traffic! I was embarrassed but at the same time I also wished that it was the same case here in the Philippines. Pedestrian lanes here are usually just decorations.

I don’t know if what we need is a cultural overhaul or an infrastructure-and-implementation overhaul. Maybe it’s the latter. I’ve seen how Ayala Ave. in Makati became more orderly once the pedestrian amenities were completed and the new loading/unloading system was strictly implemented. It can be done after all. It’s not that Filipinos don’t have discipline and consideration. Look at us when we’re in other places. It’s just that we don’t have enough reason to be. There are so many reasons why we are what we are and we do what we do. It’s still so hard to correctly pinpoint a true Filipino identity. The modern Filipino is the result of a melting pot of influence from different colonizers.

But still, at the end of the day, I am glad to be a Filipino living in the Philippines. At a recent job interview, I was asked if I have plans to go abroad (meaning to migrate) and I truthfully answered, “None”. I do want to try living in a different country, but only for a year or two and just for the experience. No matter how many things that my fellow Filipinos do to irritate me, they’re still my favorite people in the world. No matter how much I complain and how exasperated I am with the state of the country, I’m still here to stay. At the most, I’ll pack my bags and head to the province with my dad and our dog. It’s Metro Manila that I’m really sick of, but I still earn my living here so I’m staying put. For now.