Remember the movie Divergent? Heading out into the world as a digital nomad reminds me of the Dauntless faction in that film. ICYMI, the Dauntless are the brave, fearless, jumping-onto-and-off-a-moving-train members of the society. I feel like digital nomadism, especially on my first 30 days in Manila, is such a Dauntless thing to do.
As you all know, I have now lived (on and off!) in the Philippines for three years. I love this city, I legit feel like it’s my home. However, it didn’t always feel like that. On my first 30 days in Manila, I was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed; fuck, I didn’t know what I was doing. Everything amazed me and a helluva lot confused me!
By way of easing the blow for you during your first month as a digital nomad, I thought I’d collect my thoughts on what I was feeling and what I observed in that first month on the road. You’ll soon see that we’re all in the same boat—experiencing the first of many pangs of culture shock, soaking up as much of the local scene as you can, attempting to converse with the locals—really, the list goes on.
A culture shock doesn’t necessarily hit you the moment you land. Did you know there are four stages of culture shock? Honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance. Two years in and I find myself slipping back to the frustration stage every now and again. I’m only human!
Let’s take a look at my first 30 days in Manila, what I observed and what I learned!
Be welcomed with warm weather and warm smiles.
In case you didn’t get the memo, it’s warm and humid in Manila. First 100 steps, and you’ll surely be sweating buckets. However, warm does not only apply to the weather in this part of the world. Expect a warm welcome by the Filipinos as they greet you with all smiles and incredible hospitality. So, if they say that Thailand is the land of smiles, I, on the other hand, beg to differ; the Philippines is where the smilers are!
A perfect testament to what I say happened the moment I stepped out of the Philippine airport. A security guard just randomly came up to me and started a chat. It was all a bunch of simple questions like where I came from, how long my flight was, etc. Regardless, that was something that surprised me. How can this stranger just be so open for a quick chat? Also, why does he speak English fluently and even with a slight American accent? When I arrived in Manila, my English was rubbish, so I was chuffed that this security guard had the patience to even chat with me.
Traffic like you’ve never seen before.
Oh, the infamous Manila traffic! I really didn’t think it was that bad until I’ve seen it myself. Coming from a country with a relatively small population, clear roads, and orderly traffic, I was shookt by the chaotic scene in the roads of Manila. Everyone wants to get to the front of the queue or be the first to pull off which just makes even more traffic! A friend of mine once told me that Filipino drivers can sense fear from other drivers, so better buckle up and put your game face on when driving here. Traffic rules seem arbitrary (but they’re really not!), and the traffic is still something I’ll never get used to!
To be fair, at least I did see something very interesting on that first journey from the airport to my Airbnb rental—the jeepneys! Donned in cool graffitis and blasting loud music, jeepneys are distinctly Pinoy public transport vehicles, much like how India and Thailand have tuk-tuks.
Shopping culture here is insane!
Do you know where Filipinos love to hang out? At malls! The first apartment I rented for a month had a massive mall nearby, and man, was it crowded! It was weird for me albeit convenient to have everything in a mall—from retail shops, to posh restaurants and food halls, to cinemas, to bars! The thing is, Filipinos love shopping so much that it is highly likely for a city to have more than one mall!
Understaffed seems to be a rare occasion.
In my first thirty days in Manila, I noticed that there always seems to be a dedicated person for a single task, even the simplest of tasks! What do I mean by this?
Let’s take shopping etiquette for example. Back in Switzerland, everyone packs the shit they’ve just bought into bags themselves. However, in the Philippines, the cashier does the packing for you, or sometimes, you’ll even have a bagger help you out with, what else, putting your stuff in a bag! The same person can also help you bring your grocery bags into your car. It’s like living like a king, right?
When dining in a restaurant, it is not uncommon to see so many servers. This is also the case in department stores! They swarm around you just to help you out.
And the best example yet, having an elevator attendant to push the buttons for you—literally just push the buttons!
Commodities are incredibly cheap!
What I do love about living in Manila is that everything is so cheap compared to Switzerland! The novelty of this will never wear off. Even when I was a little strapped for cash, it was still cheaper to eat out than cook for myself. Don’t get me wrong though, for Filipinos and perhaps other people from neighboring Asian countries, prices might be normal and not cheap at all. But for a European like me, the cost of living here is way, way better than back home.
Food is a celebration.
Speaking of eating out, Filipinos are obsessed with food! Food choices here are aplenty! Manila has so many different restaurants, food courts, and hawkers that in my first month, I don’t think I ate in the same place twice. I just wanted to try it all! The actual dishes themselves? They’re like food on crack, super delicious!
Plus, the seafood is to die for! Coming from a landlocked country, I very much enjoyed stuffing myself with seafood.
Pinoys are ready to give a helping hand.
Related to how welcoming Pinoys are, they, too, are very helpful. If you’re ever lost or need a hand with something, Filipinos will always be happy to help you out. Even total strangers will go well out of their way to help you.
There’s a stark contrast between the rich and the poor.
On a somber note, I was shocked and saddened (still am) by the stark contrast between those who have and those who have not in the Philippines. I know this is the case in many developing countries, but I always find it hard to see homeless, penniless people sleeping outside grand shopping malls and the streets. Other Filipinos seem to see this as a normality now.
Everyone’s crazy about social media.
Perhaps this is because there are way more younger people out and about in the Philippines. I joke that Switzerland is run by the oldies and it’s kinda true! The Philippines is a very young nation, so it’s only fitting that they love their social media.
It is estimated that the average Filipino spends 4 hours and 17 minutes a day on social media, making them the highest in the world! They’re selfie-obsessed and proud! I had to get used to going out with my new friends and them being glued to their screens. I will admit though that the amount of time I spend on social media has dramatically increased over the last three years. I kinda love it and kinda hate myself for it, too!
Filipino time exists.
If you don’t know what Filipino time is, it basically pertains to Filipinos’ usual tardiness. It is common here for an event to start an hour later than what was written on the invite. This is especially annoying, but I’m glad that most, if not all, understand the value of time when setting meetings.
Filipinos love their love teams.
Something that kinda shocked me in my first 30 days in Manila is how much Filipinos love their celebrities. I didn’t know such loyal fans could exist! You’ll be hearing made-up couple names a lot—like JaDine and LizQuen! Taylor Swift’s Swifties would have a run for their money if they came to Manila, seriously! It’s not just the girls either; guys have their favorite local sports teams and singing superstars as well.
McDonald’s offers delivery!
The final and weirdest thing I found out in my first 30 days in Manila was that McDonald’s deliver! This just doesn’t happen in Europe, least not in Switzerland. We’re lucky if we can find a drive-thru! The novelty of that still hasn’t worn off. Even though I know that McDonald’s is super bad for you, I just fucking love it! I used to have McDo (as Filipinos would call it) delivery on my first few days because I just couldn’t get over!
Oh, did I mention they have spaghetti and rice on the menu?
Wow, that was a quick whirlwind tour of my first 30 days in Manila. Are you thinking about hitting the road, or are you still in the honeymoon phase of your big move? I’d love to hear your experiences. Comment below and let’s chat!