The 5 Types of Foreigners You’ll See in Metro Manila- as Seen by a Local

I’ve lived in the Philippines all of my life, but I have seen and talked to many foreigners to know enough about their motivations and intentions for coming here. Just as expats who come here have good and have bad views about Filipinos, we also have good and bad views about them too.

How much?

This article is my take on the different types of expats who come here to Manila.

1. The “customers”– These are the expats looking for the next girl to spend the night with…They’re practically everywhere! At first, I thought most of them hang out in Makati Ave, the unofficial red light district of the Philippines, but over the years, I’ve noticed they’re slowly invading even the most unexpected places to pick up women. They’re in coffee shops, ogling women and hoping someone joins them in broad daylight! When I was thirteen, an old guy asked if I could keep him company in exchange for coffee. I don’t know how drunk or high that guy was to think I’m the type of girl who would agree. It should have been obvious because I was wearing a school uniform! Heck, they’re even at Mickey D’s at the mall near my place! And no, they’re not there to eat a burger! They’re just sitting at the tables outside, crowding the space for actual dinners, while waiting for someone to keep them “company.” How do I know that they’re looking for women? That’s easy… They haven’t ordered anything because there’s nothing on their table and they’re always ogling the girls walking by. Occasionally, I’d see a couple of them eating with a woman too young to be their wife and too provocatively dressed to be their daughter. It’s also obvious in their body language that they’ve just met. In some cases, it’s so obvious that they’re “getting to know each other” and “haggling” for the price of the service because they talk too loud it’s impossible not to hear. Some of you might say that I’m too judgmental, but if you’ve seen this many times, like I have, you’ll probably think of the same thing.

Even Greenbelt, one of the upscale malls in the Metro has been invaded by sex tourism and expats looking for short-term happiness. How do I know this? Well, I remember quite clearly… It was almost midnight and I was in Greenbelt, on my way to the cinema to watch a movie. It was a work night, but there were so many people when the mall should have been quiet by that time. I noticed there were so many women and so many foreigners. At first, I thought there was a party but I was so wrong!

I heard a guy shout, “Hey, I’ll pay you 500 (pesos) to come with me!” The nerve of him, I wanted to punch his face! It’s too low; 500 PHP is only about 12 USD. The girl he was shouting at looked back then walked away. Either she was seriously humiliated for being called out like that, or she thought 500 was too low a price. The sad part was, the guy was approached by a couple of other girls. Perhaps for these women, 500 pesos was enough. I don’t blame them because I know that for some people, 500 pesos is 500 pesos, regardless of how they earned it. Its money they need to put food on the table.

A customer and escort at a coffee shop.
2. The self-proclaimed kings and queens – Aside from expats fueling the sex tourism industry, there are those who abuse the colonial mentality of Filipinos. These foreigners come here thinking they’d be treated like kings and queens, just because they’re foreigners! I see them almost every day, strutting as if they own the place. They cut people in line, berate waiters for not doing their request, and drive like they own the streets!

Sadly, there is some grain of truth to this belief. Filipinos have been colonized for more than 300 years, and this has affected the way most Filipinos see foreigners. The popular thinking is- “Pag kano, mayaman,” which translates to, “If you’re white, you’re rich.” The unspoken belief here is – “If you’re white, then you’re rich, and so we should treat you well so you will give us your money.

Perhaps, some Filipinos might hate me for saying this. I understand. I’m just saying things as I see it. Even expats who have lived here for so many years will agree with me. I’ve read some blogs, where expats complain how their extended relatives think of them as an “ATM Machine.”

But there’s a catch. Not all Filipinos look up to foreigners. Not all Filipinos are willing to go the extra mile to accommodate your whims. I think it’s safe to say that you can expect preferential treatment from people who need money from you and those who are required to bend over every time because their “tip” depends on it.

I know not all foreigners who come here are like this, but I want to mention it here because there’s just so many of them. Some even broadcast the preferential treatment they’re getting, and this only fuels the misconception that all Filipinos will admire and give them preferential treatment

3. Opportunist business men – These are the expats who come here to take advantage of the cheap labor. It’s very affordable to hire people here for three reasons,

  • Unemployment rates are high, so people are willing to take low-paying jobs (even dangerous, low paying jobs) just to put food on the table.
  • Most employers compute an employer’s salary on a monthly rate, not per hour like in Western countries. An ESL teacher, for instance, can get anywhere from 12,000 pesos (300 USD) to 30,000 pesos a month (770 USD). That’s very cheap compared to the $5-12 USD per hour required by employees in other Western and Southeast Asian countries.
  • Most Filipinos don’t know better. I hate to say this, but it’s true. Most employees would take whatever amount is given to them during the job offer, because they don’t know that they could get more and they fear that if they negotiate, the job will be offered to someone else.

From this perspective, I can see why so many foreigners want to outsource, or set up a brick and mortar business here. While some of these entrepreneurs are here doing honest to goodness business, some of them blatantly exploit the labor rights of their employees. They deduct the taxes of their employees, but they don’t report it to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and they don’t provide the government mandated benefits every employee should have.

These slave drivers overwork their employees, but they don’t even have the decency to pay the benefits the employees are entitled to receive. In some cases, even accidents at work aren’t shouldered by employers. And then, when their employees have had enough, they go on strike or complain about their boss to a public-service show, such as “Isumbong Mo Kay Tulfo”. Tulfo is a public servant, who hosts a TV show and radio program where he reprimands and threatens law offenders in TV, including unlawful entrepreneurs who abuse the rights of their employees.

What does an opportunist businessman think of this? Well, this show has been going on for ages, so I can tell you for a fact that most of these people, even after they were caught, are adamant that they’ve done nothing wrong! It’s ridiculous!

A foreigner giving the waiter at Fridays a piece of his mind.

4. Snowbirds and Retired Military- These are old men, mostly retired from the Military who have decided to retire here because they were once stationed here back in the good old days of their youth. Some of them want to settle here because they fell in love with the place, while others are just looking for a warm place to retire comfortably, despite their small pension. Sometimes, I’d see them drinking at a local bar, having a good time with other expats, who perhaps were in the same battalion as they were.

5. The Tourist- These are the backpackers, serial travelers and nomads I see in the Metro. Most of the time, they look lost, sometimes they look fascinated or grossed out by what they’re seeing. They’re often complaining about the dirt, the pollution, and the traffic. When I see these whiners, I often think how poor and unkempt my country is to their eyes. I also pity them, because they’re wasting their days touring the city, when they could go out of the Metro and actually see what the Philippines has to offer. I mean, why come here, and visit the mall when there’s probably a better and even bigger mall in your own country? If they can just go for a short drive outside Metro Manila, they’d see the Philippines in a different light.

I’m sure there are foreigners who come here that don’t fall into any of these categories. I also don’t claim to have made a complete list of stereotypes, these are just a few that I have noticed. I wrote this article to give would-be visitors to my country an idea of how foreigners are seen and treated. I hope that this article will answer some of your questions regarding the cultural differences, and the many ways a Filipino views a foreigner or “Kano,” as locals call them.