Giving genuine holiday greetings
’Tis the season to receive the standard greetings of “Uy, tumaba ka” (You got fat) and its annoyingly probing variants yet again.
A few years ago, social media users recommended a list of witty, often vicious clapbacks (“Ikaw rin, tita, tumaba ka”; You, too, aunt, you got fat). There were memes, t-shirts, even psychology pieces that talked about how damaging the mode of greeting was to children still forming their identities.
In response, older social media users simply chalked it up to Filipino culture, as though culture would never change—as though our next generations were mere inflatable/deflatable figurines rather than human beings with stories.
I’ve been taught that interested is interesting: Always enter a conversation wanting to exchange information. Ask open questions. Listen to people’s answers. Anything less is fishing for gossip, a way to disguise conversations as a space to confirm one’s biases on how people should look, behave, and live.
From a communication point of view, greeting someone with observations also shuts down any chance at meaningful conversation. This doesn’t excuse the classic loaded combo of “How are you? Why did you get so fat?”
How is anyone supposed to answer this question with dignity when it’s simply the short form of “How have you been? Look at you! Tell me how you’ve come to this point of being bigger than when I saw you last so I can find out if my speculations are true about your stressful life/lack of love life/inability to have more children.”
Someone once told me that the added observation is a sign that your relatives are observing you closely, and know you well enough to remember your size. Number one: That’s creepy. Number two: This reduces me to a person who exists simply to take up space, or who has to please relatives by embodying their version of standard reality.
What’s wrong with asking straightforward questions? What about: How are you? What have you been up to? I haven’t seen you in years! What are you doing now?
Or are we afraid of sincerely listening to people’s stories? Too lazy to engage in actual conversation?
A story goes, in this long-lost online article, of a preschool teacher with advice to people attending parties. When addressing children, especially little girls, avoid peppering them with empty compliments: “Oh, look at your hair! It’s so nice!” or “What a pretty dress!”
Such greetings reduce a child to a mere decoration. A shower of compliments shuts down any possibility of an exchange that would help the child realize that they can talk, should talk, should think through what they say. This is especially true for little girls, who are often socialized early into the notion that women are meant to be seen, rather than heard.
The author recommended asking: “What’s your favorite book?”
But that’s too smart, you might think. Little girls like dresses and dolls, and they shouldn’t be made to think so early.
Stop right there.
You’ll be surprised at how children can respond when asked intelligent questions.
I’ve tried it—and it works. I’ve talked to my friends’ kids about their favorite books, school subjects, and hobbies. One girl is all grown up and is in a science high school. She can fuss about her clothes, but they’re not the center of her universe. She’s surrounded by people who allow her to speak her mind, rather than go quiet and let her appearance speak for itself.
You’ll be surprised (or not) at how easy it is for overbabied children to later “grow” into blubbering, senile adults who can’t answer questions, can’t discern between true and misleading news, and vote for government officials who run on empty catchphrases rather than actual platforms.
Back to the party. Maybe it’s time we started being genuinely interested in each other again. Maybe it’s time we actually ask each other real questions instead of looking at each other as mere shells. Maybe it’s time we had actual conversations, and raise our children to engage in dialogue, listen, and think.
Pope Francis said something worth linking to these ideas in his recent Christmas Mass at the Vatican: God doesn’t want appearances but concreteness.
Let’s hope that in attending our year-end parties, we don’t turn ourselves into certain politicians that focus so hard on appearances while missing out on substance.
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