Text Text

One of the first things I observed in the Philippines is the absolutely over the top use of texting. It was one of my first observations and it took me awhile to work out why.

As with most things, there is always a reason why, but coming from a place where a text is mostly used for the relaying of information or messages that are important, it really was puzzling to me when I first got here. It seemed to be a whole way of life for some.

As a new arrival as I was at the time, I had been in restaurants and observed groups of six sitting at a table, awaiting a meal and out of the six, probably four of them would be constantly texting. The other two probably want to text but can’t think what to text at the time. Whereas I smoke like a maniac, it appeared that people here texted for something to do with their hands which I guess is healthier than smoking.

Turn your head the other way, there’s a dating couple sat opposite each other and instead of looking into each other’s eyes and talking, they are both texting and barely a word is exchanged. I’ve often wondered if it’s because they are so shy and are texting each other. I was very bemused by all this to say the least.

You walk through the streets and people are texting as they walk, oblivious to everything around them and in the Philippines, it’s a dangerous practice as it’s all too easy to get in the way of a tricycle driver or fall down an open drain. It’s a national obsession, and you see text being used far more than you may observe in other countries.

I can only speculate as to why some of this is but one real reason that I believe holds ground is simply that there is no cheaper form of communication. It is very inexpensive to text in the Philippines. All the providers do promos, which offer all day texting at as little as 10 pesos. Filipinos know how to maximize a good deal and they text till they drop for very little money.

Photo courtesy of getrealphilippines.com

Photo courtesy of getrealphilippines.com

Another possible factor is that Filipinos are generally a little shy. It’s hard to define but they seem to be the kind of people who would be happier talking to you from afar and would probably be far more open through text exchange. Many romances and courtships are through text messaging. I’ve received many texts asking my name and, “Will you be my text mate?” is the question. I had never come across anything like this before and I found it fascinating.

This isn’t to say that Filipinos can’t talk, far from it. But this combination of factors especially the fact that it’s cheap has everything to do with it. It has set into the culture, and in a way it seems they are very comfortable with it.

So as you have a day’s texting for a small cost, the idea is to use it till your thumb becomes numb. Consequently, I have received some very funny texts in my time from people maximizing their promos and asking me “if I’ve had my lunch?” Prayers and quotes from god himself (whom I never knew had a cellphone). Others include “time for coffee”, “don’t forget breakfast” and even “do you love me” to which I reply, “I don’t know, who are you”?

You will observe that if you watch someone walk into anywhere like a restaurant or sit down on a bus or pretty much anywhere where it’s a little public (which is everywhere, its Metro Manila, no hiding place), then the first thing they are likely to do is grab their cell phone and just slightly hide behind it and text.

In this metropolis, a cell phone is a perfect screen. You feel very exposed and city paranoia is rife in such overcrowded places. Texting means you can hide from the world avoid unwanted attention and generally kill time.

So get used to excessive texting. You may need to give your thumbs a work out before you get here. Texting is a way of life so get used to it. They will speed past you, walk in front and then boom! Out of the blue, they just put on the brakes because of a need to text someone to say that they are “nearly there” or something.

For me it is totally over done but I say that as someone who isn’t much of a talker, we’re not all the same. The obsessive nature of texting here has often made me smile. The over use of it makes you wonder how they ever lived before the arrival of the cell phone. I’m certain that 70% of what’s sent to each other isn’t anything important. But Some Filipinos love to chat, and when they can’t chat, they text. Sometimes they chat with someone whilst they text. I think with evolution, in a few thousand years, Filipinos will develop a cell phone as an extra limb.

I have no data or research studies available on the matter but I bet at least 30% of the texts that are sent daily say simply OK. If you’re here long enough, it’s something you will possibly fall into, too. It’s not without its benefits.

It can sometimes be a nuisance though. I have had people try to befriend me through text pretending they don’t know me. They claim to not know me but what gives it away is that they text everything in English when I’ve never replied saying I wasn’t Filipino myself. Sometimes it’s the person you bought the load from and often they tell me a friend gave them my number. It doesn’t bother me as when I’ve had enough I just ignore, but it can be used to intimidate or harass something young ladies here often experience from shy would-be suitors.

I have to admit that there have been times when I have developed the obsession, too. In bored moments, I haven’t exactly asked if they have had their lunch, but I have indulged in some very silly pointless exchanges to pass the time.

Texting here is a way of life. It’s cheap and definitely used more extensively than anywhere else I know. Lawyers, politicians even release details to media via text. Most times, I pass a police officer on duty and he’s texting. I even laughed out loud many years ago when there was a military coup going on in Makati which fortunately failed. The soldiers that were positioned outside, ready to storm the building were all fervently texting whilst waving to the cameras. Yes, it’s a text republic here. Better start training those thumbs. Filipinos are great people to observe. This aspect is just one of many aspects that make me smile and in this case a totally harmless part of being a Filipino. Go with the flow and get that promo. It’s definitely better than watching local TV. I’ve been here long enough now to also feel a little naked without my cellphone. Don’t forget breakfast, nor lunch and definitely don’t fall for the pasaload trick.

You can pass loads to people and all too often I get these requests. I’ve worked out that some send pasaload requests to everyone in their phone book. They only ask a small amount so they don’t appear too much (grabe!). The idea being, if 2 or 3 of their friends respond and send that small amount of say 5 peso load, then that pays for the day’s texting via promo.

Naughty maybe, but harmless. Take care always. Another popular text.



Filed under Culture, Impressions, Manila, Philippine Transportation, Philippines, Travel

9 responses to “Text Text

  1. that’s pretty keen observation… I agree and plea guilty with a lot of your points.


  2. niki

    & dnt 4gt hw gr8 fiipinos hv learnd &mastrd hw 2 abbrv8 word n dr tx msgs! onli n d pilipins & 8s mor fun dr 🙂


    • Absolutely Niki and whats sad about it is this dumb-arse Englishman has to text back “huh”. No not really i get it but im not so clued up on jejemon speak. Then i definitely have to say “huh”. I wish i was as good with the abbreviations as you, Some promos are not all network so saves money 🙂


      • Jhun M

        Ha ha ha! I found it somewhat nice that a non-Filipino at least thought of the trend as something not harmful or bad. You’ve answer my question as to why texting is so popular back home and it’s the cost involved in texting compared to making a phone call. However, I could only hope that the Filipinos would not lose their ability to spell words properly because their so getting use to this so called jejemon way of speaking (?). As a kid growing up in Manila before migrating to the US, I pride myself of being able to spell words correctly. Just like that comment made above by a certain “Niki”, I had to read it twice to grasp what she was saying… and I’m Filipino lol …


      • Yes Jhun M its not half as bad as playing Grand Auto Theft or whatever the hell its called. I really do see people here use the cellphone as something to hide behind. We all have our shy moments and living in a city of 12 million, we all need to hide behind something. I think this is why bigger Cellphones are becoming more popular 🙂


    • niki

      in spite the many promos all networks are giving for text-call all you can, it is still inevitable at times that one is down to the last peso load. so, to the rescue, come the filipinos creativity in mixing and matching 160 character or less to create a message…i hope i got all my words right, Jhun M 🙂 practice -practice lang yan 😀


  3. B

    Hi James, great article. I totally understand what you mean. I think most of us even here in the US tend to do the same thing. In my last visit in the Pi, everyone, I mean everyone does the “texting”, almost robotic like, quickly and just appear glued to the device. I find the same here in the US, observing people that range from the student, the person who just got off work or the busy mom. Once you hit that Starbucks line before you order, I would say about 90% (including myself) are on the phone, not because we need to, but because we are on some social media platform waiting or reviewing the most current updates. As for couples and dating, I never browse my phone on social media, check emails or “text” when with my girlfriend, my focus is on the person I am with…a break from just hunching down and viewing another life on some social media platform. Continue the good work with this blog and I look forward to your work. Great job.


    • Agree B if there was a world speed texting championships, im sure a Filipino would be the winner. Im delighted to hear your not dull on your dates with your girlfriend. Again though something to hide behind and an excuse to have little to say. I do find it too much personally but completely understand it at the same time. I do it far more now than i did before i came here. Maybe ive got shy too.


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