The “Filipino eating habit” controversy in Canada brought back childhood memories. I remember that as a child, me and my two sisters dreaded visiting the house of a grandaunt because she was very strict and very particular about table manners: do not put your feet up your chair, do not put your elbows on the table, chew your food at least five times, etc. I still remember how surprised and aghast my grandaunt looked when I appeared for lunch without a shirt on. One time, I accidentally banged the door while entering her room and my lola punished me by making me go in and out of the door repeatedly until I learned to shut the door quietly.
Looking back, it is only now that I understand and appreciate what my dear departed lola was trying to do: which was to teach her apos “urbanidad.” Although the concept of “urbanidad” is very hard to encapsulate in one sentence, it is basically a “code of good manners and right conduct” for city-dwellers. It is being sophisticated in your tastes and cosmopolitan in your outlook. It is also being tolerant of people who look different than you. When you hang your laundry (panties and all) in your front lawn, that’s “walang urbanidad” because you cause an eyesore in your community. When you turn on your stereo full-blast at 11:00 pm waking up all your neighbors, that’s “walang urbanidad.” When you go out of your house with only your shorts and tsinelas on, that’s “walang urbanidad.” It used to be that one of the greatest personal insults you can hurl someone is by telling him/her “wala ka urbanidad.” Today, it is seldom you hear people in Iloilo City use the phrase. Now, the phrase commonly used is: “daw taga-uma ka.”
Standards for "urbanidad" change thru the years due mainly to shifting mores. Moreover, different societies have varying standards for what's proper and what's not. But one thing remains constant: respect for yourself (i.e. the way you carry and dress yourself) and respect for others (i.e. being considerate of other people's feelings and sensibilities).
The "Filipino eating habit" controversy in Canada is one good exampe of clashing standards of "urbanidad." Usually, westerners eat by having soup first (with a spoon) and the main entree after (with a kinfe and fork). Us Filipinos use a spoon and fork because we like to have "all-in-one" meals. Filipino all-time favorite dishes like kare kare, sinigang and pochero are both soup and main entree. Try eating them with just a fork! The Canadian grade school teacher and principal must be unaware of this probably because they haven't travelled outside Canada and exposed to different cultures and cuisines.
On my part, I use chopsticks whenever I'm eating at a Japanese or Chinese restaurant because that is supposed to be part of the dining experience. During formal sit-down dinners, I eat like Westerners do (spoon for the soup and knife and fork for the main entrees) mainly because that is the way they serve the food.
Many Ilonggos find eating with chopsticks awkward and "bitin." We likewise find disgusting the custom of some Arabs eating "boodle-fight" style disgusting. But the point is we do not make it our official state policy to ban the use of chopsticks or eating "boodle-fight" style. What do you think will happen if the City Government of Iloilo passes an ordinance disallowing the use of chopsticks?
The point here is that we whould learn to be tolerant and understanding of each other. Once a certain group of people decides to impose its will and its culture on another people, expect trouble. Wars were fought in the past because of this. Canadian government officials should issue a public apology to the Filipino-Canadian family the school teacher offended. Urbanidad demands it.