The power of lambing

This was my first feature article for a print magazine. It went through a few revisions, and I can only be grateful that Michelle Baltazar was (and is) such an understanding editor and mentor.

There’s a reason why Filipinas are so good at grabbing a bargain. And it’s not just the fact that we know where all the factory outlets are. It’s because we harness the power of lambing. Loosely translated, this means expressing physical or verbal endearments to show affection or, in the case of shopping, to get a good deal on that new lounge suite.

The English language has no equivalent word for lambing or karinyo. It can mean tenderness, charm, affection, love, flirtation and even flattery. But these words don’t fully convey the underlying sense of building and nurturing relationships that forms a big part of what lambing is all about.

While great for negotiating discounts, lambing is expressed in many different kinds of relationships. It permeates interactions with family, friends, lovers and associates. For example, it’s not unusual to see Filipinas in their twenties—and beyond—being openly affectionate to their parents. Most Aussie women would find this seemingly childish behaviour mortifying.

This difference is a reflection of our values. Aussies appreciate forthrightness—something that lambing avoids. Aussies are pragmatic; Filipinos love sentimentality. We might exude independence to the prying eyes of another culture, but many of us understand that among Filipinos, displays of affection are not only acceptable, they’re often expected.

Most of us are taught lambing at an early age. Remember how your cheeks were rubbed raw at family gatherings from the many kisses and kurot (pinches) you endured? Refuse your tita’s waiting arms and she might have turned away with a disgruntled, ‘Hmph!’ But two seconds later, she’d win you over with her own demonstration of lambing—an enticing bite of dessert, a trinket or some pocket money. What kid can resist a five-dollar note?

Yes, learning to be malambing can be very lucrative. But it shouldn’t be confused with bribery even though the result can sometimes make it seem that way. Lambing can simply be a cajoling tone or a light pat on the arm, which transforms a potential confrontation into co-operation.

Nowhere is lambing more obvious than in courtship. The more direct approach favoured by Australian culture can seem jarring to Filipinas who have grown up expecting the pampering and devotion that their mothers experienced. In romance, lambing is all about the little things. Like driving you to and from work, burning a DVD of the entire season of Grey’s Anatomy because you mentioned you liked the show, sending text messages, and penning love notes filled with original poetry.

Meanwhile, your suitor should also be showing the rest of your family some lambing on the side. Your Mum may say she doesn’t like him but if she’s eating that box of Guylian he bought her, things are looking good. Dad might be trickier but that’s part of the ritual—what a guy does to win your family over, he does to win you over.

While it may seem slightly mercenary, lambing requires sincerity and genuine affection or respect on both sides. One woman’s idea of lambing can be another’s paranoia. For example, a guy who calls every day ‘just to hear your voice’ can result in kilig (good goose bumps) or kilabot (bad goose bumps), depending on whether or not you return his affection.

Lambing allows couples to demonstrate to families and friends that they’re serious about each other without being accused of inappropriate behaviour. Many older Filipinos still frown at anything beyond holding hands or a quick kiss, especially if you’re a woman. There’s nothing sexual about asking your boyfriend if he wants another drink, or him letting you have the last bite of chocolate cake, but these actions demonstrate that you care for each other’s wellbeing.

If you’re lucky, the lambingan won’t end after the honeymoon. After three years of marriage, Melissa feels her husband’s affection in the way he checks the car and fills it up with petrol when he knows she’ll be using it. ‘He doesn’t have to … but he does it anyway, because he knows it saves me a lot of time and inconvenience.’ Watch the married couples at a senior citizens’ gathering and you’ll notice a hundred little ways that they show affection.

But what about couples who seem to bicker all the time and needle each other endlessly? Karinyo brutal is another form of affection which works through a kind of reverse psychology. It can be an alternative form of attention, or a way to test the other person’s feelings without risking outright rejection. Teasing, mocking and even pretending to reject the other person works for some; it can be perplexing for others.

Lambing goes beyond relationships with loved ones. You can use it to get a discount on a washing machine at Good Guys, receive better service at the local café, manage difficult work colleagues, and negotiate with clients. Done well, it can help you get what you want or manoeuvre yourself out of a tight spot.

Dr Bet Roffey, Associate Professor at Flinders University, asserts that even Filipino businesswomen in leadership positions demonstrate behaviours, such as lambing, which reinforce the idea of the ‘virtuous Filipina’. It can provide a way to negotiate the male amor propio (self-image) and avoid embarrassment.

Because of this, Filipinas may find it difficult to demonstrate the kind of assertiveness expected in the Australian workplace. For example, how do you negotiate a pay rise without actually asking your boss? Lack of directness can be seen a weakness. And, says Dr Mina Roces from the University of New South Wales, it can be misinterpreted as flirtation.

Still, there are plenty of older generation Australian Filipinas who use karinyo to their advantage, both in their professional and personal lives. Dr Roces contends that lambing can be used to appeal to the Filipino ‘ethos of male gallantry’ to influence and exercise power.

Lambing exerts strength in its own way. ‘A statement said in a teasing tone accompanied by a half smile, a gentle nudge, slight tilt of the head and eye contact is lambing,’ says Pia*, whose approach to dealing with work colleagues and customers relies on being karinyosa. ‘Saying the same statement in an abrupt manner with an unsmiling face, no eye contact and a physical distance of half a metre from the other person can come across as a challenge.’ The latter approach, she points out, is more likely to result in an argument.

Australian Filipina mothers try to pass on this wisdom to their bi-cultural daughters: that while the assertive, straight talking ideal of Western feminism works in context, it can co-exist with the gentler approach of lambing. Sweet talking can be more effective, says Pia, than being direct. It’s not sneaky, she adds, ‘just clever and resourceful. Not only do we get what we want, it also gives the other person a way of saving face.’

But perhaps what is most endearing about lambing is its slightly cheeky playfulness. Like when you call home with an exuberant, ‘Dad, I’ve missed you sooo much!’ There’s a small pause. ‘Can I borrow some money?’

And you know what? If you’ve showered him with lambing throughout the years, you probably won’t have to pay him back.

*Name has been changed.

This article was first published in the October/November issue of the Australian Filipina. Here’s a list of sources I used for the article:

2 thoughts on “The power of lambing

  1. Melissa Cruz

    Hi Kat!! Melissa Cruz here. Lovw this piece! Ans feel honoured to be quoted in it.

    Do you by any chance have a copy of the Inquirer article? I think my ones have been lost in all our shifting around. If you do can you send to me please please? Thanks so much!


    1. Kat Post author

      Hi, Melissa! I don’t have screenshots of the article on the Inquirer, but I think I have the text. I’ll forward you the email. 🙂



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