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.
Theres a reason why Filipinas are so good at grabbing a bargain. And its not just the fact that we know where all the factory outlets are. Its 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 dont 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, its 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, theyre 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 titas waiting arms and she might have turned away with a disgruntled, ‘Hmph!’ But two seconds later, shed 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 Greys 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 doesnt like him but if shes eating that box of Guylian he bought her, things are looking good. Dad might be trickier but thats 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 womans idea of lambing can be anothers 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 theyre 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 youre a woman. Theres 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 others wellbeing.
If youre lucky, the lambingan wont end after the honeymoon. After three years of marriage, Melissa feels her husbands affection in the way he checks the car and fills it up with petrol when he knows shell 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 youll 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 persons 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. Its 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, Ive missed you sooo much!’ Theres a small pause. ‘Can I borrow some money?’
And you know what? If youve showered him with lambing throughout the years, you probably wont 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:
- Roffey, Bet H. ‘Strategic leadership and management in the Philippines: dynamics of genders and culture’ in Labour and Management in Development Journal, 2000:1(10), Asia Pacific Press.
- Giskin, Howard. ‘Women, Power, and Kinship Politics: Female Power in Post-War Philippines’ in Journal of Third World Studies, Spring 2002. (This article is a critique of Roces, Mina. Women, Power, and Kinship Politics: Female Power in Post- War Philippines. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998.)
- ‘Dream wedding’ by Melissa Alfonso-Cruz (with permission from the author), which appeared in INQUIRER.net but is no longer available online