Sunday, 10 January 2010

Pinoy parties: the westerners' survival guide

It's 3am and I'm lying in my Filipino boyfriend's bed in snow-flecked Walthamstow, East London.  He lives with his sister and her husband, and tonight was his sister's 31st birthday party.  I can't sleep yet because the last few die-hards are laughing and shouting a wall away over one last drink (at least, I'm hoping that's what it is).

I don't too much mind having to wait, as it's been a thoroughly enjoyable evening and it gives me a chance to ponder over the differences between Pinoy parties and British ones.

Food is a very big deal at Filipino dos.  I realise it often is at British ones, too, but not invariably.  The idea of a drinks party with just a few nibbles is anathema to Filipinos.  The kitchen table invariably groans with an array of meat dishes, fish, seafood and rice.   A selection of very sweet sweets will surely follow.  However much you eat, you will be entreated to take more.  It will never run short.  And a substantial doggy bag will be pressed into your hand upon departure.

There may not be wine.  Wine is no big deal in The Philippines as I discovered when I visited recently for the first time to attend the boyf's sister's wedding (see previous blogs).  Almost everything over there is ridiculously cheap by western standards.  A bottle of rum, whisky or vodka is yours for a jaw-dropping £3, for example (so is gin, although you'll have a devil of a job tracking down any tonic to go with it.  Filipinos tend us use Sprite).  However, a bottle of wine that would be £5 or £6 in the UK will cost you...£5 or £6.  This is so wildly out of kilter that it's unsurprising it hasn't caught on.

After a few days there, I really fanced a glass of red and so bought a bottle to take to a party.  My partner warned me that no-one would be interested in it so I had better be prepared to down it all myself.  He couldn't have been more wrong.  The younger crowd gave it a wide berth, but the 50- and 60-somethings were intrigued.  Not one of them had tasted red wine but they all gave it a go.  They sipped, hmmm'd and ha'd a bit, then one nipped to the kitchen and returned with ice cubes.  Ah, Ernst and Julio Gallo Merlot on the rocks - much better!

So, don't expect wine when you attend a Filipino party.  Take your own, to be safe.  Or get stuck into the beer and whisky that are sure to be on offer.

Do a few vocal exercises during your pre-party shower, as there will be a karaoke machine.  No party is complete without one, and you will have to withstand serious and repeated cajoling if you don't fancy performing.  Pretty much everyone else, from four-year-olds to octogenarians, will take their turn on the mic without bashfulness or hesitation.  Even Harry Enfield-esque teenagers will stop grunting and looking tortured and momentarily morph into Beyonce or Justin Timberlake.

Make sure you are looking your best because you will be photographed so often, you'll wonder whether they've mistaken you for a major celebrity.  And this being the digital, internet age, those photos will be all over the world by the following lunchtime.

Finally, prepare to be enveloped in a sea of warmth and friendliness.  You know how British parties can sometimes be stiff or cliquey, at least until the ice is broken?  There's none of that.  Everyone mixes, laughs, talks and smiles from the off.  Even the teetotal guests, of whom there will be a higher percentage than you are used to, seem relaxed, happy to be there, just downright joyful.

At Pinoy parties, the rice is always sticky, but never the ambience.

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