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Philippines, is it time to retire "Hey Joe"?

German tourists Enjoying an island hopping tour in the Philippines © Nathan Allen via @idreamedofthis
German tourists enjoying an island-hopping tour
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It's something that every white male in the Philippines is familiar with...the smiley jeepney driver waves and yells out "Hey Joe!" as he drives by. This is an expression left over from WWII, a "term of endearment" for American soldiers (think "G.I. Joe"). It's certainly not meant as an insult, and Americans seem to love it. However, how do other foreigners feel about it?

 

 

Being an American who has lived all around the country for 3 years, I've heard "Hey Joe" hundreds of times.  More recently, I noticed that tourism has started picking up. I began to see more and more white expats and travelers in the Philippines - most of which are actually not American. Let me tell you, they don't always like being mistaken for Americans.

 

They're Not All Americans

When I explained this to a taxi driver I befriended in Legazpi, he told me a story about Honda motorbikes. He said that back in the 70s and 80s, everybody in the Philippines wanted to have a Honda, because the quality was so good. A bit like "Xerox" becoming synonymous with "copy machine", soon, "Honda" became the slang word for "motorbike". Everybody just started calling their motorbike their Honda, regardless of if it was actually the brand Honda or not.

 

Hey Joe trike driver  © Nathan Allen via @idreamedofthis
Posing for a picture on my "Honda"

I was a bit confused by this story, because it almost seemed like he was saying that Americans were the "best brand" of white people. Haha...well, I don't think British, Australians, and Dutch people would appreciate that much. Essentially, I guess he was saying that "Joe" is just a friendly term used to address any white guy.

 

I'm wondering if perhaps it shouldn't be.

 

To me, it's hard to argue that the word "Joe" should be used for all white guys. Given its roots, it is in fact a very American word. Personally, I don't mind it at all...but then again, I'm from the U.S. If I was British, German, or Russian, honestly, I might take offense to it. I love my country, but it is not perfect, and does not always have the best reputation out in the world. That's what I want my Filipino friends to realize. I know that some foreigners are bothered by the expression, because they've told me firsthand.

 

 

Imagine if Filipinos went to Russia, and everywhere they went, Russians yelled out some nickname that's specifically used for Chinese people. Russians might not mean it in a bad way, but I don't think that Filipinos would like being constantly mistaken for Chinese people.

 

Yes, I understand that throughout the last century, when Filipinos would see a very light-skinned foreigner, 99% of the time it was an American. However, due to globalization and a rapid boost in tourist arrivals, there are now light-skinned foreigners visiting the Philippines from many parts of the globe. I would guess that now, these "Joes" are only American 50% of the time–or less.

 

American = White? Not So Much...

One other thing. I noticed that some Filipinos seem to equate being American with being white. Quite a few even mentioned how I am part of the American race. It's no wonder "Hey Joe" has persisted so long, if people believe that "American" is an actual race.

 

This is something I would like to clear up. These days, America is massively diverse. That is one of my favorite things about America, actually. In California, I grew up with kids from every part of the globe, including the Philippines. We are all very much American.

 

(continued below)

 

Nathan Allen Bio via @idreamedofthis

 

I know that Filipinos are generally a very warm and welcoming bunch. There is a lot of social etiquette, with emphasis on manners and politeness. That's why I thought it would be good to give some perspective on how "Hey Joe" may no longer be socially relevant. In fact, in the future (and especially if Trump becomes President), some people might be downright offended by it.

 

 

Thanks for reading, and feel free to share!

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