Things You Can Learn About Culture in 4 Minutes

This interview between Ricky Lo and Anne Hathaway has generated a buzz of mixed reactions among (probably mostly) Filipino viewers:

People reacted to the interview differently:  some noted how unprepared and unprofessional Ricky Lo was, while some commented on how rude Anne Hathaway was in answering or not answering Ricky Lo’s questions.

To me, this interview was just awkward.  I was cringing the whole time and was very embarrassed for Ricky Lo. I’m not taking sides, but I must comment on how inappropriate some of Ricky Lo’s questions were. I’ve heard comments about how their failure to establish rapport was a racial, even colonial issue, but to me, it’s more due to cultural differences.

First off, to  start an interview with asking a woman how she lost and gained back 25lbs – for a movie role, or for anything for that matter, is a big “no-no” in American culture. Filipinos don’t mind discussing their (and everyone else’s) weight in public.  In fact, when friends/family members who haven’t seen each other in a while meet again, the first thing they will comment on is how the other person gained/lost weight (usually the latter).  These kinds of comments, sometimes resented to some degree, are still more or less acceptable to Filipinos.

Weight, age, and money – topics which are commonly used by Filipinos to establish familiarity and closeness with one another (strangers or not) – are not the kind of things Americans like to discuss in public, let alone in public interviews.

Ricky Lo committed his second faux pas when he assumed, nay, asserted, that Anne lived a life of luxury – then asking how it affected her role as Fantine in Les Mis.  Again, money, and openly telling someone “Hey, I know you’re rich, it’s probably impossible for you to really know how it’s like to be poor,” are not the kind of things which will endear you to your interviewee.

Another thing Filipinos love to do – whether intentionally or not, is to name other people as basis for comparison.  This is done, not out of malice,  but to establish some sort of link or connection between themselves and other people – also other people that may know other people, in a sort of elaborate “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”

It was enough for Ricky Lo to mention Lea Salonga once, since mentioning her seemed relevant to the situation (Lea Salonga played Fantine in a recent run of Les Mis), and Anne Hathaway reacted positively, showing admiration of Lea’s talent.  Of course, Ricky Lo had to mention that Lea Salonga was a friend of his… apparently, it wasn’t enough that Lea Salonga is Filipino and Ricky Lo is a Filipino, so there’s an instant connection there.

Filipino showbiz interviewers love asking interviewees to give messages to people:  messages to their lovers / friends / dead mother / dead father / accuser / enemy / to their selves – past, present and future, ad infinitum.

This passive-aggressive method of telling other people how they really feel, indirectly, might appeal to Filipinos’ non-confrontational nature. Either that or showbiz personalities just really love drama and making people cry.

This request to give Lea Salonga a message probably seemed strange to Anne, who obviously had nothing to say to her, and why would she?  Before Ricky Lo mentioned Lea, she probably never even crossed Anne’s mind, and can you really blame her for that?

Ricky Lo, as the interviewer, should have prepared more culturally sensitive questions for his interview.  As a veteran showbiz interviewer, he has no excuse for his lack of preparedness.

Should Anne have, in the spirit of cultural relativism, indulged Ricky Lo and answered his culturally insensitive questions?  It would have been nice, I guess, if she tried a little, but as the one being interviewed, I don’t really blame her.  As the interviewer, the responsibility of putting the interviewee at ease and establishing rapport, lay solely with Ricky Lo.

Some may argue that if a White/American interviewer asked Anne the same questions, she probably would not react so negatively.  But the question remains:  Would a White/American interviewer even ask her those kinds of questions?


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