It is Filipino culture to serve merienda (snacks) to laborers who come fix things in your house. Giving tips is rare, unless maybe you’re living in the city. But in the province I grew up in, merienda time is the ultimate tip.
I loved merienda time back home because the workers weren’t the only ones who snacked on bread and ice-cold drinks. Whoever did the errand of buying Pan de Coco or Cheese Bread and Tang or Kool-Aid, knew that the purchase needed to be triple the number of workers. Because as soon as the laborers have their break, all the kids at home start to assemble around the snack table. And right on cue, all the hungry people hiding in their rooms would come out for food.
In the UAE, it is very unlikely (unthinkable even for some) to feed laborers.
One day two guys came to my house to assemble some stuff. I didn’t have money to give as tip so I stood in my kitchen for almost half an hour debating with myself.
”I should prepare merienda.’‘
”No you shouldn’t. They’ll think you’re weird.”
”But I should give them something.”
”What if they don’t drink juice? What if they don’t want your bread?”
”Everybody drinks juice and eats bread!”
”What if they don’t want to drink from your glass? You need disposables.”
”Oh shut up! I’m gonna serve merienda!”
And I did.
I made them cold mango juice and peanut butter jelly sandwich. They looked at me with this weird expression, trying to understand what was happening. I told them they should eat and set the tray very near them. They gave the food one glance and went back to work.
They worked for over two hours and didn’t touch anything I served.
So the debate continued.
”Why aren’t they drinking? Aren’t they thirsty?”
”You overdid it.”
”It’s just juice!”
”Maybe they think it’s yours.”
”There’s two glasses in there! Should I just hand it to them?”
”They don’t accept food. Just cash.”
I went to my room to run away from my other self. It’s sad how blue-collar workers are treated in this country that sometimes it comes to a point where they themselves think, they don’t deserve acts of kindness.
I heard them calling me, saying they were done. I went out of my room and they were all packed, ready to go. I said thank you to them, waved and close the door gently.
I turned around to see 2 empty glasses and no trace of sandwich at all, not even the tissue that I wrapped them with.
I smiled and told my other self.
”You should be ashamed of yourself.”
She didn’t answer back.