Tuesday, January 8, 2008

GOSSIP, GIRL! (Tsismis)

“Psssttt…it’s healthy to gossip, with Listerine!” That was the headline of my mock print advertisement for an advertising class project way back in college where I graduated Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications. I thought that headline said it all: a face-to-face gossipy conversation is not all that bad if your breath is mouthwash-fresh. I got an “A+” for that but my teacher scribbled, at the bottom of the mock-up print ad, that “Gossip, Listerined-breath or not, is bad for you.”

My initial reaction to this was, “So are cigarettes but we keep smoking away anyway”. I fumed and called my teacher ‘hypocrite’ under my breath. Then I told a classmate, while puffing away on our Marlboros, about this and added that the scribbled note might have been this teacher’s way of staging her closeted attraction towards me. Tsismis!

Though not everyone smokes, pretending that not everyone gossips is a travesty. We all do it. As I’ve mentioned in my book Not My Bowl Of Rice, “Filipinos have a predilection to gossip, to spread rumors, to frighten and titillate one another with dire warnings, salacious gossip, and preposterous allegations. Gossiping has practically been our national pastime for centuries. We gossip in beauty parlors. In restaurants. Restrooms. On buses. In supermarket lines. In bars. In funeral homes during wakes. On the phone. With our drivers. With our office mates. With our doctors. And sometimes, even with our priest confessors. A Filipino’s day is jam-packed with these sometimes heartwarming, oftentimes heartbreaking, maybe true, maybe entirely false gossips.”

Tsismis is indeed, everywhere, just keep your ears and eyes open. And everyone is fair game in gossip. You hear your co-worker talk about your boss’ new and expensive -- as in, how can he really afford it with his derisory salary? -- Lexus. You read a blind item in a purportedly respectable newspaper about a hunk superstar’s homosexuality. You find out about your own promotion at work from your favorite gourmet coffee vendor. And then there’s the latest “medium” used in gossiping: text messaging. My sister had to confiscate her daughter’s cell phone because she was texting (or should we say, “gossiping”) with her girlfriends constantly -– at church, in school, on the bus, at the dinner table. Though free gossip is most Filipino’s bowl of rice, gossip carrying a per minute charge is not.

Aside from sometimes being an expensive habit, gossiping can kill too, literary and figuratively. I knew of a man in our town who turned into a hurimentado, a madman, and went on a killing spree with a sharp bolo after he heard rumors that his wife was cheating on him. He snapped and hacked to death his wife and his kumpadre, best friend, the rumored lover. Many relationships have been broken; many good reputations have been damaged because of tsismis. And yet, can one really imagine a world without gossip? In a perfect world, there would be no gossip, no scandals, no rumors, no hearsay. There would simply be no reason for them to exist. But in a world of average, imperfect folks, we will always need to discuss juicy details about our co-workers, our friends, our neighbors, our government officials, our favorite actors. It makes us feel better to point out other’s flaws so that we can deflect attention from our own. But you know what? Others will do the same to us. Regardless of the impact on others, it sure beats boring chitchat about the weather and the new paint color of your kitchen wall.

So we’ve established that tsismis is here to stay. How do we indulge in this, uh, vice, without it being a killer of men, a breaker of relationships, a “bad for you” thing, as my former advertising teacher had scribbled on my project a long time ago? In my book, one of the characters asked, “Is there gossip etiquette?” “Don’t be mean”, another character answered. I think that about sums it all: don’t be mean, don’t be malicious. Even in the middle of an intense gossip session, one should never be nasty enough to spread fictitious rumors about others. And when relating a truthful story about another, make sure it’s something that’s not going to hurt the subject of gossip. Relating something derogatory about others, even when true, should not be anyone’s bowl of rice.

I have given up smoking a long time ago but I must admit, I still gossip. I use it mainly as a conversation starter,
an icebreaker, not a breaker of men’s hearts and souls.

E-mail me Not My Bowl of Rice (or ‘my bowl of rice’) topics that you want featured in this column. We’ll try to accommodate everyone. After all, this column is meant to be everyone’s bowl of rice. erebrown@yahoo.com

ER Escober is the author of award-winning novel/cookbook Not My Bowl Of Rice. Copies are available at http://www.amazon.com/

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