"Educacion es consideracion," my Lolo Rafael liked to say, turning around my own understanding of educacion.
His definition not only puts prime value on one’s thoughtfulness toward others in matters of social behavior, but uses it in fact as the ultimate measure of educacion. Being unschooled, to Lolo, does not stop one from being educado, because being educado is neither a privilege of class nor a function of the intellect nor, because it is untainted by guilt, of conscience. Rather, it is a choice made in one’s heart.
Having lived my formative years with my paternal grandparents, I witnessed Lolo make this choice as though there were no other. I remember one occasion well, when I was a teenager, traveling with my grandparents in Madrid. “Diasque!” gasped Lola Enchay, jaw agape, as she brought up one hand to cover her mouth. My two cousins and I watched in horror as the waiter, his grip slipping off the tray, accidentally poured nearly all the steaming sopa de ajos from a tureen on Lolo’s white de hilo suit, one of only two he had brought for the trip. All eyes were on Lolo, who was quickly on his feet, a consoling arm around the young waiter, who had himself absorbed some of the soup in his uniform.
Restaurant staff were beside themselves with concern, but Lolo’s own first concern was for the waiter who was shaking with fear and remorse. Looking at the two of them bathed in soup, Lolo said something in Spanish that sounded like, We make quite a pair, don’t we? With that he put everyone at ease; even the waiter managed a smile, if an awkward one. Trying to understand it all, I thought that, since our hotel was just around the corner and my grandparents were already on the last days of their trip (we cousins were being delivered to our colegio in a few days), Lolo could afford to be magnanimous about it. It did not cross my little teenaged mind that he was simply that sort of educated man.
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Being unschooled, to Lolo, does not stop one from being educado, because being educado is neither a privilege of class nor a function of the intellect nor, because it is untainted by guilt, of conscience.
The suit, at any rate, was delivered to our hotel, dry-cleaned spotless, with the express compliments of the restaurant owners. For my Lolo’s part, to assure them that he did not take offense and signal as well his wish that the waiter be kept in his job, he lunched there with us every day of their last days in Madrid. Despite the owners’ remorseful insistence, Lolo refused free lunches, but accepted free desserts. He was grateful, too, that the restaurant, in consideration of his Filipino mealtime hours, opened just for us at exactly noon, still mid-morning in a country where lunch begins at 2 p.m. Long after they had returned home, Lolo and Lola kept a correspondence with the restaurant owners and promoted them to customers from the Philippines.
At the colegio, meanwhile, our educacion continued, and similarly, mealtime provided some of the most memorable lessons. The physical arrangements by themselves ensured that these lessons be learned. Eight high-ranked Teresiana nuns who were among the elders of the order started by Padre Pedro Poveda ate with us and presided at the same time. They looked out from a rectangular table on a platform at the end wall, inspiring comparisons with the Last Supper: the directora sat in Christ’s chair and the vice-directora to her right—her own St. John.
A younger Teresiana was assigned to every round table for eight, demonstrating and watching. The Filipinas were distributed one per table, the better for them to observe and learn without being distracted by physical closeness to a compatriot.
The rules were generally familiar to us cousins, save for a few of which one is to do with the way the knife is held: it rests snugly in the crook between the thumb and the forefinger and is worked like a pen. One chooses from a set of knives for one’s particular purpose—cutting, slicing, paring, or peeling.
Again, considerate-ness is a critical consideration at table. Although maids refill the cruet of olive oil and vinegar, the breadbasket, and the water pitcher, the diners are expected to serve one another themselves. One is not to take anything from the breadbasket, for instance, without first offering to the others, not even if it contains the last piece of bread. Anyway, the offer is usually passed up, out of reciprocal considerate-ness; in any case, a refill comes without fail.
Having lived most of her life in Spain, Tita Connie was another who lived and breathed its social graces. We knew little of her because she had gone to live in Europe with her mother and sister. Perhaps it was her own bond with Lolo that made Tita Connie reach out to us nieces and nephews from his line.
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Even for just us, Tita Connie put out her best china, and we responded with all the table manners we learned in finishing school.
The first time Tita Connie invited us to her Makati flat, we accepted out of a sense of social obligation. We had been told she was a stickler for standards of social conduct, but we very quickly felt at ease in her presence.
Tita Connie’s maid, well-groomed, European-uniformed, wearing suitable shoes, would open the door and receive the guests’ gift—dessert, flowers, a token something that my cousin Ninit would remember to bring for all of us. Waiting paces back, Tita Connie herself would greet each one of us a double beso, one on each cheek; she insisted on it—one beso was only half-proper. Knowing her to be particular with punctuality, we would stand, giggling, outside her door for the countdown to the appointed moment, with Ninit, herself in a fit, trying to hush us, before ringing the doorbell.
Even for just us, Tita Connie put out her best china, and we responded with all the table manners we learned in finishing school. She was a cheerful and refined lady, not stuffy at all. Well, we did get a friendly tip from someone who had learned his lesson the hard way: it is best to be well dressed for these occasions. Another thing: Be sure to include Tita Connie in the conversation—no talking among ourselves. At any rate, before Ninit’s enlarged mother superior eyes, there was just no way of being remiss.
Tita Connie was always visibly pleased to receive our gifts, for which we must have owed Ninit a fortune by now. But it was our thank-you notes that meant the world to her: she would refer to them at the first opportunity. For our part, considerate-ness, as we learned and grew into it, became genuine fondness.
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Again, considerate-ness is a critical consideration at table. One is not to take anything from the breadbasket, for instance, without first offering to the others, not even if it contains the last piece of bread.
Lolo Rafael, our initiator, would be pleased that his lessons are not lost on our generation. Cousin Ninit is easily the most brilliant example. She always remembers to bring gifts for the hostess—one from herself, another for any potentially remiss companion—and to send a thank-you card signed by all the guests. Indeed, she goes a step beyond good form into the realm of Lolo’s basic humanist philosophy, where considerate-ness reflects education.
At a recent surprise birthday party for another cousin, Ninit would have made Lolo particularly proud. While the rest of us suffered from the lapse, already bunched together with our choice tablemates, our graciousness extending only as far as reserving a seat for her, Ninit spotted a friend lost for a familiar table. Very quietly Ninit collected her evening bag, laid on the seat reserved for her, and with a subtle goodbye left to keep the friend company.
Whenever I myself manage it, considerate-ness feels like a special triumph of the heart and spirit: it is its own reward.