Relearning English

Comfort Room Philippines


Fries and chips. Crisps and cookies. Mozzies, kelpies, neddies, and roos.

From Americans to Brits to Aussies, not all English is created equal. Especially when it comes to slang.

Last year when I announced my impending move to Asia, friends and family expressed their concern about the language barrier. I’d tell them not to worry, since most people speak English in the Philippines.

And it’s true. English is spoken in the classroom and on TV. It’s on billboards, dinner menus, and street signs. The first language of some of my Philippine-born friends? English. In terms of population, the Philippines is the third largest English speaking nation in the world.

The prevalence of English in the Philippines can be traced back to just a century ago during the United States’ colonial rule and when Americans introduced the national education system. This is all after Spain’s 333 rule over the country.

On the ground and in every day language, this resulted in a twisting journey of direct translations, mixed usage rules, and even Western brand influence. It also resulted in an American (that’s me) having a ball learning how to speak English like a real Filipino.


– I wear slippers to the beach. Sometimes I wear them to the mall and other public places.

– If I need to freshen up, I excuse myself and find the comfort room. Also known as the CR.

– I store leftovers in the ref and when I’m hot I turn on the aircon.

– When it’s dark, I open the lights.

– Before I walk the dogs I make sure to put on my rubber shoes.

– In the drug store, I ask the clerk where the Colgate is but come home with Close Up. In the sari-sari I tell the attendant that I want a Coke and walk away with Sprite. In the office I ask my coworker to Xerox an agenda.

– How much, in pesos does a pair of Gap denim cost? Around two five.

– I’m leaving for Cebu November three.

– Let’s grab a burger at McDo!

Can you guess what any of these words mean? Can you add any Filipino English words to the list? Have you experienced a similar situation in another English speaking country? Please share!


27 responses to “Relearning English

  1. You can see the Spanish influence there which is interesting – open the lights? abre/cierre la luz.

    I thought aircon was aircon across the world!

    Comfort room is a good one. It is quite sensible. Better than a rest room because you don’t rest, you do make yourself comfortable. And far better than calling a toilet a bathroom which I have never understood :D

    • Yes, there’s a lot of Spanish influence in the language and culture, thanks to Spain’s previous reign over the country. We have lots of Spanish dishes here too, which is awesome! As for the air con, well, back home we call it the AC, so that took awhile to get used to. And agreed – Comfort Room is much more apt and pleasant, too. I’m so used to it all, that I’m sure I’ll be confused all over again next time I visit home!

  2. In New Zealand swimsuits are called togs, If you ask for lemon aid you get a sprite, a flashlight is called a torch, gas station is a petrol station, cookies are biscuits, to pay for someones meal (or movie ticket…) is to shout them, they call jelly jello, a vacation is a holiday…..and many more :)

    • Hi Jessica thanks so much for passing by! Wow those are new to me. I especially like to “shout” something. Makes me wonder what English terms and expressions seem foreign elsewhere in the world. By the way, did you spend time in New Zealand? Just curious! :)

  3. The comfort room is strange isn’t it? when I first saw that I thought it meant hotel, that they’d meant to say ‘comfortable room’ or something. Or maybe a brothel, I wasn’t sure. But certainly not a toilet.

    • Yes it seemed pretty strange at first – and I can totally see why you’d think it meant a hotel or even a brothel. (ha!) So many things come to mind. Funny thing is, just like in the States, I actually avoid most public “CRs” as they’re actually not so comfortable, haha! Where else in the world have you seen Comfort Room?

  4. Here in Hawaii we have plenty Filipinos, so we get lumpia and other ono (delicious) Filipino grinds. Also wear slippahs everywhere, and toast at a wedding by saying Mabuhay. Filipinos, along with Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Portuguese and other nationalities were brought into Hawaii at one time to work the sugarcane fields. Hawaiian pidgin is a mix of all those languages plus Hawaiian and English. It was developed bit by bit so all the ethnic groups could communicate with each other.

    • Wow, I learned something knew. I always though pidgin was spoken only by native Hawaiians and maybe a few mainlander implants. That’s neat that it’s really a collaborative effort between immigrants and locals alike. How cool is that! And with all those cultures, I’m sure you get lots of other tasty treats besides lumpia. Fun!

  5. In Pilipinas, we wear STEP-IN on our feet in the shower and round about. My leftovers go in the REFRI. More variations on Filipino-English as heard by a ‘cano.

  6. haha so I just got back from Long Island, and aside from the accents (which I was lost on some!) I went to get some pizza and the guy kept yelling “stay??” at me (which to my untrained ear sounded like “steak” so I was thinking no I dont want steak, I ordered a pizza!) The other guy says “she doesn’t understand your accent!!” to which he goes “To stay??” (actually sounding like to stay this time) And I go ooooh yes, for here. So, in Long Island your eating options are “stay or go” lol

    • Ha! That’s hilarious! I can totally see that happening. What a crazy misunderstanding….I love it! Now I know what to expect if I ever visit NYC. :)

  7. Here in New Zealand slippers are called jandals, and jackets are called jumpers. In the Philippines you order takeout, anywhere else I think it’s takeaway. :)

    • Oh cool, thanks for sharing! I’ve never heard of either of those. I think I’m going to start using “jumpers.” That’s cute! As for takeout vs. takeway…I haven’t noticed. I better get on that one!

  8. Well, I learned from Aussie friends here in the Philippines that a fanny is the front, not the back. So our fanny-pack sounds silly to them, it is a bum-bag.

  9. The only one that I never heard of was “rubber shoes”. For “Coke” well we do that in Texas also. I have heard the McDo and Xerox used in States also. Of course I’ve been married to a Filipina for over 32 years, so maybe it’s the circles that I travel in.
    I am new to this site, this is my first comment, but I plan to be around here a lot. I have my own website: Texan in the Philippines . I am in the process of looking for other Philippine websites that have good content and organization. This is one of the few that I have chosen. I’m looking forward to some insightful stories and I hope it does well.

  10. I was really laughing while reading this but all of the “Filipino English words” that you emphasized there are widely used in the Philippines.

    Anyway, I have two Filipino English words (favorites of my friends): for a while, which is used on the telephone to mean please wait and get down or go down (a vehicle), which means get off.

    • Oh yes! I totally used “go down” the other day when we were just going to check movie times. I said, “Don’t park – let me just go down and check.” Whenever I use phrases like that my friends here comment on how “Filipino” I’m becoming, haha. “For awhile” is a classic one too. That used to confuse me big time!

  11. You know I can’t believe that no one has mentioned one of my favorite Filipino English sayings. There are signs here everywhere that say, “Please Fall in Line”. Which of course means to Get in Line or Make a Line. The first time I saw that, it made me smile and I was actually thinking about falling down to see what kind of reaction I would get. I let sanity prevail though and did not do that.

  12. I’m from Australia, and we share some common slang a New Zealand.

    This post reminds me of a friend who took an American visitor to the movies. The movie was about a ‘dole bludger’ – someone who relies on social welfare (and refuses to get a job). After the movie, the friend asks his visitor, “did you get that? there was a bit of Aussie slang.” The visitor replies, “it was fine. I just have one question, what’s a dole bludger?”

    They went to see the movie again.

    • Ha, that’s hilarious! Sounds like the whole movie went over his/her head! I would be in the same boat as the American visitor because I’ve never heard of that term either – and the name doesn’t provide much context to guess! It really makes me wonder if there are American terms that leave other English speaking people scratching their heads.

  13. Some words that was brought up to me as not a common english words are:
    – Hand carry instead of carry on luggage
    – traffic means traffic jam
    – we say States to mean USA, the country
    – state-side for any item coming from abroad (doenst have to come from the US)

    I had the most unforgettable moment using the CR term when i visited America. As you can probably imagine, i’m trying to look for the bathroom but i keep on saying CR and comfort room and no one understood me. :D

    • Hi Rachel – sorry for my late reply to you. Yes – hand carry is a new one I picked up this year as well as the States. It just came naturally after living here. Oh gosh – that’s hilarious that you used CR in America. That sounds like something I would do. I said “air con” when I was last there and kept having to correct myself. Thanks for passing by!

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