The closest literal translation of pasalubong in English would be a souvenir. However, “souvenir” does not even approximate its contextual meaning.
In its broadest sense, it goes like this. Wherever a Filipino goes, like most travelers, he buys souvenirs and he brings them home. For the Filipino traveler, however, he doesn’t only buy souvenirs for himself — he buys one for every member of his family, including in-laws, cousins, nephews and nieces. He also buys souvenirs for his neighbors, his office mates, friends, bosses and just about everyone who knew he had been on a trip. That is what transforms a souvenir to a pasalubong. Not bringing home pasalubong, or forgetting or omitting to give pasalubong to some friends, colleagues or family members, is perceived to be a sign of ill will, favoritism, tight-fistedness or all of that. It is expected. It is the norm.
Of course, it’s also a pain in the neck. It’s an encouragement of the freeloaders’ mentality because it makes people think they are entitled simply by virtue of blood relation, social association or physical proximity. I don’t practice it because it ruins my budget. I don’t expect it because I don’t want anyone expecting it from me either.
But when my daughters come home from a trip or even from the mall or from school, and they bring me something special, I am touched. Really touched. For instance, when Alex was in grade school, she went on a field trip to Malolos, Bulacan and she brought home delicacies from the region. No one asked her to, we gave her money for expenses and we didn’t expect her to spend it on pasalubong. But she was so pleased to have brought something home for us and it was touching. When she went to the Pawikan conservation project in Bataan, she brought home seashells she picked up from the shore. Little things, you know. Really sweet.
Sam doesn’t even have to go on a trip to remember to bring home pasalubong. Last March, for instance, when they had their Science Fair in school and there was a stall selling preserved butterflies, she bought two and gave them to me.
I still need to have them framed. The trip to Boracay, Aklan and Roxas City a few weeks after she gave them to me, and the frenzy over buying and moving to a new house barely three weeks later reset priorities but I will have them framed. I treasure them so much.
Yesterday, Sam brought home a very unique pasalubong. I was upstairs in my study when the school bus arrived and before I could go down, Sam was calling me and announcing she had a pasalubong.
She fished it out of her bag, I cringed and started to run back upstairs. She ran after me with that thing in her hand demanding — yes, demanding! — why I didn’t like her pasalubong. Well, I don’t like snails except the edible ones and even those I don’t touch until after they are dead. Sure, I appreciate the thoughtfulness but I also knew that she brought home the snail as a practical joke. She demanded that I take photos of the thing and blog about it. I’m an appreciative mother so I did.
I told her we’d take photos out on the veranda. She posed the snail this way and that, I took photos and, after that, she disappeared into her room presumably to take photos of the thing too.
Then, I saw her walk downstairs. Within moments, I heard screaming (the house helper’s), gurgling laughter (Sam’s) and I heard thumping footsteps (both of them, I presume). I knew — I knew — that Sam came near her with the snail and she was trying to show her up close.
When I saw Sam again, she wasn’t holding the snail anymore. I was worried about where she had put it but she said she had let it out in the garden. Good. I think it’s sweet when she and her sister bring home pasalubong but I still don’t like snails.