I can hear you saying it now, “Annie the Expat, nosebleeds happen everywhere to anyone. Surely they are not somehow linked to the Philippines.”
Well, dear reader, that is why I’m here: to help you prepare for these odds and ends of culture that you could not possibly expect.
Did you know that the exertion that comes from speaking English can cause nosebleeds? Well, apparently it can among Filipinos.
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I’m guessing this one time, this guy somewhere was up late studying his English with his study group before finals and they’d been at it for a while, and he just happened to randomly get a nosebleed. Whamo, speaking English causes nosebleeds.
Now, obviously this is not true. But it has been picked up by the culture here. You will see it referenced in adds for English-language training schools, in comedies, and in daily conversation. You might go up to a clerk in the store and ask, “Excuse me, I’m looking for a wrench to fix the pipe under my sink.” And be met with a clerk who freezes up and mumbles, “Nosebleed…” While there are people here who really do think they will get a nosebleed if they speak too much English or if they have to struggle to piece the words together, most people are just using it as a short hand to mean, “Holy cow, I’ve dealt with Filipinos all day for weeks now and suddenly here is this English speaking foreigner coming at me with English and my brain wasn’t ready to process it, so I only caught half of what they said and I’m not sure how to respond!”
That’s really long. It’s easier to just say, “Nosebleed.”
How to proceed from there, though? Well, that depends. I suggest you take a breath and repeat yourself clearly and a little slower. (You don’t have to yell. They aren’t deaf, just temporarily mentally paralyzed,) Sometimes a repeat is all it takes to give them a moment to grasp what you are saying and remember how to respond. (I know when someone comes at me with Tagalog out of the blue and freaks me out, I usually just need them to repeat it for me.)
But, sometimes, you will encounter someone who really does have a lot of language anxiety around speaking English, or you shocked them so much that their brain really is on hold, or they are now so embarrassed that repeating isn’t going to get you anywhere. Look around for someone else who can help. (Often in these situations, the person you started talking to will also be looking around for someone to help!) If you have taken the time to learn some Tagalog, you could use it as an opportunity to try some out, even if it is an English-Tagalog hybrid.
This is a moment to exercise some empathy. I have seen some foreigners really lose their cool when they get the nosebleed line. It is a stupid excuse/belief. But, remember that for most people it’s just a shorthand, not a true superstition. And that you are in their country and the first language of the vast majority of people here is not English. Just because many Filipinos speak English doesn’t mean they all do, or that they all do at the drop of a hat. Imagine the tables turned, and you were in your home country, someone came up to you speaking a language you aren’t confident in, and then began stomping and grumping and even yelling because you didn’t understand them immediately. Just breathe. Laugh a little. Try again.