Tagalog Kurt on Why He Fell in Love With the Philippines
Manila/ Vibe/ Pop Culture

‘Puti sa Labas, Kayumanggi sa Loob’: Talking to TikTok’s Tagalog Kurt

Interview with Kurt Tagalog 2

Kurt wasn’t supposed to have a good memory of the Philippines. As a fresh-faced private in the Marine Corps in his first foreign deployment, it all could’ve been a blur to him. Not that he was here as a tourist, anyway. He came here as part of the U.S. Army’s contingent in the Balikatan exercises. And when the Americans visit, everyone’s all business.

Marine Kurt
Tagalog Kurt as a Marine | Photo via Tagalog Kurt

Something also happened that really should have tainted, probably even ruined, his time here. “I think...I landed in the Philippines, I want to say, Sept. 9, 2001. So, two days before, you know, 9-11 happened.” Being a marine, Kurt probably felt that deep need to be there for his country. But, since his platoon was here, they got stuck here. American airspace was shut down at the time, everything halted for them. They were some 8,000 miles away from home, but it didn’t take long for Kurt and his marine buddies to be ordered to stay put.

But, maybe being here helped take out some of the sting of 9-11. He was 19 at the time, and it was his trip outside the States. Speaking about his first experience with the culture here, he said that “everything [was] new, exciting, and foreign.” It’s unsurprising for a tourist to find the Philippines to be exotic, but Kurt saw things here a bit differently than most visitors. “I really just fell in love with everything about the culture and the family-centered foundation that the Philippines has.”

It made him as the unlikeliest tourist of them all, someone who was so taken by the Philippines that he decided to learn the language.

His Instagram and TikTok clips are floating around the Filipino social media space, so you may have seen him around. He’s Tagalog Kurt (@tagalogkurt on all socials), an American guy who speaks Tagalog really well and is strangely aware of some cultural norms. It not only shows that he learned the language and culture here, but he pays attention to what’s happening here. Because unless you grew up in a Filipino family with adults who grew up in the Philippines, you’re not supposed to know these things. And if his posts are any indication, he knows a lot of these things.

@tagalogkurt Work smarter, not harder. Philippines with the win. Human feet are amazingly dexterous. if allowed to develop naturally, meaning they're not squashed together with ill-fitting shoes, you can do all kinds of things with them. Before living in the Philippines, I could barely pick things up off the floor with my bare feet, but it was limited because of the terrible dexterity Americans have with their toes. From the day we're born we wear shoes in America that squash our toes together unnaturally. This is the reason so many Americans suffer from bunions. Filipinos have the perfect climate for flip flops, which allows their feet and toes to develop naturally. As a result, they are experts at manipulating items with their feet. #philippines #tagalogtiktok #filipino #learntagalog ♬ original sound - tagalogkurt

He’s also not fronting for clout, too. He did pick up a few bits and pieces from Filipino culture, like mannerisms and habits, and has never looked back since. In an interview in January, The Beat Asia asked him about that video of him picking something off the floor using his foot, a habit that is so Filipino that it might as well come with a Mang Tomas logo. “That’s just standard practice for me now,” he said in Zoom call from the U.S. Then, there’s eating your food kamayan-style, something that he taught his immediate family.

He also settled the issue with the very western habit of combining a fork and a knife when eating. Long story short, Kurt sided with the Asians on this one. “I think the other thing is probably almost every single meal, I eat with my kutsara in my right hand and my tinidor in my left hand. Because it just makes sense.” He said he got some funny looks about it back home, but when it makes sense, there’s no reason to go back.

@tagalogkurt Early mornings in the barangay are perfect for picking up swear words and slang. 🤣 #philippines #learntagalog #filipino #fyp #philippinestiktok ♬ original sound - tagalogkurt

I would be remiss if I don’t mention the bedrock of his online personality: his Tagalog skills. His vocabulary is wide-reaching for someone who can’t speak Tagalog conversationally on a daily basis. But, it’s his accent that is far more catching than anything. For an American to do a Filipino accent, to basically perform accent gymnastics, it’s quite impressive. 

More than the fame, however, the chance to participate in Filipino society is one of the things he’s most glad about being @tagalogkurt. Not that it’s particularly hard, as Filipinos have an especially invasive footprint over social media. It’s all gravy for Kurt, though, as Pinoys being loud on the internet and Netflix being the home of Filipino content on the international stage, it’s a chance for him to catch up on the stuff happening in his second home.

Kurt With Jollibee
Kurt with The Bee | Photo via Tagalog Kurt

Before ending our conversation, I had Kurt settle something for me: the Jollibee conundrum. Is it really as famous in America as it seems on social media? “If you're lucky enough to be within an hour's drive of Jollibee, then everybody knows about Jollibee.” If that’s the case, once the Bee starts expanding further in the States, then they’ll have an American guy waiting for them probably carrying a Philippine flag salivating for a bucket of Chickenjoy. 

@tagalogkurt #greenscreenvideo Give me Jollibee or give me death. Get wrecked McDonald's. #jollibee #hamburgerwars #phillipines ♬ original sound - tagalogkurt

Get the latest curated content with The Beat Asia's newsletters. Sign up now for a weekly dose of the best stories, events, and deals delivered straight to your inbox. Don't miss out! Click here to subscribe.

Sign up to receive updates on what's going on in the city. Don't miss out on exciting events, news, and more. Sign up today!

By submitting your email, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Notice
Thank you for subscribing! Click here if you were not redirected.