If only. Oh if only. If only the criterion in the selection of the World’s Friendliest Countries by Forbes is the “ability to make friends,” the Philippines would have made it to number 1. In December 2009, Forbes released its annual listing of the “World’s Friendliest Countries” and the Philippines, known to have the friendliest of smiles, missed the top 10. What happened? Where were we short of? Thailand and Malaysia placed comfortably in the top 4 and 5 spots, respectively.

Also: Read more of my REFLECTIONS.

According to the research company FreshMinds, there were 23 factors used to rate each country, with more than 3,100 expatriates surveyed between February and April 2009. Each factor was weighted to arrive at a score. Scores were integrated and the final eight measures were selected. The measures were: organizing school for my children, organizing my finances, organizing my health care, finding somewhere to live, making friends, making local friends, setting up utilities, and joining local community groups. Based on these criteria, the top 10 World’s Friendliest Countries were revealed:

1. Bahrain
2. Canada
3. Australia
4. Thailand
5. Malaysia
6. South Africa
7. Hong Kong
8. Singapore
9. Spain
10. United States

If you are a traveler, your reactions to the positioning of the 10 countries would be, most likely, hinged on the experiences you had in the country. If those experiences were hostile, far to being memorable and better left forgotten, then finding that country in the top 10 is a huge surprise. But wait, your experience may just be an exception rather than the rule. The percentage of significance of what you went through may have likely to have occurred by chance and may never happen to someone else. Then your case is isolated and, thus, saying that the U.S. should not be on the list because you happened to stumble upon one rough and noisy American, for instance, is insignificant.

I could not dispute nor approve, beyond doubt, the listing of the top 10 countries, since I have not been to all of them. Out of the ten, I have only been to 5. There were good and bad side for each. As an expatriate, I would rank a couple of them lower than the other countries I used to live in that are not found on the list. I would have placed the Philippines among the top 5 ‘friendliest’, had I ranked the countries myself.

The Philippines is nowhere to be found, sadly. We, Filipinos, may argue about how hospitable we are. But call to mind that the survey wasn’t about how friendly we are in our OWN eyes. The survey was about our country’s “friendliness” in the eyes of the expats. The friendliness was not defined alone by the smiles we share to them when they walk in sleeveless and shorts on our busy sidewalks nor the cordial atmosphere we tend to present when they ask for directions — the definition deflected more towards the aspect of security of family, of health and of business.

Applause. The Philippines should be perfect 10s for ‘making friends’ and ‘making local friends’, but painfully receiving failing marks for the other measures. Six out of eight is not enough to place us on top. Others say that some countries on the list have people speaking foul languages in public places (could even be a common sight and a no-no for what is supposed to be a friendly place), nevertheless, they are efficient in the banking, postal services, transport sectors, that is why they easily stole the top places.

Bahrain may have ranked bottom low (#20) in ‘Making Local Friends’ but placed at no. 1 for both ‘Joining Community Groups’ and ‘Organizing My Health Care’ and third in ‘Organizing My Finances.’

Canada ranked 2nd. Among the 8 measures, the country is lowest in ‘Making Friends.’ However, what Canada is deficient of, it compensates itself with the rest of the factors that were related to the quality of life (note: Unfortunately, the Philippines lack most of these factors to be classified as ‘friendly’).

Look at our neighbor Thailand. In areas ‘Joining Community Groups’ and ‘Organizing My Finances’, the country that we think is most likely be at our level, ranked low. But it placed at no. 1 in ‘Making Friends’ and ‘Finding Somewhere to Live’ and no. 2 in ‘Organizing My Health Care.’ Do we think the Philippines could be better than Thailand in those parameters?

If we look at the rankings of the United States in all of the 8 measures, we see that they were not impressive at all or at a standard where we can call a ‘friendly’ country. Still the U.S. is positioned at no. 10.

Making Friends – #15
Making Local Friends – #7
Joining Community Groups – #4
Organizing School For My Children – #12
Organizing My Finances – #24
Finding Somewhere To Live – #10

So imagine where the Philippines is actually positioned. If the U.S. can score this low, then where are we on the scale? Where are the ‘friendly’ South American countries, by the way?

The survey may have lacked a valid data or the proper sample size, so we should not take the results as conclusive. Besides, we (from the 195 countries in the world) all have differing opinions that it is difficult to find a common ground to agree on, especially when it comes to ranking our individual country.

We should see this survey as a guide to improving the quality of life in our specific neighborhood. It starts from there. We look at the 8 measures — organizing school for my children, organizing my finances, organizing my health care, finding somewhere to live, making friends, making local friends, setting up utilities, and joining local community groups — and see were we can help to cultivate ‘friendliness,’ directly or indirectly. And what we cultivated should grow as a driving force — to pressure people running our public offices to make the necessary actions.

We Filipinos should not do this to impress the expats. We aim to be the world’s friendliest country because, in the end, it would still be for the best of us.

Shhh, we still have the friendliest of smiles. Let us be happy about it.