The Honesty Coffee Shop in Batanes was born out of economic imbalance: the demand (for mid-morning coffee) was greater than the supply (of shopkeepers — the owner was a schoolteacher who could not afford to be late for class). Faith in humanity (and spot-on business intuition) led the schoolteacher to set up a shop, untended, where anyone could come in, fix himself/herself a cup of coffee, and leave the payment on the table. The Ivatans are known for their honesty, so the risk wasn’t as great as one would originally suppose, and it paid off rather well. The business prospered; customers, impressed by the concept, tend to leave more money than they owe. The shop is now a tourist attraction in its own right, selling souvenir shirts and local handicrafts alongside turmeric cookies and Kopiko sachets, but it is still a great place to have a mid-tour cup of coffee and a chat with fellow tourists.
In Batanes, to express gratitude, you say “Dios mamahes” but this phrase is not a literal translation of “thank you.” Rather, according to our Ivatan guide, it means “God will repay you” — fitting, not in terms of money perhaps, but in other intangible ways. Thank you for being honest. Thank you for being honorable. Thank you for your kindness. I may not be able to repay you in kind, but I pray that God will return your generosity a hundredfold. This is a sentiment common to Filipinos all throughout the country; we are used to poverty, often unable to match generosity with equal generosity, and sometimes all we can do is to express our hope that God will repay.
I have to say, though, my favorite sign in this photo is neither the Honesty Coffee Shop history in the background nor the “Dios mamahes” fixed to the door. Rather it’s the orange-and-black warning in the far right: “[the] Lord is my security guard.” Sorry, Google, but this shop’s talent pool is far superior to yours.
“Because He has nothing better to do?” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.