Filipino Culture And Etiquette
When it comes to Filipino culture and etiquette, Filipinos are generally laid-back. You definitely don’t have any hard or fast rules when it comes to tipping, table manners, or time management (in fact, Filipinos are notorious for running on Filipino time, which fluctuates depending on how heavy the traffic is in the city, or if the waves are calm, or if it’s been raining).
In fact, it would take a lot to offend a Filipino. This is especially true if you’re a foreigner—then you can expect that locals would be even more forgiving towards you. It’s all part of the Filipino hospitality. Still, that doesn’t mean you can ignore all niceties when you’re in this part of the world.
When it comes to Filipino culture and etiquette, here are some of the most basic dos and don’ts:
1Do accept when they offer you food.
Filipinos love food, and they also love feeding people. If a Filipino offers you food, it isn’t just a form of politeness, but it’s them making an effort to forge a genuine connection. If, for whatever reason, you can’t eat what they’re offering, politely decline and explain. Then, give them a counteroffer, just to let them know you’re still interested in making that connection.
2Do greet elders by touching your forehead to their hand
This gesture is called the mano, and it is done as soon as one is introduced to an elder. Filipinos are very family-oriented, and the elderly are seen as the matriarchs and patriarchs of the family. Therefore, they must be treated with the utmost respect. Mano is the simplest way to show that.
3Do greet everyone else, either with a handshake, a hug, or a kiss on the cheek
Filipinos are hardly reserved, especially when it comes to physical touch. So don’t feel shy about greeting a newly introduced acquaintance with a kiss on the cheek. In the Philippines, this is called a beso, and it actually isn’t so much a kiss as a cheek rub. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the beso, a quick hug should be okay. And if you still find yourself too reserved for that, a simple handshake will do. The point is, most forms of decent physical touch are acceptable for Filipinos, so however way you greet them should be fine.
4Don’t address significantly older people by their first names only
If you’re addressing the parents of a friend or a significantly older host, it is better to call them by “tito” or “tita” (uncle or aunt) instead of their first names. To Filipinos, older people are always accorded a certain amount of respect. Also, use “po” and “opo” when talking to older people, as a sign of respect. “Po” doesn’t have a direct translation, but you can use it as a filler in sentences. “Opo” means “yes” in a respectful way.
5Don’t argue about money
Money is such a sensitive topic in Filipino culture that many Pinoys would rather give more than they can afford just to settle a bill or agree on a place to stay or eat. It’s important to keep this in mind when you’re dining or traveling with Filipinos. Make sure you always pay your share before you’re even asked for it, and if there are any discrepancies in the bill, try to settle it with a more laid-back attitude. Arguing about money is the quickest way to dampen a Filipino’s spirits.
6Do dress appropriately
While very open-minded, Filipinos can still be somewhat conservative when it comes to clothing, thanks to the strong religious influence in the country.
If you’re on the beach or somewhere in the vicinity, it’s okay to dress skimpy clothing. Women can enjoy the freedom of walking around in their bikinis, and men can go shirtless all they want (although, nude sunbathing is still rather frowned upon). But if you’re going around the small towns or even in the city, it’s better to cover up somewhat.
For the women, shorts, miniskirts, and tank tops are acceptable, but very tiny crop tops, hotpants, and cleavage-baring necklines might raise a few eyebrows. For the men, sleeveless shirts and shorts are also okay, but take note that some establishments might not let you in. Flip-flops in the city are also a good way to be banned from entering certain bars or restaurants.
If you’re traveling to the Philippines, keep these guidelines of Filipino culture and etiquette in mind. While Filipinos are very forgiving, they are highly emotional. So if you do manage to offend a local, be ready for a lot of drama. More to the point, if you get your Filipino culture and etiquette down pat, you stand to gain a lot: insider travel tips, home-cooked meals, unlimited karaoke sessions, and a lifelong friendship, to be exact.