Philippine Culture and Etiquette: What To Know

Today’s Culture with Travel post is by Boom Rizal

Traveling to the Philippines soon? Get to know the country and enjoy your travel by experiencing the unique Philippine culture.

Here are some tips to keep in mind to understand Philippine culture:

Photo courtesy of Toa Heftiba via Unsplash

Visiting a new country for the first time always comes with surprises, either pleasant or bad. The Philippines, home to the world’s most beautiful beaches and friendliest people, is no exception. To fully enjoy your travel and make it less stressful, experience Philippine culture by living like a local. In this tropical island paradise, you’ll see mixed cultural influences, mainly Spanish, Chinese, and American. Whether for a long-term stay (as an expat or retiree) or for a short vacation, never miss out on the opportunities to enjoy your time in the Philippines through its culture.

Make friends with the locals

Photo courtesy of Brian Evans via Flickr, Creative Commons

Filipinos are the most sociable, cheerful, and helpful bunch you’ll ever meet. Foreign visitors are welcomed with open arms and wide smiles. I’ve witnessed this hospitality a lot of times. The most memorable one was a school visit I had as a community volunteer a few years back. An American expat joined our outreach activity, and he got so much attention as soon as he entered the school. Little boys and girls flocked to him, greeted him “Hey, man!” and “Hey, Joe!” and gave him high fives and fist bumps. Teachers excitedly took pictures with him, as though he was a celebrity. I’m sure the warm welcome warmed his heart.

It’s easy to make friends with locals in the Philippines. Filipinos will even go out of their way to show you around and give you helpful tips on the best places to eat, how to save money, and other travel advice.

Here’s how to make more friends and have more fun in the Philippines:

  • Learn basic Filipino words. The language barrier is usually not a problem because the Philippines has one of the biggest English-speaking populations in the world. But people will appreciate you more if you can speak the local language. These words will come in handy when you want to impress your new Filipino friends:
    • Kumusta? (How are you?)
    • Salamat (Thank you.)
    • Magkano? (How much?)
    • Maganda (Beautiful)
    • Pogi (Handsome)
    • Sarap! (Delicious!)
  • Unwind in the vibrant nightlife. Love partying? Head off to Boracay, one of the best night party destinations in the Philippines, for nights of fun and entertainment. In bars, clubs, restaurants or karaoke joints in Boracay, you’ll have a great time mingling with locals and getting to know their culture over beer.
  • Have a good sense of humor. Filipinos love to laugh and make fun of situations. It’ll be easier to get along with the locals if you can share a few laughs with them.

Be patient and flexible

Photo courtesy of Judgefloro via Wikipedia

Expect your patience to be tested when you travel to the Philippines. Flights will be delayed. Commutes will feel like an eternity. Tours won’t usually start on time. You’ll always have to wait. Being late is a cultural thing in this country, so much so that locals have a term for it: Filipino time.

This reminds me of a European guy who traveled with us in a van from El Nido to Puerto Princesa in Palawan. Dead worried about missing his flight, the foreigner lashed out at the driver who took so long to pick up all passengers. The driver didn’t say anything during his 10-minute anger outburst. Frustrated with the driver’s non-reaction, he turned to his fellow passengers (mostly Filipinos) and screamed, “Come on, guys—say something! We’re all wasting our time here!” Again, he got no reaction.

Lesson learned: be flexible with your travel itinerary and schedule in the Philippines. Always have a backup plan and add some buffer time between your activities for the day. That way, when something is delayed, you won’t be hassled as much.

And when there’s a problem, like a waiter getting your order wrong, deal with it calmly and patiently. Losing your temper and picking a fight when things don’t go your way won’t solve the problem.

Indulge in a Filipino feast

Photo courtesy of Jack Lawrence via Flickr

The Philippine food culture is not as well known as those of its Southeast Asian neighbors like Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam. But it’s worth a try! Have a taste of popular Filipino dishes like adobo (pork or chicken stew), lechon (roasted suckling pig), and kare-kare (beef oxtail stew). Your taste buds will love them!

Eat balut

Photo courtesy of Jerick Parrone via Flickr, Creative Commons

Feed your adventurous spirit: try the world-famous balut (fertilized duck egg), an iconic Filipino delicacy commonly peddled on the streets at night. When my foreign friends visited me here in Manila, I made sure they eat balut. Their reactions while eating the egg were amusing: some got grossed out, while others tried to be brave and put on a straight face.

Don’t refuse food offered to you

Photo courtesy of Avel Chuklanov via Unsplash

Tara, kain tayo! (Come on, let’s eat!)” is the Filipino’s way to bond with their family and friends through food. When you get an invitation like that from a local, it means you’re considered part of the family. Sharing food is one of the best things about the Filipino eating culture. You’ll make people happy by accepting their offer and joining them on the dining table. If you can also eat with your bare hands (a practice common in the provinces), the better!

Ride a jeepney

Photo courtesy of ed_davad via Pixabay

One experience you shouldn’t miss in the Philippines is riding a jeepney (or “jeep” for short)—the country’s iconic symbol and main public transport. Here are some tips on riding a jeep like a local:

  • Tag along with a Filipino friend. Riding a jeep can be daunting for a non-local, so you’d better have someone to guide you through your trip.
  • Bring coins to pay for your fare. Jeepney drivers usually have no change for large bills like Php500 and Php1,000.
  • To pay your fare, say “bayad po!” loud enough so that passengers will pass your money to the driver. Tell the driver where you’ll get off.
  • Help other passengers pay their fare by passing their money to the driver or the person beside you.
  • Say “para!” loudly when you’re about to reach your destination. This will signal the driver to stop the jeep.

Know how to pose for photos, Filipino-style

Photo courtesy of CarinaChen via Pixabay

You’ll rarely meet a camera-shy person in the Philippines. In fact, Filipinos are the most selfie-obsessed people in the world. Simply aiming your camera outdoors will have kids running to you and gamely posing while flashing goofy smiles.

Make the most out of your time by taking photos of—and with—Filipinos you meet. It will be a fun experience! To blend in with the locals, learn to strike the signature Filipino pose: form an “L” with your thumb and forefinger and place it under your chin.

Respect religious traditions

Philippine culture traditions
Photo courtesy of Glendale Lapastora via Flickr, Creative Commons

When I was teaching English to Koreans, a teenage student asked me why Filipinos worshipped “statues” and not the real God. Apparently, in Korea, you won’t see people kissing images and statues of saints and rubbing them with a hanky. What the student said wasn’t offensive (he was just a curious kid), but I’d like to point out the importance of being respectful and sensitive to religious practices that are different from your own.

Filipinos are very spiritual people, being in a largely Catholic country. Statues of saints, holy festivals, and religious traditions are sacred and significant to the Philippine culture. Filipinos may find something funny out of every situation, but they take their religion seriously.

Know the different Filipino quirks

Philippine culture and traditions
Photo courtesy of Brian Evans via Flickr, Creative Commons

Certain quirks and practices make the Philippine culture unique and interesting, especially in the eyes of Western visitors.

  • Filipinos like adding condiments to their meals—the popular ones being toyo (soy sauce), patis (fish sauce), suka (vinegar), and ketchup. Like rice, they’re always present at any food stall, eatery, and dining tables in houses.
  • A restroom, toilet or bathroom is called a comfort room or CR. So when the call of nature strikes, ask locals where the CR is.
  • When people want to take food to eat at home from restaurants, they don’t order takeaway or to-go food. Instead, they ask for a take-out.
  • When asking for the bill at restaurants, Filipinos move their thumb and forefinger to form a rectangle while saying “chit.”

You can never tell if it’s really more fun in the Philippines until you’ve experienced its rich and unique culture. The Philippines could become your favorite travel destination—just keep an open mind, be patient, use your street smarts, and have fun!

Author bio:  Boom Rizal is an investor, a property consultant, a researcher and a writer. She finds helping other OFW’s in making good decisions when investing in various businesses and/or real estate properties as part of her daily life. She also loves to take research in property innovation and writes articles advising readers on how to invest in a property.

You can also follow her on Twitter! 

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