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For anyone moving to the Philippines from a Western nation understanding Filipino culture is crucial. If you don’t learn about the culture of the Philippines you will find yourself confused about the motivations of Filipino. While they know to make allowances for you, if you don’t know anything about their culture you’ll likely misunderstand much.
I have been living in the Philippines since early in 2008. Hearing so many negative things about the Philippines before I got here, that increased the likelihood that I would misinterpret something. It felt like everyone I was dealing with saw me as a cash dispensing machine.
While some Filipino will see you that way, that doesn’t mean that they are out to rip you off at every corner. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Sure there are thugs that will take whatever they can. There are Filipina that will promise you everything you want to hear and not mean a word of it. That is not the Filipino way.
Most Filipinos are humble, respectful and trustworthy. Of course, you have to take each person as they come; you never know which you are dealing with until you have a chance to know them. Hopefully, you’ll get a chance to know some Filipino.
Filipino Culture and Traditions
A problem that one encounters when discussing the customs and traditions of the Philippines is that many of aspects of Filipino culture is highly localized. What is acceptable in one region of the Philippines may be unacceptable in another region.
I think the reason for this localization is obvious. Though I’ve not confirmed this to be the case, the geographic makeup of the country is likely the main reason for this segmentation of the culture. The Philippines is an archipelago or island nation.
Travel from island to island can still be an issue in the Philippines. There are ferries and planes but those are expensive for many Filipino. There are not a lot of roads with bridges from one island to the next. People are a bit isolated due to the geography and in ancient times this had to be magnified.
This of course, sets the stage for the high degree of diversity found in the culture of the Philippines.
One Filipino-American became upset with me because I said in some parts of the Philippines going door to door; collecting gifts on Christmas day was a tradition in the Philippines. I had the false impression that it was common all over the Philippines. He believed it didn’t happen any place in the Philippines.
My partner was shocked that it was not common all over and was shocked that this Filipino that now lives in the USA was completely unaware of the tradition. Where she grew up there are hundreds at the door on Christmas day seeking gifts of money, food or candy. She grew up in Tacloban.
He on other hand spent some amount of time living in an upper class area near Manila. The idea of people doing this was insulting to him and he never would believe that it did occur. He hounded me for a couple of years over this issue.
This video is a really nice summary of Filipino culture. It can serve as a general guide for you and as a place to start in your research of Filipino culture and traditions.
Respect in Filipino Culture is Crucial
Nearly all aspects of Filipino culture revolves around respect. Filipinos usually look closely at a person when they speak for example. You should greet every Filipino you come into contact. Simply raising your head, looking at them and nodding is enough.
Many family members practice mano po. In this practice, the younger member of the family takes the hand of their elder. They raise the hand of the elder, touching the back of the hand to their own forehead.
You can make a highly favorable impression if you practice this with the elders of your wife or girlfriend’s family.
When you come to the Philippines, I don’t think anyone expects you to like everything about it. No one should expect you to like all parts of the Filipino culture. But please, don’t try to change it. Don’t tell everyone how fouled up it is. Don’t jump to conclusions. Spend a little time here. Do a little research. Understanding why differences occur might make the differences in Filipino culture from your own make a lot more sense.
Sharing is an Integral Part of Filipino Culture
This is a one of the biggest areas of misunderstandings between Filipino and Americans and probably for many other Westerners as well. This element of Filipino culture is very different from most Western cultures. It often causes major conflict between a Western expat and his Filipino wife.
For her it is essential that she shares with her family. Often the Westerners feels he’s being taken advantage of. Further, he often feels like this wouldn’t be happening if he were Filipino. He couldn’t be more wrong.
Families in the Philippines share. It is common for the children to support their parents in their golden years. In fact, this starts as soon as the children are old enough ot work.
In the traditional family unit, the parents will often move in with the husband of the youngest daughter. While this is common in traditional Filipino culture it certainly isn’t common in Western culture.
These issues need to be discussed with your future partner before things get too serious. This practice is not common in all families these days you need to find out what is the situation with your girl. If this is expected of her, she is going to be miserable if you do not assist her in which she honestly feels is her duty.
You also need to understand that in most cases, you will come second to her family. Filipina have a tremendous amount of pressure on them in regards to their family because this is their culture and you have chosen to live in her culture. You two need to work out a compromise in this areas that you can both be happy with or you are putting your relationship in danger. You’ve come to the Philippines and found yourself an angel, don’ t you be the devil.
You might find it is not an issue at all for your particular partner. You need to find out and decide if you are going to be able to deal with what is expected of her.
Filipino Culture Have Bad Manners
I hear this a lot. I disagree with it. They have different customs and manners. Who are you to say what is proper or improper? Just because you grew up one way doesn’t really make your way better. That sentence really is how you should look at all the difference between Filipino culture and the culture in your homeland.
The customs of Filipino at the dinner table may be a lot different than you are use too. I’ve seen things while eating with Filipinos that are hard for me to watch. So, I don’t watch. No one forces you to gaze upon it. Its not bad manners for them!
Humility and Pride In Filipino Culture
This one seems to be an oxymoron. I had a hard time reconciling this. That is until I understood that respect is central to understanding Filipino culture. If you disrespect a Filipino you could end up dead. It has been my observation that most Filipinos will avoid a battle but if you push them too far, there is going to be a battle and it probably won’t be in the form of words. It could come at the end of a knife or even a grenade. Okay, grenades are not common but I’ve read of murders being carried out with such right in the heart of Cebu City.
On the other hand, Filipinos often don’t take a compliment well. I don’t either for that matter. I witnessed several times when I told a Filipino that something was nice and they would say its not. That really confused me. If you experience this, it is an expression of humility. This has been quite common for me.
Filipina and Family
I mentioned this before. How and what a Filipina does is highly controlled by her fear of bringing shame to her family. This is also true of pinoy (male Filipino) but it is likely to be actively on the mind of a Filipina.
They also seem to be fearful of offending the upper class. Very different for many Americans who thrive on the idea of offending the upper class. We American’s are a rebellious bunch, just ask the King of England.
I can sometimes get Jessie in a sexy bikini but I have my doubts she’d do that in her home town. I don’t know, she might. She’s got a rebellious streak in her too.
When girls go to work in a bikini bar here. They rarely, almost never do that in their home town. Cebu City is large enough where they might be able to pull that off and keep it from their family. Or at least the family can pretend not to know. I think it would be hard to find a girl that grew up in Bogo City to go to work in the more shady karaokes around town.
You Can Learn From Filipino Culture
I recommend that you embrace Filipino culture. It won’t all be right for you. That’s okay. You don’t have to adopt it all but you also don’t have to insult any of it or feel that you’re superior to it.
I hear a lot of expats say “Respect has to be earned.” That angers me a bit. Why not assume respect until proven otherwise? Even then, you can treat people with respect even if you don’t respect them privately. I’d say try not to judge at all but most of us find that hard and some find it harder than others.
The Basic Expat Manual is full of my observations of Filipino culture. It can jump start what you know about the culture of the Philippines. For more information click here.
There are some things in Filipino culture that I’m pretty sure most Westerners can benefit from and that includes you so come with an open mind and find out for yourself.
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