Some Major Elements of Filipino Culture
I am a people watcher so my interest in Filipino culture stems from that. I’m the kind of person that is usually quiet but very observant. I like to know what motivates a person. When I came to the Philippines, I thought everyone was going to rip me off. The stories I had heard, even from Filipinos were all bad. Or at least the ones I remembered. I was lucky that my natural curiosity about people helped me to understand that Filipinos are overall very good people.`This is a long article but it is only an introduction to a complex and extremely important topic. I believe you’re success of a happy life in the Philippines depends on your understanding of Filipino culture.
Applying my culture to Filipinos will lead to misunderstandings. I have an example of this. Jessie (my partner) tends to keep things from me. It was easy to intrepid this as lies and that she had something to hide. Slowly, I began to understand that she was protecting me. Or at least that was her intention. It didn’t always work out that way. Sometimes her secretive nature caused real problems. I needed to know some of those things. Now some of her not telling me things was simply because she didn’t want me to be upset. Her major motivation was altruistic but not entirely. After all, people are people. Human do have some basic characteristics no matter where you go. You probably need to talk to a psychologist for more on that. What is important here is that my growing understanding of Filipino culture helped me better to avoid conflict with my girl.
Filipino Culture and Traditions
The Philippines is comprised of more than 7000 island. In the past, this isolated many of the people from the rest of the country. So Filipino culture and traditions are widely varied. Not to mention that all people within a culture will not conform to the expectations of that culture. I think I qualify as a non-conformist myself. In other words, there will be exceptions to these traditions and cultural practices.
I have an example of this regionalization of Filipino culture. When I first moved to the Philippines in 2008, Jessie told me about a tradition she was use too. She was afraid it was going to anger me. We didn’t have much money left over and she was really concerned about not being able to meet the expectations of her community. She had lived in Tacloban all of her life but we now lived in Cebu. On Christmas day in Tacloban, many people go do to door like American do on Halloween. The home owners give out gifts of money and candy or other food. She thought the same thing would happen in Cebu.
I wrote about this on a blog and another Filipino became very upset with me. He assured me that didn’t happen. Jessie laughed at him to me as he has lived most of his life in the USA. So I started asking others that lived here and they said it didn’t happen there. We had a few people show up on Christmas morning caroling and it is customary to give them a small amount of money. It was nothing like Jessie expected. Finally, we both realized that this only happens in a very small area. the area where she grew up.
Many of the traditions of the Family boil down to the traditions within a family. Jessie tells me often that “It depends on the family” for a lot of aspects of Filipino culture.
This turned out to be one of my first lessons in Filipino culture. That what happens in one place may not happen in others. Despite the regional nature of Filipino culture, there are still some generalities that apply to most Filipinos. Let’s dive into those now.
Filipino Culture is Centered around Respect
For me, respect is the central element of Filipino culture. I think most of the other traditions of the Philippines center around this element. This respect is like the glue that holds the rest of the culture together. While reading this article, think about how most of these elements of Filipino culture are really part of respecting others.
Filipinos generally deal with each other in a respectful way. This is expected among most Filipino that have been raised in the traditional Filipino way. They look at each other when talking, they do not leave without saying goodbye and they almost never raise their voices in an argument, especially with strangers or in a business situation.
Many Filipinos give a gesture of respect when they meet elders, especially within their family. It is called Mano po. the word “po” is a show of respect. It doesn’t really have a translation into English but you can think of it as like adding “mam” to a phrase in American culture. I wrote more about Mano po that you can read by clicking here.
Family in Filipino Culture
Family ties in the Philippines are usually extreme. With most Filipina, their mates will never come first in their life. Usually God comes first then family and then you. These strong family ties are another source of conflict between Western men and their mates. It often comes from the the women’s desire to send money to their families. Many of the men feel like they are being taken advantage of because they are usually seen as rich. The Filipina’s desire to send money home has nothing to do with your nationality. The amount could possibly vary if you have more to give. This is however a strong part of Filipino culture.
Many Filipinos work overseas, there is even a phrase for that. Filipino overseas worker or OFW. It is estimated that about 10% of the Filipino economy is a result of Filipinos working overseas and sending money back home to their families. That really demonstrates their love and sense of obligation to their families. It has nothing to do with their man, they are usually single. Though often married couples live apart while one of them works overseas.
The other important thing to know about Filipino families is that Filipinos fear bringing shame to the family. This is especially true for Filipina. They seem to be under a great deal of pressure in this regard. This includes the clothes they wear and who they date. With upper class Filipino this responsibility is generally greater. You are unlikely to date an upper class Filipino. In most case, it is not acceptable.
Humility and Pride in the Philippines
This element of Filipino culture is a little hard to understand. The two seem completely opposing. Filipinos are fiercely proud of the Philippines in most cases. You’ll find some that seem to be ashamed and openly speak of that. For the most part though, there is a strong loyalty to the country and other Filipinos.
Insulting a Filipino can be dangerous to your health. Filipinos have the face saving element in their culture. It goes back to respect in Filipino culture. A foreigner can be deported for insulting a Filipino. I have not seen it actually happen but I did read of an American that was arrested for it. I don’t know the outcome of that case. He clearly has deportation coming based on the story in the press.
On the other hand, Filipinos usually have a hard time with compliments. It seems rare to me to find a Filipina that thinks she’s pretty. If you tell them they are pretty they will almost always disagree. And so many of them are absolutely stunning to look at. I tell them I’m an expert on pretty girls. They still don’t agree. I plan to go the beach tomorrow with the family and a couple of guests. Two young Filipina. I told one of them that I wanted to take a lot of pictures of her, she was surprised but liked the idea. She says “I not pretty.”
I also remember telling a Filipina that something she had was nice and she said “It not nice.” I didn’t understand that until I watched the video I have posted later in this article. Now I understand. She was showing humility.
Sharing is the Culture of the Philippines
This one is a big issue for many Western men. Filipinos self invite to events and they share everything with their family. Once again, I hear foreigners say they are being taken advantage of because they are foreigners. Once again, it has nothing to do with being a foreigner. It is just part of Filipino culture.
I think it would be a good idea to discuss these matters with the girl before things get to serious. If she wants to send money home, how much will you agree to a month. You might not be in a position to send anything home. You need to discuss this.
If you are in a position and refuse to do so, you’re girl is probably going to be miserable and the relationship will fail. Not all Filipina are expected to send money home. It depends on the family. And the family will understand if you just don’t have the ability to do so. Well, most families. What is expected of your mate will vary depending on her family. It is common in Filipino culture so it would be smart to discuss it.
Religion in Filipino Culture
For many Filipinos religion is a very important part of their life. The predominant religion is Roman Catholic, I believe the number is around 80% of Filipino are Roman Catholic. There are quite a few Muslims as well. And there is a sprinkling of protestants as well.
The Roman Catholic church plays a major role in politics here. It is hard for a politician to take a position that opposes the church. The church often threatens them with excommunication for such positions. President Aquino introduced a reproductive health bill that met major opposition from the church. He later backed away from it slightly. Still supporting it but making it less of a priority.
In most Filipino homes, you will find something of a shrine set up. perhaps with a bible and religious symbols. There will likely be pictures of ancestors as well.
Filipino Sense of Humor
This is a hard one. I so often make jokes and Filipinos don’t get it. I don’t understand Filipino humor in most cases. When I go to a movie, I hear laughing at the strangest times. Someone gets splattered all over the screen and I often hear laughter. It spoils the tense moment a bit but what are you going to do? I just laugh it off.
I say something witty and the Filipina doesn’t get it. I am usually talking to a woman. Just the way I am. I make a play on words that an American would understand and sometimes forget a Filipino will have no clue what I mean.
Jessie tells me things she things are funny and I’m like huh? Just not funny at all to me. I think maybe Filipinos like slap stick comedy. Of course it varies. I found a video made by Filipinos once regarding this. So it must not just be me. According to the video you’re suppose to laugh anyway.
Table Manners in Filipino Culture
I hear a lot about this one. Some Filipino will eat with their hands. I have seen one girl scoop up stuff with her hands like it was a back hoe. Not the most pleasant thing for me. Okay, so I don’t watch any more. It surely isn’t something I need to make a big deal about. I’ll say it again, you are in their country. This is what they do. It is not rude to them. I don’t know why people can’t wrap their head around that so much of what they believe is proper is because of where they were born. It doesn’t make you any more correct or proper. Constant complaining about it, certainly is not proper. To me, its about making yourself feel superior. I will ruffle some feathers with comment. Someone will explain to me why it is wrong. Go ahead, I’ll write off your comment as someone that needs to feel superior. You’re not! It isn’t considered uncivilized here. I’m sure many things about our Western cultures are shocking to Filipinos.
Not all Filipinos do this. Probably depends a lot on the family. Jessie would never do that. She’s very dainty and feminine in most everything she does. Most that do eat with their hands, would not do so away from home or close friends.
Are Filipino Polite
Most are extremely polite. This is another one that baffles me with some foreigners. I’ve heard many say all Filipino are rude. What? Where have they been? Even the bargirls I know are not rude.
Now I’ve seen some complain about how slow Filipinos walk on the sidewalks in large cities. Yes, most do. It can be a little frustrating for me when I can’t get any place. That doesn’t make the people rude. I’m rude for not being more patient. Things are more laid back here and I’m so glad they are. I still am about 90% Western probably. One of the biggest benefits for me that living in the Philippines has given me is that I have mellowed quite a bit. This is due to Filipino culture. I might even live longer by not having so much anxiety over little things that don’t matter one bit.
I don’t remember a rude Filipino. Well, perhaps some of the upper class. they are not really rude, they just don’t acknowledge me. I don’t think they acknowledge Jessie either for that matter. That is such a small percentage.
Some complain about Filipinos staring. You should be in my shoes. I look like Santa Claus! Just today, a child saw me and it seemed he had seen a ghost. What do I do in these cases? I reach out. I got out of my way to be nice, I wave and say hello. Sometimes even the children will warm up to me. Sometimes they want to touch me to see if my white skin feels different.
Adults are much the same. Now Filipina don’t stare much, when they do, I usually like it. Filipina have a look they give you when they are interested. I call it simple “The look.” The guys will stare, most of the time time they are simply hoping you’ll acknowledge them. We don’t deserve but often they look up to us in many ways. If you simply will acknowledge them, you are almost always going to be greeted with a nod and a big smile. They call the Philippines the land of smiles. It is another part of Filipino culture. You be nice first and watch what happens.
You have come to another world when you come to the Philippines. You are the visitor here. You may think your way is better but Filipinos don’t. I don’t think your way is better. It is just different. It can be a little trying at times. As Jessie tells me all the time, “Get use to it.” I hear it less now as I have become more use to to the Filipino way. I also think I’m a better person for it. I’m more relaxed. I’ve heard a few others say the same. That they let things go now that would have angered them in the past. Some can adapt faster than others.
I don’t think we should change everything about us but many aspect of Filipino culture can improve your life. Other things, I think we should let it go. We shouldn’t expect more than 70 million people to change their culture to ours. We need to accept Filipino culture and come to understand that it is not inferior to our own. Thinking you are better is shallow and narcissistic.
You are living in the Philippines, you should expect to find Filipino culture every where.