The unique blend of east and west has cultivated the Philippines in both appearance and culture. The Filipino character is a melting pot of cultures that create a fascinating society. The locals' spirit of kinship or bayanihan is said to have come from their Malay ancestors, their piousness from the Spanish influence, and the close-knit family relations from the Chinese. 

Filipino society is conservative and places great importance on family values. Although geographically a part of Southeast Asia, the country has strong European and American cultural ties. This means that many aspects of the culture will be familiar to Western expats, and it will not take long for them to feel at home. Nevertheless, expats will probably experience some level of culture shock in the Philippines.

With time and effort, new arrivals will soon see and appreciate the Filipino people’s distinct character and positive outlook on life. Other nationalities have commended the Filipinos for their hospitable and welcoming nature, particularly with foreign visitors.


Language in the Philippines

The two official languages used in the Philippines are Filipino and English. Filipino is the country's national language, while English serves as a medium of instruction in higher education and formal business settings.

Apart from English, Spanish is another foreign language spoken fluently by many Filipinos, along with Arabic, Chinese and Japanese. There are also eight major Filipino dialects: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray, Pampango and Pangasinense.


Communication in the Philippines

Filipinos often use their eyes, lips and hands to convey messages. Raised eyebrows and a smile indicate a silent 'hello' or a 'yes' in response to a question. Fixed eye contact between men is generally considered aggressive. The proper method to summon somebody is with a downward wave.

Filipinos place great emphasis on polite language and gentle conversation. The tone of voice should always be soft, and expats should avoid direct questions. 

As a sign of respect, Filipinos address elderly people with po and opo. They do not call seniors by their first names but use words such as KuyaAteManong or Manang that denote their superiority and wisdom. They also perform the peculiar gestures of kissing their elders' hands and letting the front of the hand of an elder touch their foreheads.


Dress in the Philippines

People mainly dress for the weather in the Philippines. In the business world, dress is quite formal and conservative. Men wear dark business suits with a tie, and women go for a business suit or a skirt and blouse. 


Women in the Philippines

Interestingly, the Philippines is a matriarchal society that values women in family life. Women also have the same social and political rights as men and often hold high positions in the political and business worlds.


Religion in the Philippines

Thanks to the myriad foreign influences, religion in the Philippines is also diverse. The two primary religions are Islam and Christianity, and most Filipinos are Roman Catholics. Most Filipinos who practise Islam are located at the southern end of the archipelago.


Social customs in the Philippines

Locals are understanding of expats' lack of knowledge of their gestures and are quick to forgive any insults. We suggest researching the country's customs, but Filipinos are usually happy to explain local courtesies to newcomers.

Generally speaking, 'saving face' is among the most important things in Asia. Public displays of anger, criticism or disrespect of one’s rank or position go against the concept of saving face. In an embarrassing situation, Filipinos may laugh or try to change the subject to hide the awkwardness.


Dining in the Philippines

Filipinos love to eat and drink. Expats will likely be invited for meals and banquets at some point during their time in the Philippines. Filipino eating habits are similar to those of the Spanish and the Chinese.

Most restaurants and families serve each person their own plate of food. In some restaurants, diners may order a variety of food, and share what is on the table. Filipinos regard food very highly, so if a guest in a Filipino home is offered food, it should be accepted, as a rejection will be perceived as an insult. 

Most Filipinos in rural areas are still accustomed to eating with their hands, or what is known as kamay or kamayan. The four fingers serve as the spoon, and the thumb pushes the food into the mouth. Expats attempting this method of eating should not put the food in the palms of their hands, as it may resemble a lack of respect for the food.


General etiquette tips for the Philippines

  • Expats should not put their elbows on the table when eating; it is disrespectful to the food and host.

  • If hosting Filipino guests or friends, expats should not clear or leave the table until everyone has finished.

  • When invited by a Filipino family or friend to dine at their home, expats should not sit at the head of the table (the cabizera), as this seat is usually reserved for the host. When dining at a restaurant, the person sitting at the head of the table usually pays for everyone’s meal.

  • Staring is impolite and considered confrontational. However, locals may stare at foreigners in the street, but this is just mainly curiosity.

  • When visiting a Filipino home, expats should leave their shoes outside.

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