Philippine Culture: DOs and DON'Ts

 

Don't be surprised to see kids and adults alike waving as you make your way through the welcoming streets of the Philippines - it's really in the nature of the Filipinos to extend their warmth to any guest of their country. This hospitality or generosity towards visitors is the Filipino's most endearing trait, making the Philippines one of the most tourist-friendly countries in the world.

 

Like any other country, the Philippines has its own unique culture, traditions, and etiquette. Knowing and practicing these customs lets you become more familiar with the Filipino mindset and values. With these guidelines, you can make your visit all the more enjoyable and memorable.

 


General Filipino Etiquette

  • Do take the time to smile. Filipinos like to say hi, and they appreciate it when visitors reciprocate. Handshakes are the usual way to greet people, but "beso-beso" or cheek bussing is also commonly done, especially among ladies.
  • Do come in appropriate clothes when the occasion calls. Although the Philippines is a walkable country, not all places would welcome you in your flip-flops and shorts. Churches, government institutions and some restaurants require proper attire. Besides, if you come well dressed, Filipinos will admire you, and it's always fun to dress up!
  • Don't forget to laugh. Laughter is used very frequently in the Philippines: to break tension, to relieve moments of awkwardness, and to put people at ease. On the rare occasion that laughter is at someone's expense, it is usually done good-naturedly. A good sense of humor is definitely an asset in the Philippines.
  • Don't lose your temper. It's easier to get Filipinos on your side if you approach situations in a calm and composed manner. Filipinos are more willing to help if you don't embarrass them in public.
  • Do recognize that Filipinos tend to be indirect. Even if they mean to refuse, they will avoid actually using the word "No" in conversations, and instead will use other ways to get their message across.
  • Do show respect to anyone regardless of their social class or age. Saying "sorry" and "excuse me" is appreciated. In Philippine culture, the elderly are given particular respect. Using the proper words (such as the polite "po" and "opo" when speaking to elders) is a sure way of endearing yourself to Filipinos.
  • Although tipping is not institutionalized as a custom, do leave something on the table.

 


Inside the Filipino Home

  • Do expect to be invited to the homes of Filipinos. They will invite you to help yourself to everything and anything on their dining table, and they would appreciate it if you partook of the food offered. If you happen to show up during meal time, an extra chair will made available to you. In short, do eat when you're offered food. Don't offend your hosts by refusing outright.
  • Do be sensitive to household customs. If you happen to see shoes or slippers outside your host's abode, you may be asked to leave you footwear outside also. They will offer you house slippers, or if they don't, the house floor is most likely clean.

 

Doing Business

  • Do use honorifics such as Mister or Miss. Titles are very important and it is best to use them when addressing people and business partners.
  • Do help your partners save face. Filipinos place a premium on harmonious interpersonal relationships, so it is best to avoid confrontational behavior such as hard selling and direct pressuring, since these may lead to conflict.
  • Do keep in mind that time is viewed flexibly in the Philippines; many Filipinos place less of an emphasis on strict adherence to schedules.
  • Do present and receive business cards using both hands. Upon reception, examine them with interest.
  • Do wear appropriate clothing for business, especially during initial meetings. Denim jeans or business casual attire are not recommended.

 


While Traveling

  • Make sure your stomach can handle the street food. Don't eat street food unless you know it's safe for consumption.
  • Don't show off your valuables and gadgets. Flashing your jewelry, electronic items and other valuables may attract the attention of criminals.
  • Don't give alms to the poor on the road. Mendicancy and alms-giving are offenses in the Philippines. If you wish to exercise your charity, there are many private and government institutions that will gladly accept your donations. On a related note, don't open your car window to street children.
  • Don't be too trusting of the people you meet for the first time. It's best to be vigilant and to rely on common sense wherever you may be.
  • Do use the thumbs-up sign for "OK!". The other common version, using the thumb and index finger, means "money" in the Philippines. Don't beckon or point with your index finger when calling someone. Calling someone by name, using "sir" or "miss", or beckoning with your palm held downwards is preferred.


Check these sites to learn more about Philippine customs and etiquette:
Kwintessential: Philippines - Language, Culture, Customs, Etiquette

USAToday.com: Business etiquette in the Philippines

Culture Crossing: Philippines - Culture, Customs and Etiquette

 

 

For Tour Operators & Travel Agents

Department of Tourism: Overseas Offices
DOT: List of accredited establishments

Or see our article on this topic for a list of major travel agencies in the Philippines:
For tour operators and travel agencies: Doing business in the Philippines

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