The Traveller’s lesson in Etiquette – Visiting The Philippines

Before visiting a foreign country, especially one from a different cultural background than the one you grew up in, it’s recommendable to inform yourself about the culture, traditions and etiquette expected of you – this might spare you (and your ‘hosts’ in the country that welcomes you) some awkward, embarrassing or annoying situations.

This is what I could gather about Filipino culture and etiquette from reading the guide books and on the internet. I hope it gives me a correct idea – I’ll soon be able to counter-check when I go to the Philippines myself.

Due to its past as a Spanish colony, the Philippine’s culture is in many ways similar to western culture. However, Filipino society has been largely influenced by its geographic location, resulting in a mixing of aspects of eastern philosophy into its cultural etiquette.

Society & Culture

‘Hiya’ – the Philippine Concept of Shame

  • Hiya is the term that captures a sense of shame that is hard to grasp for people raised in a Western cultural background. Shame is absolutely not the same as embarrassment – it has more to do with honour and the idea of ‘saving face’. This principle is a fundamental aspect of Filipino culture – remember this when you try to ask someone for the way, because they might rather tell you anything they can invent than admit they are not able to help you. Another consequence of the hiya-concept: A Filipino might spend more than they he/she can afford on a party rather than be shamed by their economic circumstances.

  • Public demonstrations of anger, aggressiveness or criticism or strong emotional outbreaks are regarded as shameful, as well as a bad dressing style – so try to avoid flipflops and singlets when meeting locals. Should you get into a discussion with a local, always remain calm on the outside, do not start shouting (or using swear words, of course).

  • Shame can be brought upon oneself as well as other people, like the family. The concept of hiya is thus closely linked with

Filipino Family Values

  • Since every family member cares for the ‘honour’ (meant as the contrary concept for shame here) of the whole family, people will always look after and care for their family member. They will help with the jobsearch for example, and it is common for members of the same family to work for the same company. Not only the nuclear family is regarded as belonging to that circle, but the whole extended family, as well as wider relations, godparents and close family friends. The family is the centre of the social structure; people get strength and stability from their family.

Customs & Etiquette

Body Language

  • A possible source of confusion: The gesture for “Yes” is a jerk of the head upward. “No” is signified by a jerk of the head down. Since the Filipinos rarely say no, the non-verbal sign for “no” is sometimes accompanied by a verbal “yes”, which would still indicate “no.”

  • Unlike in other countries in Asia, Filipinos are rather touch-oriented. Minimal public display of affection is accepted. In beckoning a specific object, Filipinos sometimes point it with their mouth. Respect to the elderly is usually shown by placing the forehead onto the back of the hand of the elderly.

Meeting and Greeting

  • You are expected to greet the most elderly or senior person present first. When greeting, Filipinos do handshakes or simply raise their eyebrows quickly – hugs and kisses are reserved mainly for female friends.

Dining Etiquette and Table Manners

  • Be on time when eating out with someone, but when you’re invited to a large party at someone’s home, it’s usually expected you come 15 to 30 minutes later than agreed.

  • When you’re invited to someone else’s home, you should bring a small gift, like sweets or flowers. Presentation matters, so do your best when wrapping the gift! You can choose any colour for the wrapping paper, but if you choose flowers, avoid chrysanthemums and white lilies. The gifts are not opened when received.

  • Remember to dress well for an invitation or meeting – it is a sign of appreciation towards your hosts and you will be judged on how you dress.

  • Do not call the host’s wife as a ‘hostess’ – this has a differnet meaning in Philippine English!

  • Just like in Western society, it is polite to say something appreciative about the house or the food or to send a Thank you note the next day.

  • Don’t proceed into the dining room first; wait to be asked, maybe even several times. Also do not start eating before the host invites you to do so.

  • You should eat with fork and spoon; hold the fork in your left hand, and use it to put food into your spoon in the right hand. You are not generally expected to leave something on the plate when finishing; you can do as you prefer, this is not regarded as a cultural norm.


7 responses to “The Traveller’s lesson in Etiquette – Visiting The Philippines

  1. That is an article full of real culture. Something that I definitely like to read about. Those are the suggestions that I think that so many forget, or ignore, when traveling. As much as humans are similar. We are different in our cultures. Mutual respect is a great notion. I appreciate you sharing these very hands-on tips for traveling in the Philippines!

    • Hi Nina,
      thank you for your comment, I hope I got it right! The video is great, but I’m much more excited to see everything with my own eyes. I’m sure I’ll love the Philippines. And I’m so curious about the Filipino culture, lifestyle & nightlife!

  2. Hello 🙂 Yes for the most part. As with other cultures, ours is more complex than that but for visitors those information are a good start! As with all asian countries, we’re a mix of traditional conservatism and liberality. If you have any questions i’d be happy to try and help you out. Cheers!

  3. A very accurate observance of our culture. Though I am now residing here in the US and just visit the Philippines once or twice a year, “Hiya” and family values are still traits that my fellow country men will never change. You did an awesome job on this article. BRAVO!!!

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