The Philippines is a unique holiday destination offering natural landscapes, idyllic beaches, and many tourist attractions in Manila, the capital city.
For the best experience, holidaymakers heading to the Philippines should familiarize themselves with the local customs and etiquette.
With English widely spoken and Catholicism the predominant religion, the Philippines may seem to have more in common with western nations than other Asian countries.
However, there are many Filipino beliefs and traditions that travelers should be aware of in order to avoid cultural misunderstandings.
Filipinos are tolerant and welcoming but appreciate visitors who respect their most important values.
Hiya: the Filipino Concept of Shame
The behavior of the Filipino people is largely governed by hiya, a distinguishing Filipino concept meaning a sense of shame. Filipinos are motivated by the need to prevent embarrassment at all costs.
Foreigners may notice that locals shy away from disagreeing openly or asking questions, this is in case they are shown up or cause offense which would ultimately result in hiya.
Tourists need to recognize that to lack a sense of shame is frowned upon across Filipino society.
Hiya is connected to the idea of self-love, called amor propio. Filipinos always act to protect their own sense of self-worth and that of others. Not doing so produces hiya guilt or shame.
How hiya and amor propio affect social interaction in the Philippines
The people of the Philippines are known for being friendly and hospitable: this can be explained largely by the need to protect their own sense of self-love and that of others.
Visitors ought to consider this when communicating with Filipino people.
Being polite towards natives and avoiding confrontation and open criticism all help protect the amor propio of another person, staving off feelings of shame and embarrassment.
Showing Respect for Elders in Filipino Culture
Foreigners in the Philippines are expected to show respect toward the older members of society. The elders are held in high esteem throughout the country and this is reflected in the way they are treated.
It is considered disrespectful to call an older person by their first name. Different terms can be used to address elders:
- Ate, older sister and Kuy, older brother
- Tita, aunt and Tito, uncle
- Lola, grandmother and Lolo, grandfather
Although visitors are not expected to remember and use specific words, doing so is highly appreciated. Generally, tourists can use ate and kuya to speak with older people serving them in a store or restaurant, for example.
What is the meaning of pagmamano?
Pagmamano, or simply mano is an honoring gesture used to greet elders in the Philippines.
To show respect, a younger person asks mano po which means “your hand, please” and then proceeds to place the back of the elder’s hand lightly on their forehead.
This practice is most common between family members, in particular grandparents, and is done when seeing the person for the first time that day or when entering a gathering.
Philippines Dining Etiquette
As with all cultures, the Philippines has a number of customs and values connected to food and dining.
When dining in the presence of local people, or welcomed to enjoy a meal at a Filipino home, tourists should be familiar with the following norms:
- Food is often eaten with the hands and a spoon (foreigners will be supplied with other cutlery if requested)
- Leaning arms on the dinner table is considered rude
- Only meals with rice are considered main meals, everything else is a snack
- Food is often served in large trays to share, it is common to wait for all the dishes to arrive before beginning the meal
Food and eating are central to family and community life in the Philippines. One common greeting, Kumain ka na? Means “Have you eaten?”, and illustrates the importance of providing nourishment in Filipino culture.
Faith and Religious Belief in the Philippines
Catholicism, mostly Roman Catholicism, is the most predominant religion in the Philippines, making up around 85% of the population.
Filipino people are deeply religious and their strong faith in God is reflected in their daily lives. People attend church regularly and may be seen praying at any time of day.
Many church holidays and traditional Filipino festivals are celebrated throughout the year. Tourists in the Philippines during Holy Week, around Easter, should be prepared for an intense period of religious ceremony and processions.
Islam is the second-largest religion in the Philippines, approximately 10% of Filipino people are Muslim.
Filipino Laws Most Commonly Broken by Tourists
Whilst travelers are encouraged to honor the values and customs above, Filipino people are tolerant and recognize that visitors may not be familiar with some practices.
On the other hand, there are some Filipino laws that foreigners are at risk of breaking as they differ from regulations back home.
Some rules to be aware of include:
- Offending religious feelings in a place of worship or during a religious ceremony is illegal
- Overstaying a Philippines visa will result in fines and could lead to further action in the case of a prolonged period
- When driving in the Philippines, maximum Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is 0.05%, lower than countries such as the US (0.08%)
- Legal BAC for motorcyclists is 0%, extra care should be taken if hiring a motorbike
By following the guidelines and rules above, tourists can enjoy an unforgettable and hassle-free vacation in the Philippines.