Activities Travel Guide

What is Considered Rude in the Philippines?

Filipinos are known to be respectful, accommodating, and hospitable. All smiles and warmth will greet you as you arrive. Especially to foreigners, Filipinos ensure that others feel at home. Resilient and creative, Filipinos are willing to adjust to other customs. However, traveling and living in the Philippines also takes responsibility. All cultures have taboos and norms. What is considered rude in the Philippines? The Philippines has a lot of these. Becoming Filipino comes with rules. Although Filipinos will not show it, there are behaviors with a big “no.” Some are embedded in law. Others are regarded as common sense. 

Filipino Etiquette

The Philippines have many ethnolinguistic groups. Some of the major groups are Tagalog, Cebuano, and Ilocano. No surprise that each has its own rules. What is considered rude in the Philippines depends on the group involved. However, the etiquette aligns on some common aspects.

Pagmamano is a deeply-rooted gesture.

It has been practiced since colonial times. Mano is Spanish for the word “hand,” while “po” is a word Filipinos at at the end of a sentence indicating respect. Pagmamano is done usually with elders. In family gatherings, youngsters take the hand of the elders and place the back of the hand against the forehead. Sometimes, this gesture is applicable to godmothers or godfathers (ninang/ninong). This indicates respect and reverence. Today, this gesture has been preserved. When going to a Filipino family gathering, this gesture is highly observable. Similar countries have their own counterparts of pagmamano. Remember, the Philippines share an origin with Malaysia and some parts of Indonesia. Therefore, pagmamano has a common origin in Southeast Asia.

Sharing common quarters with the family.

Filipino families are generally large. Today, the statistics have changed due to family planning and cultural changes. However, a household with an extended family is 100% typical. Living with grandparents and cousins is considered as a preservation of kinship ties. Individualism is not as typical in the Philippines as it is in western nations. Filipinos do not really “launch off” once they are 18 years old. Even married couples reside with grandparents.

This ensures that kinship ties are preserved. Taking care of grandparents is also expected in a Filipino family. Some would say that this is “utang na loob” or honoring gratitude to parents once they are old. There are few elderly homes in the Philippines because taking care of parents is a custom. When guests live with Filipino families, sharing of quarters with some of the family members are expected. This is considered as warming up to the family. It is also a sign that you are being accepted as a new member. You won’t be surprised to find that Filipinos always have extra beds and utensils intended for visitors. 

Rice is a cultural symbol.

A Filipino meal is not considered as such without rice. In earlier times, the barometer for a girl’s suitability for marriage is her capacity to cook good rice. Meanwhile, the barometer for males is their capacity to “put rice on the table.” There is a proper and culturally accepted way to cook rice in the Philippines. The rice must be soft and aromatic, but not too wet.

A half-cooked rice, meanwhile, is considered as unworthy to eat. If the rice is not cooked well, then it can be considered as inedible. An uncooked or poorly cooked rice cannot be reversed. Moreover, the reverence for rice is connected to the hard life in the country. If you waste rice, then this will not fail to disappoint. Having no rice on the table is connected to the Filipino psyche as having no food at all. Workplaces even provide a rice allowance to their Filipino employees. 

Fork and spoon are the pairing.

Filipinos typically eat with spoon and fork. Fork is for the meat or entree that accompanies the rice. Spoon is for the rice and broth. Filipinos will adjust of course if they have a guest. However, typical dining in a household consists of a fork and spoon. Very rare are knives added. 

Honoring food on the table.

Filipino families eat together. Guests are also expected to dine with the family. When being offered to eat, it is a must to dine with the family. Meal time is considered as a special bonding. Families talk about their lives. This is a special bonding session. It is considered as a respectful gesture to invite someone to meal time. In the same way, it is considered as an honor to be invited to a meal. Sometimes, Filipinos do not start eating unless all the family members are present. Eating before everyone has started is a big “NO.” Of course, guests are always honored. Very rare would they be told off. Most of the time, they will just be understood. 

Gifts are important.

Filipino Christmas is the longest Christmas celebration in the Christian world. Its counterpart is the long celebration of New Year in Vietnam. However, as soon as September enters the season Christmas bells will start to sound. The famous holiday songs of Jose Mari Chan will start playing in malls. Christmas season is THE holiday that everyone in the country has been anticipating the whole year. Despite any crisis, Filipinos will make it a point to spend on the holiday gifts and food. Spending escalates during the Christmas season.

Gifts are always well-thought of. The Christmas season is the number one indicator of the Filipino’s habit of giving. Filipino etiquette rests on giving. This is why gifts are also important to Filipinos. A birthday, anniversary, or a small victory amounts to something memorable. Another note, it is rare to open gifts after receiving. Of course, cultural changes have occurred. Sometimes, Filipinos want to see your reaction with the gift. However, it is customary to not open the gift in front of the person who gave it to you. 

First impressions matter.

This is highly applicable in business settings. Filipinos are very observable when first meeting a person. Especially when meeting for the first time, they check every single detail about you. This applies from the hem of your clothes to every blink of your eye. Of course, there is no need to be intimidated. Filipinos love being laid back. When picking a place to eat, chances are they will let you choose. By the way, choosing a place to eat is a challenge.

Often, Filipinos will ask you where you want to go, or “just anywhere” (“kahit saan”). This behavior has been so prominent that there’s even a restaurant named after it (“kahit saan”). Filipinos wouldn’t mind if the guests indicate where to eat. If fact, they would like this more. The best way to act when meeting a Filipino for the first time is to be laid back but respectful. It is not in the personality of the Filipino to be overly confrontative or blunt. This is embedded in the concept of “hiya” or “shame.” This respectfulness overpowers conversations and habits. However, like other cultures, there is an invisible line that must not be crossed.

Rude in the Philippines

There are more than one way to become rude. But it takes only a few gesture to be polite. People tend to remember the bad things that you do more than the good ones. Unfortunately, people can be selective when it comes to memory. Filipinos also have this tendency. They believe in the “what comes around, what goes around.” Thus, the reason for being respectful at all times. By nature, Filipinos are considerate. However, there are don’ts for this fun-loving culture. What is considered rude in the Philippines? Here are some examples.

Insulting the Philippines and the People

This is nearly common sense. It is taboo to insult a country and its people, especially in its very shores. This is the invisible line we have been talking about. No matter the circumstance or the country, it is definitely a sign of disrespect. There are cases wherein celebrities and foreigners have been declared as persona non grata in the country. Persona non grata is the worst label you could have. An unwanted or unwelcome person. Even if you were in a particular place such as Baguio City, never call the people backwards or primitive. This is enough to land you a collective hate. Filipinos, like other nations, are proud of their hard-earned independence and freedom. Imagine insulting a country whose history was built on struggle. 

Disrespecting Elders

The short lecture about pagmamano will tell how revered elders are. Insulting them is like insulting the entire family. Sometimes, family members even respect their elders’ views even when outdated. What is considered rude in the Philippines? Calling elders by their first name is an example of rudeness. Sometimes people make it an effort to include ‘po’ all the time when addressing elders. The terms ‘ate’ (older sister), ‘kuya’ (older brother), ‘manong/manang,’ (older man/older woman), ‘tatay’ (father), or ‘nanay’ (mother) are used when addressing strangers older than you are. Blood relations don’t really matter in these terms. What’s important is the reverence to elders. You can meet a cab driver older than you are and call him ‘manong.’ 

‘I want to buy a land’

Land rights are a hot topic in the country. There are a lot of people who are landless, often farmers. It is alright to buy land in the Philippines. But don’t say this out loud. Remember that Filipinos are proud of their independence. However, there are current and persisting issues in the country. The right to land and decent housing are two examples. Saying that you want to buy a land out loud can be rude. Consider this as rubbing salt on a wound. There are a lot of people in the country who cannot simply buy land because of poverty. Even if you have the means, consider taking this privately. 

Sexual Harassment

Whistling and making unwanted gestures or comments are considered as sexual harassment internationally. In the country, sexual harassment is a grave offense. Filipinos are friendly and approachable by nature. However, there is always an invisible line that must not be crossed. When meeting strangers, make sure to respect the consent. How to make the right gestures? Here are helpful articles: How to make a Filipina fall in love with you & How to Know if Filipino Guy Likes You: Check these Signs! 

Physical Space

Filipinos are collective thinkers. However, this does not cancel out the idea of private space. Being too close (inches apart) can be rude. Being a few inches apart respects personal space. Even when Filipinos are in line to order in a fast food restaurant, personal space is observed. It is uncomfortable when strangers are too near. 

The Real Deal of Filipino Time

Unlike popular opinion, Filipino time is actually colonial propaganda. Filipino time is considered as the Filipino’s habit of being late. Say, you suggest 1pm as the meeting time. But Filipinos would always arrive minutes late. This has been considered as a collective habit. Thus, ‘Filipino time’ became the connotation. However, (some trivia here) the Spanish colonial regime was the promoter of this term. 

When they first arrived in the country, they observed Filipino farmers sleeping at 12nn. Filipino sociology suggests that what the Spaniards saw were farmers resting after the 4am grind. Meaning, 12nn was their time for a break. They have already been working since 4am. As early as 4am. However, the Spaniards chose to consider Filipinos as lazy because of this 12nn break. In addition to this, traffic is monstrous in the country. The designated meeting hours become futile. Some people leave 5am from their houses to get to an 8am clock-in at the office. Filipino time eventually gained its negative connotation. Being late has seemingly become a trademark of Filipinos due to unusual circumstances. 

The takeaway: Come on time and set the time well with Filipinos, traffic included. It is rude to consider Filipino time as a standard and a habit of laziness. Filipinos, same as other nationalities, also do not like the idea of being late. Casual gatherings, of course, can be an exemption. However, never consider applying the so-called ‘Filipino time’ on formal occasions.

Don’t Preach

What is considered rude in the Philippines? Preaching out of place. Filipinos love to converse. Political discussions are alright. People respect views. However, religion is another matter. There are many religions in the Philippines. Religion can be a more sensitive topic than politics. The Philippines has a dominantly Roman Catholic population. But there are Muslims and other religions as well. Muslims and non-Muslims have learned to respect one another’s faiths throughout the years. It is alright to talk about religion from an academic or objective view. However, it is best to not preach your religion. 

Do Not Stare

What is considered rude in the Philippines? Staring. Children are forgivable. After all, staring is an act of curiosity. However, it is difficult to pin-point the intention. This is the reason why staring is rude. You don’t know what the other person is thinking. It also makes you feel uncomfortable. Perhaps it is not only rude in the Philippines. It is also rude in other countries. 

Final Thoughts

The golden rule is what is considered rude in the Philippines may also be considered as rude in other nations. In other words, sometimes it is a matter of common sense. There are particular quirks in the Philippines, however. Respect to elders, cultural sensitivity, and blending in are ways to avoid being rude. Filipinos are generally respectful, hospitable, and forgiving. However, there is always an invisible line to not cross. 

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