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The Culture Guide: 5 Things You Should Not Do When Visiting the Philippines

The Philippines was once an American colony. But that doesn’t mean that what works in the USA will work in the Pearl of the Orient. So if you want to enjoy the hospitality, food, and weather of the Filipinos, avoid doing the following five things.

Being Confrontational

Filipinos value friendliness, being pleasant, and social harmony. They don’t like confrontation, especially with strangers, and prefer to pretend that things are okay even when they’re not. If you get angry or start shouting, they’re likely to just leave you alone rather than deal with you.

And you’ll probably never know how you offended them in the first place because they prefer being indirect. You probably won’t get a direct “no” to any of your request. But if they start hemming and hawing or saying things like “We’ll see,” that’s as close as you may get to a negative response.

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Criticizing the Country, Its People, and Religion

How would you like it if a tourist comes to your city and starts saying bad things about your country? Filipinos would feel the same way. If you criticize the Philippines, you’re like to draw significant ire and be perceived as making comments about things you know nothing about.  

As with most countries, religion is also a sensitive subject. Many Filipinos take pride in being the only Catholic majority country in Southeast Asia and are devout in their religious practice. You’ll receive tolerance for your own religion, and people will also expect you to be tolerant and respectful of theirs, too.

Showing Off Your Valuables

Smartphones, GoPro cameras, laptops, and wallets are all fair game for the pickpockets and snatchers that inhabit Manila and other large areas. So keep them out of sight and you won’t be a target. Avoid using valuable tech, except in well-protected spaces, and don’t walk while you’re talking on your phone. A thief on a motorcycle can easily swing by and grab what you’re holding.

If you’re coming in by plane, avoid putting anything valuable in your checked-in language. Baggage theft is common at Manila Airport. In fact, before leaving the airport, check your bags. You can then deal with any missing items right then and there.

Arriving on Time

There’s real time and Filipino time, particularly when it comes to parties or other social gathering. The latter means that it’s perfectly acceptable for events to start 15 minutes to an hour late. This most likely came during the Spanish colonial period when being late signified someone’s importance in society. It’s best to avoid sticking to hard and fast timetables, especially when meeting people.

Disrespecting Elders

Filipinos recognize and revere the value that elders bring to society because of their experience and wisdom. In fact, honorifics are built into the language to show respect. Treat older people with deference and they’ll consider you a cultured individual who honors Filipino ways.

Do not use first names to address someone older. What is seen as a sign of familiarity and bonding in America is considered rude in the Philippines. Among the titles you can use with older folk, other than their names, are tita (aunt), tito (uncle), lola (grandmother), lolo (grandfather), ate (older sister) and kuya (older brother).