People of Cebu Philippines

People of Cebu Philippines - mentality - behaviour - etiquette


Filipinos, friendly smiling people


The English name given to the inhabitants of the Philippines is “Filipinos” (Filipino, Filipina). This is a name which is known throughout the world, even in the Philippines where English is widely spoken. The Filipinos also call themselves “Pinoys” (Pinoy, Pinay) or, in their home-dialect, “Pilipinos” (Pilipino, Pilipina).


Saleswomen at Christmas in Metro Supermarket Ayala Center Cebu-City und schoolgirls in Naga

The mentality of the Filipinos
The behavior of the Filipinos has many facets and isn’t easy to fathom due to the fact that Filipinos, and also Filipinas, aren’t keen to discuss it. However, it’s worthwhile dealing with a little closer.

The Filipina as nurse
There’s something special concealed in the nature of the Filipinos and this is reflected by the fact that Filipino women are highly valued as nurses worldwide and as such are willingly employed by hospitals. Nursing isn’t an easy job, and patients and those in need of care are sometimes unfair and difficult to satisfy. It’s well known that Filipina nurses always respond with a friendly smile and have great understanding for the needs of their patients.

Western standards
The Western visitor to the Philippines is impressed and pleasantly surprised by the western standards which appear to be widespread there. It’s certainly his world; jeans, cell phones, the same fast food chain restaurants with hamburgers and cheeseburgers, the latest hits playing through the loudspeakers, cable TV with the craziest game shows and all of this in English. He’s met by Filipinos who have fashionable, immaculate clothes and hair styles and who always have a warm smile. They have an open and friendly look that seems to say “We understand each other!” We no longer see the Filipinos as mysterious Asians; instead, we instinctively take western manners and behavior patterns for granted. As a tourist, if you take a short vacation here, the world will still remain very much in order for you. However, if you want to stay longer or even immigrate, you’ll soon realize that your previous judgment will have to be reconsidered. You’ll be pushed to your limits and often gain the impression that it’s impossible for you to communicate with Filipinos on the same wavelength. You’ll realize that there is another face behind the western image, another soul with a foreign culture. Many then make the mistake of viewing western standards as the highest level on a scale which measures the development status of all races on our planet. This is very presumptuous and shows a certain degree of arrogance.


Asian habits
Even superficial things such as eating foul-smelling dried fish, measuring in feet and inches, eating with fingers, eating insects and other various habits in Asian countries give some visitors the feeling that the country in question is still very primitive. The next train of thought is perhaps that the “natives” would surely be grateful if they were given several good tips. The Filipinos apparently put in a lot of effort to achieve western standards and surely a little help with their development can only be a good thing? Unfortunately not! Teaching a Filipino isn’t easy. The Filipino will perhaps smile at the foreigner and avoid contradicting him. He’ll just remain silent and smile. He won’t discuss the situation as he doesn’t want to disagree. Harmony has the highest priority for the Filipino. Harmony is much more important than resolving differences in behavior and thinking. If one isn’t knowledgeable of this fact and the silent smile is interpreted as a lack of comprehension then one is a long way from really understanding the people of the Philippines. One will remain an outsider and this won’t change by offering gifts. If one wants to improve the situation then one must begin with oneself. One must learn to understand the behavior of the Filipinos and maybe learn from them in the process.


“hiya” (dishonor, shame) and “amor-propio” (self-respect)
Motorcyclist in Carcar and schoolteacher in Cebu-City “hiya” and “amor-propio” are terms of behavior for the Filipinos which aren’t easy to explain. They no longer have the same meaning as in former times. They’re often presented as generally accepted schema. Today, however, this is no longer true and there’s no general rule that applies. Several examples will help to understand more rather than a formula. In principle, the following apply: one’s very helpful and wants to make all visitors feel welcome; the customer is king; wishes and criticism should always be dealt with in a polite and calm manner. If I complain in a harsh and angry tone that the soup isn’t warm enough, and in such a way that perhaps the neighboring table is made aware of the situation, the waiter will smile politely but probably won’t return to my table. Instead, one of his colleagues will serve me. Should I also treat the new waiter impolitely then I’ll no longer be served and quite simply ignored and I’ll have no other option but to pay my bill and leave the restaurant. However, even then I’d be smiled at politely and thanked for my visit. The harmony has not been destroyed, nobody has lost face and I could return to the restaurant tomorrow without being embarrassed. This is the fine difference. In Europe, the manager of the restaurant would most likely appear and ask me to leave the premises, whereas, in the Philippines, every effort is made to avoid a confrontation.


Visits to the authorities
The same situation applies to visits to the authorities. They’ll at all times do their best to ensure that you’re dealt with politely and as quickly as possible - even without bribes! Filipinos are always friendly and sometimes appear subservient to us because we’re not familiar with this type of friendliness. The Filipino does, however, have his pride and wrong behavior will never lead quicker to the objective.
Asking for directions
It can be heard time and time again that a Filipino would rather give wrong directions than admit he doesn’t know the way. I consider this to be a myth. He’d say “It would be better to ask the street sweeper over there” or “Ask in the store, they’ll know better”. It’s also always advisable to begin the question politely with “Excuse me” or “May I ask you something?” An impolite question such as “Is there a gas station in this dump?”, could indeed lead to the Filipino playing a joke on you and, with a friendly smile on his face, he’ll send you in a direction where there’s guaranteed no gas station.


Exchange of views
When I ask a Filipino for his opinion on my views he may just smile and not say a word. This doesn’t mean though that he’s an idiot and doesn’t understand my question. The smile, which is already his answer, is his way of saying that he has a different opinion but he can’t of course say that his opinion is perhaps better founded than mine. He wouldn’t drop a hint that this is the case, not even with the kindest of words. He’s considerate and can’t allow me to lose face. The smile says a lot but one can also pretend that it doesn’t mean a thing, thus keeping the harmony intact.


I wouldn’t of course give a taxi driver tips on how to improve his driving style but let’s take a look at problems which may arise with skilled tradesmen. First of all, it’s advisable to begin a conversation with a tradesman by mentioning that the information you’ve received concerning his ability, previous workmanship or indeed his industriousness has been nothing but positive. Perhaps then I’d pose the question “Would it be possible to do it this way or that way?” or “What do you think about doing it this way? Would that be possible?” The following is generally the case and it applies in particular to the Philippines: give praise in the company of others but instructing or criticizing, if necessary, should be done in private.


Harmony above all

Filipinos sense the possibility of a conflict very early; they foresee the situation and have the ability of avoiding all conflicts at an early stage.
Building worker in San Fernando and country smithy in Cebu PhilippinesAs such, remarks from Filipinos appear to me sometimes as being very controlled and I’d often prefer to hear more spontaneous comments. The Filipino, however, doesn’t need to control himself constantly. He’s led automatically by his emotions and his heart, also in respect towards his conversation partner, having been brought up in this manner. If someone is quarrelsome or a know-it-all he may well be treated with respect but he’ll not be held in high esteem. Such a husband would perhaps continue to be served by his Filipina wife and not abandoned but true happiness would never be experienced.


A “yes” can mean many things
The “yes” of a Filipino can mean “yes” or “perhaps” or “I don’t know” or indeed many other things. In his effort to accommodate you, your conversation partner may not have the heart to give “no” as an answer. Instead of a “yes”, Filipina A could receive the following reply to her invitation from Filipina B “I’m sorry but my sister is coming to visit me”. Filipina A would then reply “Why don’t you bring her along? I’d like to meet her”. Filipina B doesn’t want to visit her though. A European would perhaps say “I can’t, I’ve promised to do her hair”. The Filipina, however, wouldn’t turn down the invitation once more and would say “Fine, I’ll give you a call” – which of course won’t happen. This isn’t being dishonest but instead shows thoughtfulness on the part of Filipina B in saving face for Filipina A. “Yes” quite simply has slightly different meanings but everyone knows that no deception has taken place.


Smiling in terrible situations
The Filipino laughs over his problems but this doesn’t mean that he’s pleased about them! The westerner would put on a serious face and lower his voice when delivering bad news, whereas a Filipino would be happy and cheerful and would smile during the process. A Filipino doctor would smile when informing his patient that his illness is very serious and the chances of finding a cure are very slim. This isn’t being insensitive, instead it’s recognized behavior.


My own experience 1
I was being driven through Manila in a jeepney with some Philippine friends and due to the volume of traffic it was very much stop and go. There was a horse-drawn carriage next to us on the right. The driver of the carriage lashed the horse with his whip which caused the horse to stumble and foam at the mouth. I said “The horse is going to collapse any minute now”. Everyone looked over as the horse fell to the ground and it was unable to stand up again. Our jeepney continued driving. Everyone was laughing in a happy and cheerful way. No sign of sadness or embarrassment. I was shocked. Just when I thought we understood each other marvelously they all suddenly seemed very strange and incomprehensible.


My own experience 2
It was dark, raining and the street was badly lit. I wanted to cross the road together with a small group of friends to get to the restaurant on the other side of the road. We were hastily crossing over trying to avoid the puddles when I unfortunately stood in one just before reaching the curb. Much to my horror, however, it wasn’t just a puddle but in fact a deep hole and my right shoe and light colored trousers, up to the knee, were soaking wet and filthy. What did my Philippine companions do? They laughed joyfully as if I had just won 100,000 pesos! What should I have done?
Filipino restaurantI began to laugh as well. The host of the restaurant brought me a towel with a smile on his face and the evening turned out to be an enjoyable one. Although nobody explained to me that Filipinos aren’t gloating when they laugh in such situations I began to realize this by myself.


Invitations and punctuality
Extreme punctuality isn’t regarded as being polite – being approximately 15 minutes late is reasonable. The higher the social status of the guest the later he’ll appear. Business or social appointments are becoming increasingly adapted to the western time frame although one tends to be more tolerant in the Philippines.


The opening of gifts
Gifts shouldn’t be opened immediately. Filipinos don’t like gifts to be displayed in public because this would lead to the estimated value being compared to those of other gifts. The sense of giving should be preserved rather than putting material worth to the fore. Opening a gift in the presence of the giver could give rise to the assumption that the recipient is greedy and doesn’t appreciate the gesture of giving. The recipient will, therefore, place the gift to one side and thank the giver once more the next time they meet.
Visiting a sick person
Bringing flowers or something to eat is always welcome. Visiting relatives or close friends who are ill is an absolute must. By doing this you’ll also gain recognition from the relatives of the sick person.


Body language
Filipinos greet each other through eye contact and with a brief raising and lowering of the eyebrows. Together with a friendly smile this more or less means “hello” without actually using any words. Filipinos point towards an object by pursing their lips in the direction of the object of by directing their eyes in a peculiar way to the object. A short shrugging of the shoulders more or less means – I’m not sure or I really can’t say. Beckoning someone with a crooked index finger is considered to be very impolite. Filipinos use an outstretched arm with the hand open and the palm downward whilst jiggling their fingers to beckon someone, a signal which we would interpret as “go away”.


One should be careful with alcohol. It loosens the tongue and before you know it you’ve said something wrong. Be careful with those who are inebriated; one wrong look or wrong word could lead to a lot of trouble. It’s best to leave the festivity even if just a few guests have been drinking too much.


Filipinos are extremely hospitable and very tolerant. The bad behavior of others is mercifully overlooked and laughed off. This applies in particular to the behavior of western foreigners. Sometimes, this makes it all too easy for visitors to the Philippines to behave the way in which they are accustomed to. Such visitors increase the gulf in culture. They won’t really understand the Filipinos and probably won’t even realize that this is the case. They’ll think that it’s the Filipinos who don’t understand. With this attitude they’ll remain outsiders and won’t feel comfortable in the long term.



A great deal of pleasure can be obtained when associating with Filipinos as long as you know the rules and are able to communicate with them on the same wavelength. This should be seen as a considerable enrichment. Filipinos work in many different countries and send dollars and euros back home. Let’s be the ones who take a smile home; a smile is worth more than anything else.

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