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How To Be a Good Guest in the Philippines

Photo of Philippine flag. Be courteous when talking about criticisms with Filipino people in private. | Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

International travel can be intimidating.

New food, different cultures, interesting traditions, and societal norms are some of the things that will appear foreign to you. One of the perils of exploring foreign land is the risk of offending locals through misconstrued actions and gestures.

That’s why we should always research about the country we’re visiting before going. We all need to learn how to be a responsible tourist.

After all, we’re merely visitors. We shouldn’t expect locals to make all the adjustments. Sometimes, we need to adapt to their ways.

With that being said and as the title of this article offers, here are ways to become a good guest when visiting the Philippines.

Philippine Culture: Local Etiquettes

A Filipino’s warmth and hospitality is known throughout the world. These people are known to be quite friendly and generous, even inviting strangers into their homes during fiestas to feed and entertain. They don’t ask for anything in return, but it’s always great if you return the favor by acting the part of being a good tourist.

If you ever find yourself traveling to the Philippines, take note of these societal norms. Below are some things to do and not to do:

  1. Be respectful to elders.

Honorifics and gestures are used to show respect to elders.

With regard to honorifics, you call people who are older than you Ate or Manang (if female) and Kuya or Manong (if male). For example: Ate Jasmine, Kuya John, and Manong driver.

With regard to gestures, there’s a custom in Filipino culture called pagmamano. You use it when greeting much older people, like your tita (aunt), tito (uncle), lolo (grandfather), and lola (grandmother). You do it by asking for their hand and planting it on your forehead while saying “Mano po.”

  1. Use “opo” and “po” in your sentences.

A more general way of showing respect to older people is by using “po” and “opo.” It’s often used at the end of every sentence. Here are a few sample phrases in the local language where they’re used:

  • “Magandang gabi po,” which translates to, “Good evening.”

  • “Maraming salamat po,” which translates to, “Thank you very much.”

  • When you’re asked a question to which the answer is “Yes” or “Okay,” you say “Opo.”

  1. Bear gifts when visiting a Filipino household.

It doesn’t always have to be something expensive as long as it’s from the heart. Here are a few things to keep in mind when bringing gifts:

  • For casual home invitations where no occasion is being celebrated, bring a fruit basket, flowers, or sweets.

  • For specific occasions like baptisms, birthdays, weddings, and holiday parties, opt for personalized gifts.

  1. Remove your shoes/slippers before entering someone’s house.

This tradition is not exclusive to Filipino households. In fact, it’s common in almost all Asian countries. Most people in the Philippines prefer guests to remove their footwear before entering houses. No one likes outside dirt to get inside.

  1. Be mindful of Filipino dining etiquette.

Filipino people don’t use table knives. Their two staple utensils are the spork and spoon. Sometimes they don’t use any silverware at all. This can come off as a shock and may take little brain power to figure out how to do it.

Luckily, we’re here to give you some tips on how to eat the Filipino way.

When invited to a Filipino house party, you might only be given a spoon and fork. Though if you ask for a table knife, your Filipino host will go out of his/her way to cater to your needs.

On the other hand, if you want to eat like the locals, here’s how you do it:

Spoon goes in your right hand and the fork goes in your left hand. You use the spoon to scoop the food while the fork is used to lead the food to your spoon. Easy, right?

For a more authentic Filipino dining experience, try eating “kamayan style.” In English, it refers to eating with your bare hands. No utensils are needed, just wash your hands and you’re set to go. Here’s how you do it:

A photo of a spread known as the Filipino boodle fight. Join local people in a boodle fight and eat with your bare hands. | Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Take a bit of rice and clump it up using your fingers (not your palm). Then pick a dish you want to pair it with and integrate it with the rice. Voilà! You shove the rice ball into your mouth.

Last thing you need to know when invited to a Filipino dinner party: Eat a lot! Your host expects you to go home full. Not standard full, but extremely full. That’s why they’ll take the initiative to keep adding food to your plate when it looks empty.

Let’s move on to the “what not to do’s.”

  1. Don’t use the word “hostess.”

Hostess is a word that refers to a female host. However, Filipinos have a different interpretation of it. They use it as a euphemism for sex workers. If you call a Filipino female host as a “hostess”, you’re basically calling her a prostitute. She’ll be mortified to be called one. Hence, avoid using this word.

  1. Don’t take offense when locals ask you personal questions.

It’s not entirely being nosey, most just use it as a topic to start a conversation. Hence, don’t get offended when a person you’ve just met while you’re in a family gathering is asking you a lot of personal questions. He/She probably just wants to get to know you more. If you don’t want to answer, politely tell him/her that you prefer not to be asked those questions.

  1. Never open a gift in front of the giver.

It’s rude. Unless he/she says it’s okay to do so. But if the giver doesn’t tell you to open it right away, say thank you, set it aside, and wait until he/she is not around, then you can open it.

  1. Refrain from criticizing anyone in public.

Filipinos are particularly sensitive to personal criticisms, especially when made or done in public. This is due to the Filipino concept of “sense of shame,” as locals refer to as “hiya.”

Hiya, when directly translated to English, means “losing face.” To them, it’s extremely embarrassing to know that you don’t live up to society’s expectation of an ideal Filipino citizen.

Hence, avoid causing a scene and letting other people hear your complaint about another. Instead, set them aside and talk to them privately.

Remember to always be courteous and respectful so you can make a good impression on the local people. As the saying goes, respect begets respect.

Planning a Trip to the Philippines

Photo of Philippine flag. Being a good tourist in the Philippines means respecting the Filipino culture. | Photo by Cherry Bueza on Unsplash

Visiting the Philippines should be on your travel bucket list. There are so many places to see and things to do in this majestic country. Aside from that, locals are very welcoming and friendly towards visitors. What are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to the Philippines now!

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