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Dos and Don'ts in Philippines

Dos and Don'ts When You Travel or Live in the Philippines

 Filipinos are high spirited, fun-loving people. They are one of the friendliest races in the world with great sense of hospitality. They will try their best to please you and even treat you like a royalty, especially if you deserve it. Most Filipinos will wish you return the favour but only few will outrightly expect it from you.

The information below are mere guidelines and not an expert’s advice which you need to know and remember before planning your trip to the Philippines or while you are enjoying yourself in its tropical islands as a traveller, a retiree, a student, an employee or a resident.

1. Smile, Wave Your Hand or Say “Hello”

Most Filipinos believe in “First impressions last”. A simple smile is enough to make them like you. Don’t grin or smile like you’re hitting on the person. That person may think you’re odd or pervert.

A gentle wave of hand or friendly “Hello” and “Hi” are considered as greetings in the Philippines. Some locals will greet you instantly but others will wait for you to do the first move.

2. Always say “Thank You” or “Salamat po”

Filipinos find it impressive and respectful if someone particularly a foreigner says “Thank You” or “Salamat po” for anything even if it is not necessary.

3. Don’t Forget to Say “Sorry” and “Excuse Me”

Always say “Sorry” whether you accidentally hit a person or utter words that are considered vulgar and incriminating or act inappropriately that may cause aggravation and in most cases, even if the fault is not yours. This simple word will spare your life.

There are Filipinos who stop in the middle of the pavement or aisle particularly in shopping centres, to talk to their friends, call someone or even day-dream at the items hanging on the display windows. Say “Excuse Me” or simply clear your throat with “Ahem” to get their attention. Some will look at you shyly while others will giggle at their embarrassing behaviour.

4. Be Thoughtful

A Filipino woman whether a friend or a partner greatly appreciates if you remember her birthday, anniversary and a very important promise. Anything from flowers, chocolates, stuff toys or jewelry or anything will do the trick, as long as you remember these important things – a priceless reward is at hand.

If, however, you are meeting a Filipino male friend or an in-law the first time, it is suggested that a bottle of wine or whiskey, a pack of cigar/cigarette or a bottle of perfume from your country will make any grumpy man happy. It is like a priceless trophy. And your “pasalubong” or present will be your pass to gain more trust and friendship among his friends and the people he knows.

5. Be the Most Patient Person in the World

Most Filipinos like to spend a lot of time on something that can be done in seconds. Filipino women may take awhile to answer a simple “yes or no” question. It is not because they want you to wait longer, but because their brain cells are weighing the pros and cons of their final answer especially if it is about their relationships.

This “delaying tactics” behaviour exists prevalently in the country, whether you are transacting business, filing documents, extending your visa or meeting friends.

Most companies particularly those who have experience with foreigner clients may show competence and exception to this rule but those who are new may find it difficult to adjust in dealing with punctuality.

Do not expect to receive a response in two or three days if you send an email. It may take at least few weeks for the correspondence, unless you call the secretary or your contact after you sent the email.

If you are meeting a business partner outside his office, take some newspapers, magazines, your favourite book or your laptop to keep you busy while waiting. Some may show up on time, others 15-30 minutes late but very few will arrive 15 minutes early.

If you are filing documents with a government agency or extending your visa, take someone to talk with or something to read if the procedure will take only several minutes, else set a next day appointment for pick up, if you’re busy.

Lastly, if you are meeting a friend in a restaurant or in a shop, try to wander in the neighbouring shops, talk to the owner of the restaurant or other foreign customers in the place so you won’t get bored or stared at by other people.

6. Try to have a Sense of Camaraderie

Filipinos like to befriend anyone especially those who just moved in their neighbourhood.

Glimpses or even stares will be your constant humanoid CCTV. It may be rude, but don’t get them wrong. They are merely learning what kind of person you are, checking your skin (race or nationality) and understanding your behaviour towards them. Once they learn these things, which usually take 24 hours from the time you unload your things, someone will stand as their leader to approach and ask you to meet the others.

However, if you have a Filipino friend with you, he/she will be your spokesperson.

If you are a guy, expect that you will be invited in every drinking session in the area, especially if it’s the “leader” who asks you. It is their honour.

If you are a woman, female Filipinas will come swarming your place asking everything about you, your family, your country and your culture. They will treat you like a princess and will take you anywhere a normal woman goes, particularly to the shopping centres and markets.

Don’t panic if these things seem too much for you. This is one of the many things Filipinos do in welcoming visitors or new residents in the neighbourhood.

If however, you are tired or busy and cannot commit, just tell them why you can’t go or be with them, and make a promise to find some time to go when you are free. They will understand and will not feel bad having their invitations turned down.

7. Exert an Effort to Learn the Language

It is of great pleasure for Filipinos to hear a foreigner trying to speak at least a word in Filipino or in local dialect. You may see fondness on their faces with contemptuous can’t-hold-for-long laughter or children may giggle at your foreign accent or pronunciation but don’t take it as an insult. They are simply surprised and impressed hearing a stranger like you, speaking Filipino or local dialect in your own way. It makes them feel proud of their history and culture. In return, you will gain their respect.

8. Try to Understand the Culture

Most Filipinos have a very strong sense of nationalism and religiosity. Try not to discuss or ask critical questions that will provoke them, unless you are talking to your friend whom you know will not get offended or the person you want to ask is open-minded.

If you are trying to establish a conversation with someone whom you are not certain on how he will react to your question, try starting the question with “Is it true…” or “Do you think…”

If your question is something serious that you think will put you in trouble (even if it really comes from you), try using “Someone I met in…”, “An author in the book I read…” or “In the news I watched….”. So when he gets agitated, your life is spared.

Do not use “My friend said…” or “My family told me…” because if any of your friends or relatives decided to visit or join you on your next trip, “your friend” or “your family” may be marked as the one who bad-mouthed or defamed the country. Then, you just put them in trouble.

On the other hand, most Filipinos don’t mind being asked about their religions and consequently presume that you won’t mind them asking about yours, especially if you will be part of their family. Don’t be offended it’s part of the culture of knowing what to expect and what to discuss in front of you. They won’t talk about their religion unless you are open to it or you are of the same denomination and willing to talk about it.

9. Don’t Get Involved with Drugs

Getting involved with drugs in Asia including in the Philippines is a very serious offence. Whether it’s methamphetamine or marijuana stay away from it if you still want to live. It can be your ticket to prison or free pass to your grave.

10. Don’t Overstay

Staying in the Philippines with expired passport or any travel document and staying more than the duration stated in your visa without the intention of rectifying your mistake is punishable by imprisonment and deportation with the possibility of getting blacklisted at any ports of entry.

A passport must be valid for at least six months to enter the Philippines. However, it is best that you renew your passport prior to entering the country if you only have seven months left to save you from any hassles.

Don’t forget to extend your visa if you are staying longer.

The immigration office provides ample time and complete information to process the papers for visa extensions which can be filed personally or through a representative from any Bureau of Immigration accredited travel agency or law firm.

11. Don’t Get Involve with a Beautiful Stranger

Due to some stereotype way of thinking that all foreigners, particularly white people are rich, there’s a possibility that you will be conned or victimized by a Filipina or Filipino desperate to have cash to support her/his family. Don’t be deceived by the innocent looks or never-been-with-anyone behaviour of the gorgeous person sitting across your table, on the webcam or photos online. She may be the exact opposite in real life.

Be aware that in the Philippines, mail-order brides or pen friends are strictly prohibited because it is considered as a form of human trafficking and prostitution.

12. Don’t Start an Argument

This is one of the big NO-NOs. Do not start an argument with a local especially if the topic will definitely offend the person. You may be at the winning side but a Filipino man will not want to lose face in his territory or in front of his friends.

13. Don’t Pick a Fight

This is the other big NO-NO. You may win the first round, but may end up in prison or die when he or his gang pays back.

14. Don’t Take Plenty of Cash

A foreigner walking alone with a thick wallet full of cash is like shark bait for prowling robbers, snatchers, thieves and even kidnappers.

15. Don’t Wear Jewelry or Accessory with High Value

Petty criminals are attracted at shiny, golden jewelry and branded watches.

16. Don’t Wear Expensive Clothes

If wallets and jewelry are hints for criminals to getting to the treasure, expensive clothing and accessories are invitations for hunting.

17. Don’t Travel Alone

Wherever you go, always take someone with you especially at night. If possible, avoid passing in dark alleys. Stay at a friend’s house or at a nearby hotel and wait the next day to go back to your place.

18. Don’t Stare or Point Your Finger

It is considered rude if you stare or point your finger when addressing at someone.

19. Don’t Swear

Swearing is regarded as impolite and for conservative, religious Filipinos it is a despicable manner influenced by evil.

20. Don’t Drive

Driving in the Philippines needs courage, technique and patience. You can be stuck in traffic for hours while anxiously listening at other drivers’ non-stoppable horns or be cut off at any intersection. In the Philippines and some parts in Asia, most drivers won’t give way and will make turns wherever they want without considering you’re behind, in front or almost crash at him.

The things you read above may be enough or in some ways too much for you to get by in the Philippines but these are just guidelines for your welfare. Remember, extra precaution is better than puncture!


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