From the traditional “mano po” gesture to the deep value of hospitality and respect for elders, navigating social norms in the Philippines can be challenging.
With this guide, you’ll be able to blend in with the locals and win the hearts of even the most discerning titos and titas.
Here’s our list of 11 essential components of Filipino etiquette!
1. Using “po” and “opo”
The use of honorifics is a crucial aspect of Filipino etiquette and shows respect towards elders. The two most commonly used honorifics in the Philippines are “opo” and “po.”
“Opo” is the polite form of “yes” used when responding affirmatively to a question or request. On the other hand, “po” is added to sentences as a sign of respect.
This can be seen in how “no” is expressed, with “hindi po” being the word’s more polite and respectful form. Using “po” in a sentence shows respect and politeness toward the person being addressed.
Using honorifics, such as “opo” and “po,” is a simple way to demonstrate a respectful and courteous demeanor and is likely to make a positive impression on older Filipinos.
The use of honorifics is a significant aspect of Filipino etiquette and is an easy way to show respect and make a positive impression on others.
2. Mano & beso
In Filipino culture, showing respect to elders is an integral aspect demonstrated through the act of “mano.”
This involves taking an elder’s hand and pressing it to your forehead while bowing your head, symbolizing your respect and reverence for them.
This gesture is typically performed upon meeting elders, when they return home, or when you return home after being away, such as coming back from church.
Another familiar gesture of affection and respect in Filipino culture is the “beso.”
This is a more casual and friendly way of greeting or bidding farewell, especially among older women. It involves lightly pressing one’s cheek against another person’s cheek, either on one side or both.
Elders such as “titas” or “lolas” often use this gesture to greet their close friends or “amigas.” They may also extend this form of affection to younger individuals who they are fond of, such as their nephews, nieces, children’s friends, or friends’ children.
If you have a close relationship with an elder and they often greet you with a beso, it is considered acceptable for you to initiate the gesture as well.
3. Leaving footwear outside
Have you ever gone to a Filipino friend’s house only to find yourself walking home in someone else’s slippers?
It is customary in the Philippines, as well as in many other Asian countries, to remove one’s footwear before entering a house’s veranda or living room.
If you visit a Filipino home and see a pile of shoes at the entrance, you’ll know it’s time to take off your shoes.
However, some hosts may request that you keep your shoes on, either because they want you to feel comfortable or because they are not confident about the cleanliness of their floors.
But most of the time, hosts offer a pair of indoor slippers known as “tsinelas” to their guests.
Filipino hosts strive to make their guests feel at ease and comfortable by offering them the option to keep their shoes on or provide them with indoor footwear.
Just be careful to wear the right pair when heading out.
4. Eating with bare hands
In the Philippines, eating with bare hands, also known as “Kamayan or Kinamot,” is an essential aspect of Filipino dining culture. Food such as fried fish and fried rice may traditionally be eaten with bare hands.
During special feasts, like kamayan feasts or boodle fights during celebrations and festivals, it is common to eat with bare hands by placing food on banana leaves on a communal table.
Participating in this cultural tradition is a unique experience for those visiting the Philippines. It is a sign of respect to join in with the locals rather than opt out.
5. Bringing home pasalubong
This tradition of “pasalubong” or gift-giving is a deeply rooted custom in the Philippines, where it is seen as a symbol of thoughtfulness and kindness to bring back something special from a trip.
The gifts can range from regional delicacies and specialty clothing to simple treats like candies, toys, and fast food items for children.
This practice of bringing pasalubong reflects Filipino culture’s strong sense of hospitality and generosity.
Whether a simple item or a more elaborate gift, the thought behind the gesture matters most. In fact, giving and receiving pasalubong is a way of fostering closer relationships and creating lasting memories.
Moreover, pasalubong items serve as a reminder of the travels and experiences shared by the giver and receiver. It can be a piece of clothing, a local delicacy, or even a simple trinket, but it holds a sentimental value that transcends material worth.
These gifts often serve as conversation starters and bring people together, reinforcing the idea of a close-knit community in the Philippines.
6. Eating together with family
Filipino culture places a great emphasis on family, which also extends to mealtime. In the Philippines, meals are not just about satisfying hunger but also an opportunity to bond and share stories.
It is customary to wait for all family members to be present before starting the meal. A typical Filipino meal is served with individual plates and a few serving dishes for rice and other dishes, and family members take turns serving themselves.
The traditional Filipino dining table is a harmonious space where everyone is welcome. Elders are given special attention and are served first, while the youngest family members are encouraged to join in the conversation.
Even when dining out, many restaurants in the Philippines offer dishes meant to be shared, similar to a traditional family meal at home.
This allows each person to sample various dishes rather than simply eating the dish they ordered individually.
7. Offering help to do household chores
In a Filipino household where family is highly valued, it is considered a respectful and considerate gesture for guests to offer to assist with household chores.
Regardless of whether you’re staying for a short period of time, just finished a meal, or simply hanging out. Although most hosts will likely decline your offer, they will certainly appreciate the gesture.
As a guest, you can assist by looking after any children in the household or keeping your personal belongings tidy. If the host allows you to help with chores, it signifies being treated as part of the family.
Showing your willingness to help can make a positive impression and is considered a gracious act in Filipino culture.
8. Using honorifics when speaking to elders
In the Philippines, it’s customary to show respect to those who are older through the use of specific titles and honorifics.
When addressing a friend’s parents, or even the parents of a friend, they should be referred to as “Tita” or “Tito,” respectively.
The terms “Lolo” or “Lola” are commonly used for grandparents. When interacting with elderly strangers such as market vendors or jeepney drivers, it’s appropriate to use the abbreviated “Nanay” or “Tatay,” which is “Nay” or “Tay.”
For individuals who are older but not old enough to be considered a parent or grandparent, titles such as “Ate” or “Kuya” may be used.
9. Caring for elders
Taking care of the elderly is a sign of respect and plays a significant role in Filipino cultural norms. It is customary for children to remain with their parents and provide care in their golden years.
Simple acts of kindness such as giving them a seat, assisting them in crossing the street, or carrying their shopping bags are common gestures.
To further aid the elderly in their daily tasks, many commercial establishments have designated priority lanes for pregnant women, disabled individuals, and seniors.
These provisions aim to simplify their transactions and make their experience more convenient.
10. The use of titles
In the Philippines, there is a strong emphasis on proper titles.
In particular, professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, and professors are commonly referred to by their respective titles (Dr., Atty., Engr., Arch., and Prof.).
Additionally, Filipinos tend to address older individuals and superiors using terms such as “sir” or “ma’am” to show respect unless instructed otherwise. However, when it comes to colleagues, it is typical to address them using their first names.
Filipino hospitality is a primary aspect of Filipino culture that encapsulates the idea of being welcoming and gracious toward guests.
It involves extending warm and generous acts of kindness, such as offering food and drinks, ensuring guests are comfortable and making them feel at home. This is not limited to close friends and family but extends to strangers and visitors.
Filipino hospitality reflects the country’s close-knit community values, where people look out for one another and prioritize their relationships.
By observing these norms and traditions, you can improve your interactions with Filipinos and gain a deeper appreciation for the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the Philippines.
We would love to hear from our readers about their experiences and opinions on Filipino etiquette. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!