The Philippines has a long history and rich native culture, plus a unique mix of influences like nowhere else in the world. Early Malay and Chinese merchants, the Spanish colonizers and, more recently, the United States, who gave the country its’ long overdue Independence after liberating it from the Japanese in World War 2. Among these, Spanish and American influences are the most obvious. Most Filipinos have (long) Spanish family names while sharing many of the same social traits as the US.
At its’ core though, the culture of the Philippines comprises a blend of traditional Filipino and Spanish Catholic traditions. Due to the heavy Catholic upbringing of most Filipinos, and US influence, many English speaking people will find it very easy to communicate with and relate to Filipinos on an individual level.
Filipinos are incredibly hospitable. You will know where you are the moment you arrive, with a Mabuhay (Hello!) and a smile from the first person you see. Filipinos are always joyful and full of humor.
Visiting a Filipino household is such a wonderful experience for a foreigner. Filipinos treat their guests like a VIP. It doesn’t matter how much money they have, they will serve you their best meal, even sending out runners to obtain the best local ingredients for dishes, which is rarely done otherwise. They won’t allow you to walk barefoot inside their home if the floor is cold, and they will offer you the best sleeping arrangements, even if it means someone else sleeps on the floor. They take great care to make their guests feel comfortable.
You will also notice how Filipinos treat everybody like their own family members. You will hear them call the Jeepney driver “Kuya” (koo-ya which means brother) or the street vendor “Ate” (ah-tay which means sister). This is also a way of showing respect, especially the elders. People in the Philippines often use the word “Po” and “Opo” to show respect. You’ll notice Filipinos bow their heads when they need to excuse themselves in between people in conversation. Respect is strong among Filipinos.
The Philippines has many regions, each with its’ own local Language. “Tagalog” is the most common of the native languages, a combination of the native Filipino language and Spanish. Most Filipinos can speak English very well. In fact, many foreign companies choose the Philippines to base their call centers due to the very high English literacy rate. Even street beggars, with no formal education, will try their best to speak the language.
It is also common to hear English words mixed in with the native language. Those of us familiar with the “PI” (Philippine Islands) call this “Taglish” (Tagalog-English). You’ll hear it, and you will smile to yourself now that you’re aware. It’s quite funny to a foreigner, as are some of the accents you’ll hear, as demonstrated below.
Filipino food, much like the rest of the culture, is heavily influenced by the foods of their former trading partners and colonizers. Coconut, rice, pork, chicken, soy and local spices are staples of nearly every dish. You could expect that out of 3 meals a day, each will have rice, and at least 2 will have pork in some way shape or form. No part of any animal is wasted here either.
Eating is a social and family-oriented activity as well unless eating on the go. In recent decades, fast food has become incredibly popular, to the detriment of the populations’ health, unfortunately. Chains such as Jollibee, McDonald’s (or MacDo locally) and KFC can be found on almost every block in Manila. That said, steer clear of that nonsense and try to get yourself a nice home-cooked meal. For more on Filipino cuisine read here.
Filipinos absolutely LOVE music and most are very musically inclined. Many Filipinos are decent musicians, and most people would be astonished at the singing ability even your average Filipino has. In fact, the majority of cover bands you’ll find across Asia, and as far as the Middle East, are from the Philippines.
Fun fact: The famous American band Journey found their current lead singer from a YouTube video singing in a Journey cover band in Manila.
Here is a common example of an average person possessing incredible musical talent at a grocery store in the Philippines.
And the most cherished genre of music in the Philippines? Clearly, it’s love songs. Whether it’s in the form of Rock, Pop, or Jazz, Filipino or American. Barry White is very well-liked, for instance, as is Mariah Carey. You’re likely to have romantic music playing in any taxi you enter, which is always a bit funny since foreigners don’t really expect an old taxi driver to be into love songs.
Either way, music is loved by all. A popular family activity is karaoke, and any decent home in the Philippines will be stocked with a karaoke system. On a quiet night in the provinces (the countryside), you can hear households across the land belting out their own versions of the latest (or oldest) love ballad for a mandatory family fun night.
Filipinos have incredibly strong family ties. It’s also a well-known fact that, if you marry a Filipino, you also marry their entire family. This, of course, can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the family. They are incredibly generous, especially with their family members. When one member of the family is down, the other members rise up, with everyone doing their part to keep the family strong. They’ll even look after the black sheep of the family, even in instances where that member would have long been disowned in other cultures. You will rarely meet a Filipino who wouldn’t give their last penny to a family member.
So generous actually, that you will hear Overseas Filipino Workers’ stories of supporting their family members in college and sending money for’ hospital bills. During Christmas, which starts very early, family members from overseas send hoards of presents to their family in the Philippines. So many gifts, in fact, that it nearly clogs the capacity of the mail to operate.
As the Spanish ruled for centuries and brought with them Catholicism, the people are deeply religious. In fact, relics from that era are found all over the country, in the form of churches and cathedrals still used to this day.
Filipinos’ devotion to their Catholic faith is strong. Sunday is always for church and family. The entire country basically shuts down for Easter. Religious holidays are a very big deal in the Philippines.
One example of this is the Traslación of the Black Nazarene. Up to 220,000 Catholic devotees carry the Black Nazarene along the streets of Quiapo each year. The Black Nazarene is a famous effigy carved by an unknown sculptor in Mexico in the 16th century.
The culture of the Philippines is truly unique, and you won’t find anything like it anywhere in the world.