In total, I spent 2 full months in the Philippines. All of March and then a week to Taiwan due to visa reasons and then back to the Philippines.
After basically traveling and being non-stop since November, I took March as an opportunity to relax and regain strength. As awesome as backpacking is, you do require some down time.
However, as you may have noticed with your own families, spending time with family is not as relaxing as it sounds and with my family……there are too many people to see and spend time with. March wasn’t as relaxing as I hoped haha.
From my bouncing from family to family as well as from what I knew growing up with a Filipino mother in America, these are my cultural observations that might help you on your travels within a Filipino community. Because, let’s face it, there are so many Filipinos all over the world, it doesn’t mean you will only run into a huge “tribe” in the Philippines. You might even fall in love with a Filipino/a. I mean….we are pretty cool- and awesome singers!
- Filipinos love family
I don’t think this is just my family in particular; however, it has been described that my family is very “clan-ish.” Everything is everyone’s business and you hurt one, you hurt them all.
There are a lot of pros and cons to this and I will not go through the list, but I am sure you can imagine. However, one good quality is that no matter how removed you are from that person on the family tree, they will open their doors and hearts to you.
I mainly stayed with my first cousins (our parents were siblings), but for a week I stayed with my second cousins (our grandparents were siblings). It was a bit strange as they were in the generation (age wise) as my mom, but my generation on the family tree.
Some of them I had never met before and if I had it was when I was young enough I can’t remember. Some of them never even met my mom because she moved from the Philippines to America when they were quite young to remember or too young to have met her (living in different cities, etc.).
But nonetheless, they still welcomed me into their home and rearranged their schedules at the last minute.
One family aspect that Filipinos don’t share with many cultures, especially out West, is that they are matriarchal. The last name is still passed down from father to child, but everything else, the woman runs the house and the social life. If you know the movie, the Godfather, think of it like that. My grandmother, is the “Godmother” of our family. You need to pay respects to her.
There is a big family aspect that Filipinos share with many cultures is that they include people as your family when they have no blood relation to you. This goes along with respect.
- Filipinos are very respectful
To say aunt and uncle in tagalog, it is “tita” and “tito.” For grandma and grandpa, “lola” and “lolo.” There are even special names for the parents of your godchild, which we don’t have in English. I’m not going to run through the whole dictionary, but a big one is “po.” A generic respect term for anyone older or in a service position. However, sometimes you use “kuya” or “ate” (older brother and older sister respectively) for those in the service industry.
Now, it also depends where on the family tree you are and if you are an important family member. My grandmother? Everyone calls her Nanay (mother), maybe some will call her Lola if they are old enough, but very rarely even though she is actually quite young out of her siblings.
My second cousins, like I said are about the same age as my mom, but since we are second cousins, I call them Ate. And since my mom is older on the family tree, they call her Tita.
One top of the labels and names, to show respect to someone older, you place the back of their hand or fingers to your forehead.
What I don’t like about this, is instead of the younger person taking initiative, usually the older person holds out their hand like they are royalty and we have to kiss their ring, etc. This should be done from the motivation of the younger person.
- There is a strong desire to go out West….and not
The Philippines have been conquered and colonized since about the 1500’s from Western culture, but for sure Chinese, Japanese, etc influences have been established way beforehand. It wasn’t until 1898 that the Spanish left the Philippines and America took over.
From this, you can’t be so surprised that there is this urge and desire to go to the West with the promise of the American dream and such.
People do some crazy stuff to get into America. I’m not going to get into the politics of it especially with the current political argument with illegal immigration in the United States, I just want to point that that some people really want to go and those like my family manage to have a way better life than what they did in the Philippines.
However, there are others, like my family still here, that don’t have a desire to move to America, to visit sure, but they love their life here. And this makes me so happy.
If you are of a higher class, you can afford house help, nannies, and a driver. I’m sure not everyone can, which leads to my next topic.
- There is an obvious divide between the lower classes and the upper classes (even within middle class)
I find there is a big middle class; however, there is a strong separation between lower middle and higher middle. Of course, there is a super separation from lower class to lower middle class as well. You can see the lower class living in huts propped over the water or tin huts along the road. In fact, some people live in the cemeteries in Metro Manila.
So it is hard to hear that anyone can have a good life here when people are in these living conditions. It is also hard to take seriously many people in America crying that they can’t have the latest iPhone (example).
- The language is Tagalog….but
First, the Philippines has many different languages and dialects. Tagalog is the main one, but it has been changed so much over the years that is isn’t pure anymore. There are a lot of English words and expression along with Spanish; however, they use more Spanish numbers and some Spanish words spelt a different way: Jesus vs Hesus.
Now, before my Spanish friends start telling me “You finally admit that they use Spanish numbers!” I want to clarify.
Tagalog has its own numbers. That they do use. They tend to use the Spanish numbers with age and with money/price to a certain amount and then they switch to English.
From my experience, 1 to 5 is in Tagalog, up to 100 can be in Spanish, and the rest is in English.
There is a way to say Good evening or morning in Tagalog, but they now say it in English.
Actually, English has been pushed so much within the middle class to upper class, there is a slight epidemic that their children (the iGeneration) can’t speak Tagalog because all their cartoons is in English and the language spoken at home is English.
Hopefully, they can pick up Tagalog through just living, but I think they will have a hard time if everything is already in English and with their drivers- they don’t have to interact with the public very much.
- Filipinos love food….like LOVE
Growing up and within the Philippines, the thing you will hear all the time (and one of the few words in Tagalog) is “kanin na,” which means, eat now.
There are 5 meals a day. Breakfast, lunch, merienda/snack, dinner, and late night snack. There is always some rice and the main course can be a selection of a variety of traditional foods. However, even though it’s a fast food, Jollibee (KFC and McDonald’s combined type) has become a traditional food. If you visit the Philippines without going, you haven’t seen the Philippines.
Wherever there is a major Filipino population outside the Philippines, you bet there will be a Jollibee near.
They will make you eat and eat until you can’t breathe and will still need to eat more. The trick is, to always have food on your plate so they won’t keep bugging you.
Food will be at any major event. Count on it.
In regards to food, Filipinos traditionally eat with their hands. They are quite skilled at opening shellfish very quickly. When not eating with their hands, you will rarely find a knife at the table. They use spoons and forks. And the spoon is what holds the food, not the fork.
- The main religion is Catholicism and they truly are devout
I was in the Philippines for Easter and though Christmas is also a big celebration, I found Easter definitely displays how religious they are.
They have live crucifixions on the streets and people are whipping themselves before Jesus rises again. This is heavily frowned upon by high Church authorities and now it mainly happens in rural areas and traditional provinces.
For Palm Sunday (the start of Holy Week), mass is 2 hours long with a mini parade with the palms and the actual mass starting at 5 and ending at 7.
For Easter, the mass is 3.5 hours or so starting at 9 and ending around 12.30 or 1 am the next day (starts Saturday before and goes to Easter Sunday). After a 3 hour mass, there is half an hour or an hour parade around to celebrate that Jesus has risen.
On top of this, if you are familiar with Catholic practices, there is also a tradition of going to 14 different churches. Each church is one station of the cross. Stations of the Cross are moments in Jesus’ life a week or so leading up to him rising again (there are 14 stations). Many people of different ages walk to the different churches barefoot.
There is also a live reenactment of the Stations of the Cross around the city (at least in the town I was staying in). This lasts several hours and is even televised throughout the country.
- However, there are other religions in the Philippines
The second biggest one religion is Muslims behind Catholics in the Philippines. The rest are different Christian groups. My cousin was describing 2 that sounded bit more of a cult.
- Filipinos love basketball
Basketball is the national sport and every small town will have at least one court. They will show new and even OLD games on TV. The Golden State Warriors and Lakers are some of the more popular ones. So, if you love basketball- welcome!
- Funerals and weddings are big parties
A viewing or the wake can last 3 days or 2 weeks. I actually went to spend time with my second cousins because an aunt of my first cousins on the other side passed away and her wake was going to be a week long. To give them space, I moved houses/families.
Every night, family and friends go to the chosen spot and look at the body and eat and talk. It is like a family reunion a bit. Finally on the last day they have the actual funeral.
Weddings are normally one day, but they can be spread over several days. Again, eating and talking are the main activities.
- Other parties
You might find karaoke or singing at funerals, probably definitely at weddings, but other parties, hands down there will be singing. Most Filipinos, I saw, have their own microphone/speaker set so you can sing along with YouTube karaoke anytime.
We had a mini session at my cousin’s house one night- one random night.
My second cousin even brought her microphone on our scuba diving trip (more on the what to do in Philippines post).
Walking around you will hear karaoke. Ok, not everyone is a great singer, but for the most part, I think Filipinos kick vocal cord ass. Excuse my language.
I hope this gives you a better insight into the Philippines that is more than just beaches and resorts. Yes, these places are lovely, but there is so much rich history and culture in the Philippines that take some time to see it. For things to do check out my posts on the different islands of Luzon, Cebu and Bohol, and Palawan. For a list of traditional and must eat foods, please click here.
See you soon!