What Polite Filipinos Don't Tell Foreigners, Part 1

What Polite Filipinos Don't Tell Foreigners, Part 1When you foreigners visit the Philippines, you will be greeted with what is considered one of the best cultures in South East Asia.

There are so many good things in the Filipino culture that have been discussed in detail already. Being the case, I will be highlighting some terrible behavior foreigners have, but aren't told due to the extreme politeness of the Filipino.

When you foreigners visit the Philippines, you will be greeted with what is considered one of the best cultures in South East Asia.

There are so many good things in the Filipino culture that have been discussed in detail already. Being the case, I will be highlighting some terrible behavior foreigners have, but aren't told due to the extreme politeness of the Filipino.

One definition provided by Webster's dictionary on the word polite is that it is "marked by an appearance of consideration, tact, deference, or courtesy." Another is that it is "marked by a lack of roughness or crudities."

If there is one thing the Filipino has, it is being polite. What is mistaken by subservience by Westerners, just highlights their lack of breeding.

So for this article, I will be discussing some do's and don'ts when you are in the Philippines. You can, of course, ignore this list. But you may be in for a rude awakening. Filipinos may be polite and patient, but cross the line and you're going to more than you bargained for.

Saving Face

The Philippines, like most Asian countries is non-confrontational. People here rarely engage others in public. Much of this is to save face, so if an argument occurs in public, it is because things have gotten out of hand.

Now some European countries thrive on making a public spectacle of arguments, but Filipinos do not engage in that type of drama. Things are normally settled behind closed doors.



Do not berate or embarrass Filipinos in public. You can end up making a mortal enemy of them. Anger may not be immediately apparent, but you can be sure it is simmering below the surface. In this case, vengeance may be dished out in the future. Filipinos hardly forget a personal slight, so make sure you don't forget that either.

How bad can it get? Well stories still exist of family members dueling to the death because they were publicly humiliated. These can be in the form of machetes or guns, just like in the old days.


If you need to talk to people about something negative, such as poor performance, do so in private.

To accomplish this, invite the person to your office and close the door. Or if there is no privacy in your area, take them somewhere isolated or some place outside the office where others cannot overhear your conversation.

On the flip side, you can praise people in public. Just like any other country, praise is always appreciated.

Filipinos are very family oriented

They normally take their families with them everywhere. This may be to pick up guests at the airport, to visit friends in the hospital, or even to consult a doctor. Everything is a family or community activity.

Though it may be a practice for Westerners to send their parents to an old-folks home, it is not done in this country. In the Philippines, responsibility to family is practiced. Filipinos stay with their parents even after marrying and having children because it is the kids' turn to take care of their parents


Do not make jokes about family members. You need to earn the right to joke about a father or mother by calling them chubby or talkative, even if true. Only the closest of friends, usually with years of friendship, have the right to make jokes like that.

Do not presume that just because a person goes drinking with you, you are close enough already. Insulting a family member is worse than insulting the person themselves. That can lead to a fight, especially when alcohol has been consumed.


If a person makes a joke about their family, just smile. It's his family, so he can say anything he wants about it. Do not add anything to what he says. That's his right, not yours.

Filipinos love sharing not only good times, but good company, with family members. And one of the best ways to make Filipino staff happy is to invite them to activities such as outings or meals.

Filipinos will normally decline out of politeness when you include their family, but be prepared in case they say yes.

Incidentally, if you do the inviting, expect to do the paying. Though Filipinos will always offer to pay, it is normally the inviting party that does the paying.

But if you'd like to keep costs down, suggest that everyone chip in. This is acceptable as long as people were told in advance. No one like to foot a bill they didn't prepare for.

Eye Contact

Like I mentioned earlier, Filipinos are non-confrontational. In conjunction with this, the general population finds eye contact to be an aggressive stance.

Eye ContactDon't

Don't stare at a person's eyes for too long. Holding one's gaze can be insulting to some. Even staring at any part of one's face, like the bridge of the nose, is offensive.

Filipinos are very expressive and may mistake certain western gestures, such as the lack of smiling, as negative. For them, body language is as important as the words themselves.


Glancing at one's eyes every now and then is OK. So if you need to talk with someone one-on-one, it is best to break your gaze frequently. If you are talking to a group, you can shift your gaze from one person to another.


Filipinos have a high tolerance level. They will forgive you if you are a jerk, but this only goes so far. If you cross a line, you will lose respect and end up having not one, but many people hating you for it.


Don't keep complaining about the government and culture of the Philippines. This is a touchy subject. While you may hear Filipinos talk of it in a bad way, don't be lulled in to thinking it is alright for you to do the same.

To put it bluntly, developed nations have the same problems. Your roads are bad and you have beggars walking the streets. In certain areas, such as New York, you can't even keep groceries in the back seat of a parked car in a guarded parking lot as someone will break the windows to get it.


The golden rule is to steer away from religion and politics. These are very sensitive subjects. If you must engage in such a conversation, try to stay neutral.


Even if it is a developing nation, the people in this country have a certain level of breeding. If there is a lack of breeding in a Filipino, politeness will be present in its place.


First, do not pick your teeth with your little finger, even if you are in your own home. This is unacceptable even in your own home when visitors are around.

Second, do not cross your legs without slippers when sitting on a sofa or lounge chair. This is especially disgusting if your living room chairs are close to each other. Even with recently washed feet, being touched by them is not something Filipinos enjoy.


Make sure to cut your nails and keep them clean. We know that most westerners have a penchant for keeping them long, but please keep them reasonably well-groomed.


Before the marketing people dubbed them as flip-flops, they were created for a reason. Slippers keep the feet clean. A by-product is that they keep people from stubbing their toes on furniture.

Dirty feet are never a good sight.


Don't walk around barefoot before putting your socks on. Unfortunately, your feet accumulate dirt from the floor, which you trap all day in your socks. This leads to them smelling at the end of the day.


Keep those slippers on, this isn't the jungle. And make sure to wash your feet regularly.



Considering English is a second language (in addition to Tagalog and a possible additional dialect,) Filipinos speak it better than people who have it as their first language. The only thing foreigners have over the general population is the accent.

I have met foreigners who can't even spell, write, or speak properly. Yet these people are in top management when they can't even spell "acknowledge."


Don't act like you're God's gift to the English language. People in this country are 97% percent literate and can speak at least two languages.


If your first language is English, take the time to learn it properly. Otherwise you'll end up the butt of jokes. Those who don't speak it as their first language are excused.


Philippine education is one of the best in the world, considering it is in a developing country. It is the best because it uses a combination of east and west practices. Many of the teachers in the top schools are captains of industry, with actual experience in addition to textbook knowledge.

Just because you have a master's degree from a top school in the west doesn't mean it is the best internationally. I've met people from Ivy League schools who have screwed up major Asian companies by using western education.


Don't strut around like you know everything. You don't. And what you do know, we probably know more of anyway.

Keep this in mind: what you learn there isn't always applicable here. For example, leverage is more destructive to a country that has a more complicated economy than yours.

Also, in this country, you cannot get a PhD degree without getting your Master's degree first. So be careful who you pick a fight with, you may end up locking horns with someone with several Master's and PhD degrees.

Lastly, don't add "MBA" or "BSC" after your name. It looks stupid and is in poor taste.


Be humble; you'll learn a lot more that way.

Only a PhD is acceptable after one's name, while the titles of Doctor or Attorney are are acceptable before one's name. Everything else shows desperation and lack of class.


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