Customs and Culture in the Philippines

Filipino customs and cultural norms: what to do when meeting someone, making business introductions and handing over business cards and giving gifts...

Filipinos are warm and hospitable, dignified and proud. They place great emphasis on family, which plays a vital role in the social structure of the country. Extended family are considered close family, with aunts, uncles, grandparents and godparents all being included as part of the family nucleus. Personal goals are sacrificed for the good of the family.


Linked to family and social etiquette is the concept of 'hiya'. Hiya means 'shame', and is the main motivating factor governing behaviour and manners. Filipinos try at all costs to avoid the feeling of hiya, which arises from failing to live up to social standards. For a Filipino to lose the support of his or her peers is to become a social outcast; and to be shamed is the highest form of disgrace.

Amor Propio

Amor Propio or self-love is another factor that governs social etiquette in the Philippines. It a sense of self-worth or self-respect that, when followed, prevents hiya. Although not openly discussed, it is part of the fabric of society and is the building block for manners. Filipinos are conscious of their own amor propio and of that of their peers. They act in a way that will not offend the amor propio of those around them, so as not to bring hiya upon themselves or others.

It is important to behave politely and respectfully towards others in a diplomatic and non-confrontational manner, to preserve amor propio and prevent hiya. It is polite to request rather than to demand.

While this is an admirable quality, there are a number of negative aspects that can arise from a misconstrued sense of amor propio in the Philippines; apologies may not be made, or responsibility may not be taken by people who are in the wrong. Pride too, may prevent people accepting help when they really need it.

How Not To Behave in the Philippines

Behaving in a way that is seen to be offending the national amor propio is bad manners and in some cases illegal. Criticising the country and its culture is represented in some contemporary libel and slander laws, which can result in a defendant being found culpable for 'defamation of character'.

It is extremely rude to criticize someone and also to make insincere comments or compliments.

Losing self-control or shouting is considered disrespectful and shameful to one's family. Similarly, losing control and committing verbal assault is a criminal act for which one can be charged.

Negativity is also frowned upon and Filipinos usually say 'yes' or 'maybe' instead of 'no' in order to save face and remain positive. Complaining is seen as negativity. Filipinos indicate 'Yes' with a jerk of the head upwards, and 'No' with a jerk of the head down. The jerk of the head down may be accompanied by a verbal 'Yes' but would still mean 'No'.

Showing someone, or pointing to, the soles of one's feet is seen as rude. As is touching someone's head as it is considered sacred.

Anger is indicated by standing with hands on hips, while a beckoning motion is made by extending the arm and palm downwards and making a scratching motion with the fingers. Do not beckon with the index finger, as this is considered a rude gesture. Filipinos may use pursed lips to indicate a direction.

In order to attract someone's attention, lightly touch the elbow rather than tapping on the shoulder.


English is widely spoken in the Philippines, so formal English greetings are understood in the country. To greet someone politely in the largely native Tagalog language one can say Kumusta Kayó (pronounced /kah-mu s-ta: ka: -yo:/).

Generally speaking, Filipino culture is still quite conservative. Hugging and kissing are reserved for close family and those in relationships. Exceptional circumstances may include the hugging of a close friend not seen in a long time.

In some areas, times are beginning to change with the cheek to cheek (beso-beso) greeting becoming popular between female and male/female friends.

A soft handshake is the accepted greeting when just introduced to someone or already acquainted. A firm handshake is not necessary to assert oneself. Men should wait for women to extend their hand. In many areas of the country, touching the shoulder or patting the back is inappropriate until a personal relationship has developed. A handshake is also acceptable for saying goodbye.

Formal Situations

In a formal situation a handshake and a welcoming smile is an acceptable form of greeting. Using Mr/Mrs, professional or academic titles followed by the surname is polite until invited to use the person's first name.

Appearance is important, as judgements are made on how well a person dresses.

Gifts are not expected but are always gratefully received. They are never opened in the giver's presence.

Business Etiquette

Business relationships are also personal relationships in the Philippines and, as such, favors are expected as well as being granted in return. Relationships are between individuals within companies rather than with the companies themselves. A trusting and loyal relationship is very important in business in the Philippines with insincerity causing the breakdown of relationships.

For meetings, members should dress conservatively in a dark coloured business suit or a well-tailored dress in the case of females. Appearances matters and punctuality is expected although often not reciprocated. It is inappropriate to remove a jacket until the most senior member in the meeting does. A formal business meeting may be preceded by informal, casual conversation.

Communication should always be polite and courteous, with the recipient’s perception carefully considered. It is very difficult for Filipinos to reject or criticise a proposal, and thus responses may be ambiguous and non-committal in order to avoid confrontation and to please. Face-to-face meetings are preferred over email or telephone conversations.

A women should not pay a bill for a Filipino businessman as this may have a detrimental effect on his amor propio.

Business cards should include the person's title and be offered and received with two hands. A received card should be read before being placed carefully in a business card holder.

Dining Etiquette

If invited to a home for dinner, flowers or sweets are an appropriate, but not mandatory, gift. Chrysanthemums and lilies are flowers to be avoided, as they have funeral connotations. Do not give food such as fruit before or at the event, as this may be seen as an indication that one believes the host is unable to fully provide for their guests. Dinner invitations are often viewed as a passing thought, and it is recommended to attend an event only if asked three or more times.

Arriving around half an hour late for a large party is encouraged, as turning up on time may single one out as a glutton. Complimenting the host on their house is good manners, but never refer to a female host as a 'hostess', as this is another name for a prostitute.

Filipinos believe it is unlucky to turn away guests and, if offered food by your host, it is impolite to decline. Before eating, 'grace' is said at the dinner table in some Filipino homes. The host invites those around the table to start eating.

Food may be eaten using a fork and a spoon. The fork is used in the left hand and is used to guide food onto the spoon in the right hand for consumption.

Singing or arguing while eating is considered rude in the Philippines. The belief is that showing disrespect for food may mean it is harder to come by in the future. Manners also dictate that one should not leave the table if someone else is still eating, while getting drunk is considered greedy and rude.

A well-wrapped gift or note sent in the weeks following the gathering demonstrates very good manners.