10 Things Foreigners Should Know Before Coming to the Philippines


Even if you’re a Kevin or a John, you will always be a “Joe” to kids waving and smiling as you make your way through the streets of the Philippines.  While I cannot tell you how in history the “Hey Joe!” greeting started, I can assure you it only means you are being welcomed in this tourist-friendly country.

It doesn’t mean, though, that any tourist can do away with mockery and misconduct. After all, the Philippines is just like any other country that expects respect from visitors.

So here’s what you should know about Filipinos:

Friendly.  The rule “It’s rude to stare” rarely works in the Philippines. Filipinos like to stare at visitors. It’s out of curiosity rather than rudeness. They either smile, wave or say hi to foreigners. Ask them for directions, they would be glad to help. If you come to live with a Filipino family, you’ll be treated like a hotel guest.

Bilingual.  Tagalog is the native language in the Philippines but English is taught in schools, used sparingly in local TV shows and public documents. This makes the majority of the Filipinos bilingual. They have their unique Philippine English accent, though. Still, this makes it easier for foreigners to explore the country. 

Family oriented. You will notice that once the flight attendant announces that passengers may get their belongings from the overhead bin, Filipino passengers would push their way ahead of the rest in a queue to the exits. Most of these passengers have been away from their families for a while and coming home is a most awaited moment.  Filipinos look forward to weekends and holidays because they get to spend more time with their loved ones.

Chatty.  In airports, restaurants, parks or wherever Filipinos come in droves, they love to chat. They never run out of things to talk about – their families and jobs, the Philippine politics and even the celebrities they’ve been following.

Food lovers. Filipinos normally eat three main meals a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and snacks in between. Like most countries in Southeast Asia, one notable character of the Filipinos is their love for rice, often steamed and always served with ulam (meat, fish, or vegetable dish). When you’re offered food, eat. Filipinos are excited to give you a taste of the local cuisine. If you’re unsure that your stomach could handle Filipino food, decline politely.

Booze lovers. Alcohol consumption is not prohibited at all. Watering holes are sprawled throughout the cities in the Philippines. For the working population, Friday nights are booze nights. Any drink is usually paired with pulutan (side dish). When it comes to tipping in bars and restaurants, though not mandatory, you can always leave something on the table.

Terms of respect. The words “po” and “opo” are normally used when speaking to elders but nowadays, they are also being used as a sign of respect among people of the same age. “Ate” (older sister) and “Kuya” (older brother) may now refer to a total stranger (even the lady who’s selling bottled water on the sidewalk).

Easily amused. Filipinos laugh often. A good-natured laugh always comes handy amidst daily strains and awkward situations. Even a controversial issue can turn into a viral funny meme in seconds.

Karaoke fans. Filipinos have a penchant for singing. House and corporate parties will always have a space for the Karaoke machine which could be rented at a moment’s notice. Filipinos are not only obsessed with the Karaoke but with singing itself. Even a 5-year old can belt out a Katy Perry song in a snap. Whether they’re good at it or not, Filipinos love to sing.

Indirect.  Filipinos tend to say “Yes” and “Okay” even if it’s not really cool to them. When you’re offering or trying to talk them into something, ask them twice if it’s really okay with them. In most cases, Filipinos are just either polite or cautious to say “No”.

Like any other country, the Philippines has its own share of undesirable social traits. The Filipinos are well aware of these traits as much as they are sensitive to how tourists perceive their country. Despite those negative traits, the Philippines has more than 7,107 reasons that will make every visitor come back.



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