The Philippines is more Westernized than other Asian countries. Many customs are similar to those found in Spain, the United States and Latin America. [Source: The Traveler's Guide to Asian Customs & Manners by Elizabeth Devine and Nancy L. Braganti. International etiquette expert: Mary Kay Metcalf of Creative Marketing Alliance in New Jersey.

According to “People believe that it is one's duty to keep things operating smoothly. It is very important not to lose face. Being corrected or correcting another person in public is not considered acceptable behavior. People want to grant all requests, and so they often say yes when they mean no or maybe. Others understand when the request is not fulfilled because saying no might have caused the individual to lose face. When one is asked to join a family for a meal, the offer must be refused. If the invitation is extended a second time, it is permissible to accept. Time consciousness and time management are not important considerations. A planned meeting may take place later, much later, or never. [Source: /=/]

People pride themselves on hospitality. They readily go out of their way to help visitors or take them to their destination. It is of the highest importance to recognize the positions of others and use full titles and full names when introducing or referring to people. Non-verbal language, such as pointing to an object with one's lips, is a key element in communication. One greets friends by lifting the eyebrows. A longer lift can be used to ask a question. Filipinos walk hand in hand or arm in arm with relatives and friends of either sex as a sign of affection or friendship. Women are expected not to cross their legs or drink alcohol in public. Shorts are not common wear for women. /=/

Helpful Hints: 1) Speak softly and control your emotions in public. Make requests, not demands. 2) Don't be offended by personal questions. These are asked to show interest. Feel free to ask the same questions in return, especially about family. 3) Verbal assault is a crime for which you can be charged. 4) Never bring shame to a person. This reflects on his family. Personal goals are sacrificed for the good of the family. 5) Never directly criticize anyone, especially in public. Never offer insincere comments or compliments.

Filipino Greetings

In the Philippines, both men and women often greet one another by shaking hands. When a man meets a woman he usually waits for the woman to offer her hand first. Women sometimes meet and hug one another when they meet. Men sometimes pat each other on the back. Men and women shake hands with everyone present at a business meeting or social occasion and when saying "goodbye." Handshakes should be friendly and informal, but not limp.

Sometimes Filipinos get the attention of one another by making eye contact and raising and lowering their eyebrows. When one places his or her hand on the forehead of another, this is a sign of respect. But as a rule touching, especially men touching women, is not well regarded by Filipinos. Carefully observe the degree of comfort and sense of space. Filipinos tend to need a wider personal space.

Generally, Filipinos are title-conscious. Note for example the use of titles before the names of professionals such as Dr. (doctor), Atty. (attorney, lawyer), Engr. (engineer), Arch. (architect), Prof. (professor). They also tend to say "sir" or "ma’am" to show their respect, not just to their superiors but to older people as well, until told otherwise. Colleagues are often addressed by the first name. [Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning]

When meeting a Filipino for the first time, and you want to make a good impression, maintain a low profile, be friendly without being "artificial" and show a genuine interest in the culture. Do not flaunt your wealth (jewellery and other expensive looking personal belongings and cash). Avoid wearing immodest or revealing clothing, especially in Muslim-dominated areas where there is a clear standard for appropriate attire.

Tagalog speakers in the Philippines have many ways of greeting other people. It is common also to hear them say "Hi" or "Hello" as a form of greeting, especially among close friends. There are no Tagalog translations for these English greetings because they are basically borrowed terms. In business situation Filipinos often address each other as Mr., Mrs. or Miss or their titles. [Source: Philippines Department of Tourism]

Below are a few Tagalog greetings that are importart to learn if one wants to endear himself/herself to Filipinos. Magandang umaga po. (formal/polite) - Good morning; Magandang umaga. (informal) - Good morning; Magandang tanghali po. (formal/polite) - Good noon; Magandang tanghali. (informal) - Good noon; Magandang hapon po. (formal/polite) - Good afternoon; Magandang hapon. (informal) - Good afternoon; Magandang gabi po. (formal/polite) - Good evening; Magandang gabi. (informal) - Good evening; Kumusta po kayo? (formal/polite) - How are you?; Kumusta ka? (informal) - How are you?; Mabuti po naman. (formal/polite) - I'm fine; Mabuti naman. (informal) - I'm fine; Tuloy po kayo. (formal/polite) - Please, come in; Tuloy. (informal) - Please, come in.

Public Customs in the Philippines

Filipinos often hiss to get the attention of a waiter, waitress or jeepney driver. They also show direction by puckering their lips and moving their mouths in the direction they pointing to. Filipinos often indicate "no" by raising their eyebrows. Staring is considered rude

Women often walk down the street holding hand, and men often embrace each other. This does not mean they are gay. Men hold doors open for women and practice other "lady's first" customs. Public display of affection such as holding hands and putting arms around the shoulders of one’s significant other are acceptable. There are few social sanctions with respect to modest displays of affection in public. Filipinos often smile or laugh when they are embarrassed. They like to take photographs.

Most Filipinos are generally open about their emotions (as long as in their judgment, they are appropriate and positive). But they do not normally express anger in public so as not to appear rude. Public displays of anger and other strong emotions are not well regarded, but do occur, particularly by (social) "superiors" when interacting with (social) "inferiors" (e.g. employers—employees, landowners-tenants/ agricultural labourers). The socially "inferior" target of such anger or emotion is unlikely to defend himself or herself, will often deeply resent such outbursts. Foreigners in "superior" positions —particularly Americans (including Canadians) and other non-Asians—may well be subconsciously held to higher standards than their Filipino counterparts with respect to use of strong emotions in public. Once you're perceived as arrogant and pushy, offers of hospitality disappear quickly. [Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning]

Filipinos use a lot of non-verbal communication. Some examples are raising eyebrows or lifting the head upwards slightly to indicate "yes" or to greet friends. It is considered impolite to pass between people conversing or facing one another. If you must do so, the Filipino polite way is to extend an arm or two arms with the hands clasped and pointing downwards. Some gestures that are considered rude are middle finger erect, waving a pointed index finger and pointing at someone. A raised voice, the wrong intonation, the implication of incompetence, or excessive direct eye contact can do major damage. [Source:]

Filipino Communication Styles

Filipinos differ and ethnic background, social class, gender and age are important in determining people’s level of comfort with touching, tone of voice and gestures. Generally, Filipinos try to avoid hurting other people’s feelings, so they struggle with the word "no" when asked for a favour or request to do work (they may say "maybe", "I’ll see...", "I’ll try...", etc.). As much as possible, they express their opinions and ideas with diplomacy and humility so as not to appear arrogant. They have difficulty contending with frankness or directness. [Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning +++]

It is common to shake hands with both men and women, when introduced or greeting a person. But touching, especially men touching women, is not taken well by Filipinos. Carefully observe the degree of comfort and sense of space in Muslim-dominated areas. Eye contact is important, especially professionally. It is a good sign of self-confidence. But if a person refuses to or is reluctant to make eye contact, it is considered a sign of shyness. +++

Filipinos tend to give more space between each other when conversing than is the case in the West or in South and Southeast Asia. Language is also less direct and confrontational. Most conservation between equals takes place in the passive voice—use of English in the active voice (particularly the first person singular "I") is acceptable, but may be seen as directive or aggressive, especially if one becomes animated by the topic of discussion. +++

There may be considerably less eye contact than is the case in North America. It is important to indicate understanding but should used too aggressively or overtly. There is much use of eye and body language. For example, acceptance of what is being said is usually indicated non-verbally by the merest hint of a rising of the eyebrow. +++

Tone of voice varies widely by language, dialect and region of origin within the Philippines. For example, the Ilongo speech of Panay island is regarded as "malumbing"—sweet and melodious where one cannot tell when the speaker is displeased; in contrast, Cebuanos speak Visayan and Batangenos using Tagalog talk in a more abrupt and flatter tones. +++

There is a considerable amount of touching during the course of conversation, even in public settings. It is typically initiated by a socially superior individual when talking to those with lower perceived social status, and /or between close friends. There is a general awareness that foreigners, at least from North America, are less accustomed to this, so at least initially, touching is likely to be limited to more conventional business handshakes. No particular conventions need to be observed with respect to women in contrast to men. Filipinos typically point with their lips rather than their hands; the tighter the lips come together in a compressed "o", the further away the item being pointed out. +++

Filipino Body Language and Gestures

Filipinos use a lot of non-verbal communication. Some examples are raising eyebrows or lifting the head upwards slightly to indicate "yes" or to greet friends. It is considered impolite to pass between people conversing or facing one another. If you must do so, the Filipino polite way is to extend an arm or two arms with the hands clasped and pointing downwards. Some gestures that are considered rude are middle finger erect, waving a pointed index finger and pointing at someone. [Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning+++]

1) If Filipinos don't understand a question, they open their mouths. Raised eyebrows signify recognition and agreement. 2) Laughter may convey pleasure or embarrassment; it is commonly used to relieve tension. 3) "Yes" is signified by a jerk of the head upward. "No" is signified by a jerk of the head down. Since the Filipinos rarely say no, the non-verbal sign for "no" is sometimes accompanied by a verbal yes, which would still indicate "no." 4) Staring is considered rude and could be misinterpreted as a challenge, but Filipinos may stare or even touch foreigners, especially in areas where foreigners are rarely seen. 5) To Filipinos, standing with your hands on your hips means you are angry. 6) Never curl your index finger back and forth (to beckon). This is an insult. 7) To indicate two of something, raise your ring and pinkie fingers. 8) To beckon, extend arm, palm down, moving fingers in scratching motion. Touch someone's elbow lightly to attract attention. Do not tap on the shoulder. 9) "Eyebrow flash" -- a quick lifting of eyebrows -- is a Filipino greeting. 10 ) Displaying your hand with the middle finger straight and the index and little finger bent is an obscene gesture. Put another way, the finger is the finger in the Philippines 11) The People power gesture used in the campaign to oust Marcos in 1986 was a raised index finger and a sideways pointed thumb.

Rules for eye contact: Eye contact is important, especially professionally. It is a good sign of self-confidence. But if a person refuses to or is reluctant to make eye contact, don’t think of the person as rude. It is merely a sign that the person you’re talking to has a certain level of shyness.

Don't use your finger to beckon someone. This gesture is used for dogs. To get someone's attention place your palm down and move your fingers towards you. The dog call gesture is one of the worst gestures in the Philippines. It can you arrested or even get your finger broken, so that you will never attempt to try this gesture again. In Asian countries like Japan, the dog call is considered a rude gesture. In Singapore, it is indication of death. [Source:]

Mano: the Filipino Ritual of Showing Respect to Elders

Mariano Milbert wrote: “Respect for elders is very strong in the Philippines. From youth, Filipinos are taught to respect those who are older than them. Not only have the elders given birth and raised many, but in their age, they have grown wiser, more experienced, and have, by tradition earned the respect of younger generations. Several symbolic ways in which respect is given to elders is in the use of language by calling older Filipinos "Po" and older siblings, cousins, and family friends "Kuya" and "Atee". Perhaps the most fascinating and ritualistic custom of showing respect to elders is the greeting or salutation of Mano. Mano [Spanish for hand] evolved from the traditions of respect for ones elders which comes from Asian cultures coupled with the respect for the clergy during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. [Source: *~*]

Mano is ritualized form a young person kissing the hand of an elder. Joe Maya wrote in his blog: “Mano Po is animated by verbal and bodily movements circumscribed by two parties. The one gives or lays his hand, and the later bends a bit foreword, receives the hand and snootily place it just in the midpoint of the forehead. Strictly, it is always the right hand that is given and received. The later must receive it also by the same hand. He must come closer so that the older person will not stretch to much his arms. Consequently, kissing (the hand) seems tenable only to the less conservative western cultures. To the Filipinos, with respect to evolution of mechanism and other probable legends, this takes a formal shift by placing it on the forehead instead. The grown-up in the family or the group usually take the stance of being “kissed” and the younger do the “kissing.” [Source: joemaya123,, July 12, 2008 ==]

“The act of graceful bowing and, more often than not, followed by taking one’s hand and politely kissing it, is a highly formal gesture displayed in western cultures. This is highly carried on especially during visits, engagements and soirées. This doesn’t preclude the Spanish culture who obviously repacked it and laid it down to Filipinos. This is then clear that the development of mano po runs from the pioneering generation down to this contemporary period.==

In certain parts of Asia, it is respectful to bow to another person to show your respect for them. The bow takes several different forms throughout Asia, and is part of the origins of the Mano. One of the most influential origins of the Mano began when the Catholic friars who occupied, colonized, and converted many insisted that the Indios [the native people] kiss their hand, as a sign of power over them. At the time, the Pope who was held in high esteem, extended his hand to priests, nuns & lay people as he gave his blessings as they kissed his signet ring. This ritual was appropriated by the Catholic Friars and Priests, especially in the Philippines. As a result the Filipinos appropriated this tradition as a means to show respect to one's elders by way of the Mano. The Mano is when one slightly bows to one's elder as they take the elder's opposing hand and respectfully place it to one's own forehead. So, the Asian custom of symbolicly showing respect of the elders, with a bow, coupled with the kissing of an honored person's hand, is where the Mano has evolved as one of the Phillipine's distinct rituals. [Source: *~*]

In the Philippines “this gesture, however, is tainted with a quasi-superstitious belief rampant in every Filipino ideal. That’s why others are quite reluctant to perform or yield-on to such ritual especially the elders, for the belief that their advance age will be hailed and aggravated by doing so. In other words, the frequent laying of hands on the forehead would hasten one’s senescence or old appearance. Another peculiar annotation to mano po is the belief that this would mount the multiplication of gray hairs especially to the old people with evidently graying hairs.” ==

Social Customs in the Philippines

Filipinos usually make friends easily. They are warm and hospitable. They smile a lot, which makes it easier for strangers or foreigners to feel at ease with them. They can easily strike up a conversation with the person seated next to them, for example. Filipinos can communicate with peoples of other nations with ease because the majority of the population can fluently converse in English. When meeting a Filipino for the first time, and if you want to make a good impression, maintain a low profile, be friendly without being "artificial" and show a genuine interest in the culture. Do not flaunt your wealth (jewelry and other expensive looking personal belongings and cash). Avoid wearing immodest or revealing clothing, especially in Muslim-dominated areas where there is a clear standard for appropriate attire. Filipinos are often late for meetings with friends but are usually prompt or business appointments. [Source:]

When meeting a foreign guest or stranger for the first time, Filipinos often ask a lot of personnel questions. Most Filipinos do not mind being asked their age, so it would not be unusual for them to ask yours. Filipinos often interrupt one another when they are speaking. They touch other on the elbow to get someone's attention. In mixed company questions are often addressed to men. When socializing with Filipinos, don’t raise your voice. They are surprised by overt expressions of emotion. Show respect towards elders. Don't disagree with an elder people and make an effort to greet them and say goodby to them in a social setting. When speaking to adults/older people and people of status, use the polite forms of speech (po/ho). (Example: "Good morning po/ho!")

Filipinos have a knack for humor. They can always find something to laugh about. They even love to craft funny anecdotes about socio-economic-political situations and adversaries in life. But it is not appropriate for a foreigner to either comment on the political situation or discuss religion. With regard to socio-cultural conflicts and issues, just listen during discussions and do not take sides. Good discussion topics include: family (Filipinos love to talk about their families), where you are from and the reason why you are in the Philippines. Filipinos are often late for meetings with friends but are usually prompt or business appointments. [Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning +++]

Filipinos and Southeast Asians consider it rude to say "no" directly. They often say something like "maybe," "I am busy," or even "yes" when they really mean "no," or convey a no answer in a way that foreigners don't understand. This behavior sometimes causes confusion with Westerners who like a "yes" or "no" answer, and who tend to believe there is a possibility of a "yes" unless they are told "no" straight out.

“Hiya” (pronounced hee-ya) is an important idea in the Philippines. It literally translates to ‘a sense of shame. Sometimes hiya is interpreted as ‘face’, as in ‘losing face’, but that is not the whole story. According to “Filipinos are very sensitive to personal affront. They try, as much as possible, to avoid feeling “hiya”, a painful emotion or deep shame arising from a realization of having failed to live up to the standards of Filipino society. It is a kind of anxiety, a fear of being left exposed, unprotected and unaccepted. It is a fear of being shunned by their society, which would mean personal humiliation. See Separate Article on FILIPINO CHARACTER AND PERSONALITY [Source: */*]

““Hiya” is one value that regulates the Filipinos social behavior. Just as one is very careful not to be subjected to embarrassment or “mapahiya” one must also make it a point NOT to cause another person’s embarrassment. For example, in asking favor, both parties are careful not to offend the other. So if a favor cannot be granted, the person who cannot oblige apologizes for his failure to do so with an explanation that it is not his intention to refuse but that other factors beyond his control keep him from doing so. */*

Home Customs in the Philippines

Filipinos are very hospitable. They often invite foreigners to their house for meal or put them up for the night. House guests are sometimes offered the master bedroom. If your invited to someone’s house it is customary to arrive 15 to 30 minutes late. Depending on the occasion, people offer gifts like flowers, cakes or fruit or designer products. Gifts are usually opened in front of the giver. People often send a thank you notes or a small gift after being invited to dinner, a social gathering or being a house guest.

In rural areas people tend to remove their shoes when entering a home; in urban areas they keep them on. Alisa Krutovsky wrote in Upon entering a Filipino's home, one must remove one’s shoes, and should put on slippers. Filipinos don't like "outside dirt" inside the home. (This is actually a very common thing in Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France – based on my direct experience.) [Source:Alisa Krutovsky,, DC International Travel Examiner, December 27, 2009]

According to When invited to a Philippine colleague's home for a formal meal, you will be told where to sit, and there you should remain. It is a great honor to be invited into a Philippine home, and Filipinos may be quick to invite you, as a Westerner, into theirs. Most middle-class households have servants: be aware that they may have prepared the food, not the hostess. Your spouse may be invited to join you for a meal at your colleague's home. [Source: Mike Lininger <*>]

“Once invited to enter the Philippine home, you may need to remove your shoes, although Westernization has also changed this, especially in the cities. Once inside the home, do not wander around, unless you are invited to do so: much of the house is really off-limits to guests. If you move from room to room at someone's home, be sure to always allow the more senior members of your party to enter the room ahead of you. <*>

“Be judicious about touching things and moving them about: many items have probably been placed where they are because it is auspicious to do so according to feng shui, a common tradition brought to the Philippines from the south of China. (Objects are placed, and buildings and rooms designed, so that bad spirits are kept out and good spirits are invited in.)” <*>

It is said Filipinos are some of the smartest dressers in Asia. They dress well for most occasions. In formal situation or with upper class people men should wear a jacket and tie for initial meetings. Women should wear western dresses, skirts and blouses.

Eating Customs in the Philippines

Table knives are not used. Forks and spoons are used for dining. The food is eaten from a spoon. Many Filipinos eat with fork in the left hand and a spoon in their right hand and push food onto the back of the spoon with the fork. People often eat with their hands, even rice and stews. The traditional method of placing food on a banana leaf and eating with one's hands is also used throughout the country. It is acceptable to eat food with one's hands at restaurants as well as in the home. As is true in Muslim countries people eat with their right hand. Unlike other Asians, Filipinos eat their food quietly.

According to “Chopsticks are used to eat Chinese food. Otherwise, forks, spoons, and knives are used with Philippine and Western food. In some Philippine restaurants (the more authentic and usually downscale places), no utensils at all are used. Avoid using your left hand for any kind of eating, especially if you are eating directly with your hands and not using utensils.” [Source:]

Meals are regarded as a social experience. There is often a lot of food and a lot of talking. Even middle class families sometimes have cooks and servant who cook and serve the food. Filipinos typically arrive 30 minutes late when invited for dinner. Guests are expected to eat a lot. If one eats heartily it is regarded as a compliment. If one doesn’t eat so much it is considered an insult. When something is offered, Filipinos usually refuse the first time and accept the second time.

Filipinos often eat a late dinner Spanish style at around 9:00pm or 10:00pm. They also often eat an afternoon snack merienda. On the street food is often served on a banana leaf and drinks in a plastic bag with a straw. Dinner is often followed by a visit to a nightclub or a bar. Dutch pay is considered tacky. The person who does the inviting pays.

Eating Habits in the Philippines

A typical Filipino meal consists of a main seafood or meat dish served with soup, vegetables and rice, with tea or coffee. Chicken often has bones in it. Fish often come with the heads attached. In much of the Philippines breakfast, lunch and dinner are same: Filipino-style rice with some pieces of meat and vegetables in it.

Filipinos tend to rise early and breakfast is usually eaten between 6:30am and 8:00am. A typical Filipino breakfast is comprised of daggit (dried fish), rice, fruit and ensair mada (sugar buns), or eggs, sausage and pan de sal (sourdough bread). In some places Spam is a popular breakfast treat. In other places breakfast is simply tea or coffee with rice or food left over from the night before that is not reheated. Rice is served either as a porridge-type cereal that can be flavored with any number of ingredients (nasi gorang), with eggs in a variety of styles, or with pickled vegetables. Tea may be drunk plain or with lemon, cream, milk, or sugar. Eggs and sausage are served on special occasions. Small buns called pan de sol may be purchased from vendors early in the morning. Bread often refers to toast. [Source: Mike Lininger <*>, /=/]

Merienda is the name of a midmorning and afternoon snack that was introduced by the Spanish and was traditionally served around 3:00pm after a siesta. It is usually features cakes, tarts, fritters or sweets made with coconut milk and palm sugar. Some people take a morning miernda around 10:00am. Since Filipinos are fond of sweet foods, a mixture of instant coffee, evaporated milk, and sugar may be served. Coca-Cola is very popular. Sweet rolls, doughnuts, or a noodle dish may be available.

Lunch is traditionally the main meal of the day, and even today, in busy cities, it can still be an elaborate affair with several courses-or it can be a simple noodle dish or fast food bolted down in a matter of minutes. Lunch can also be a light meal with rice and one other dish, often a fish or meat stew. Lunch is served from about 12:00noon to 1:00pm and consists sour soup, cooked pork, meat stew, fish, and/or vegetables, served with rice and fruit or cakes. Many dishes can be steamed, stir-fried, or boiled in a variety of different ways, either simply or more elaborately. Lechon, or pork, is usually roasted or barbecued, and is a very popular meat. You will see adobo, a spice, just about everywhere. Fish sauce and fish paste are available with most ethnic Philippine foods, and have very pungent flavors: start out carefully. Filipinos enjoy sweet pastries, so a very sweet dessert of fruits, pudding, or cake is usually available for every meal. Typically, the drinks served with lunch and dinner are soft drinks, beer, and/or tea or coffee. <*> /=/

Dinner is served from 6:00pm on, with 7:30pm the customary late time and is usually a fish or seafood dish served with rice and a vegetable dish. Even if the main meal of the day was lunch, dinner is only slightly lighter-this is often the case with families at home. The dinner menu is often similar to that of the more formal lunch. Fish, pork, or chicken is served at dinner with a soup made of lentils or vegetables. Fatty pork is a favorite. Portions of small cubes of browned pork fat are considered a special dish. Fresh fruit is a common dessert. It is almost always peeled. If alcohol is being served, predinner drinks may begin with beer or rice wine, then move on to beer during the meal, and end with a sweet wine and/or coffee or tea. Western liquors are served in upscale restaurants and at business dinners. <*> /=/

Table Manners in the Philippines

According to The most honored position is at the head of the table, as in the western European style, with the honored guest(s) sitting to the right of the host (and hostess): If there are couples, the honored man sits next to the hostess, and the honored woman sits next to the host. (Spouses are usually not invited to business meals, though, and most formal meals in restaurants are business meals: do not ask if your spouse can join you; it will embarrass your Filipino colleague into doing something that is uncomfortable for him.) The honored guest sits on the side of the table farthest from the door if possible. [Source: Mike Lininger <*>]

You will always be offered more food. Leave a bit on your plate if you do not want more food. You will be implored to take more two or three times, in the form of a little ritual. The game is as follows: first you refuse, then the host insists, then you refuse again, then the host insists again, and then you finally give in and take a little more. If you really don't want more, take very little and leave it on your plate. You may always have additional beverages; drink enough to cause your cup or glass to be less than half full, and it will generally be refilled. A reminder: never refill your own glass; always refill your neighbor's glass, and he or she will refill yours. <*>

If the meal is served help-yourself style, be sure not to be the first person to take food; let the host or hostess begin. At the end of the meal, you may be given pabaon. a doggie bag with the leftover food in it. This is a common expression of hospitality; make an effort to reject it, but ultimately take it. If you invite someone to an event, you will rarely be turned down directly-people will say things like "Yes, I think I can make it" but this is no guarantee that they will actually come. Do not take the last bit of food from a central serving plate if there is one (more often than not, Philippine meals will be individually served); that means there will be none left in case someone else wants more. Also, a sauce may be mixed with the rice, and the main dish may be eaten with the rice.<*>

Toothpicks are often used at the end of the meal. The best way to handle a toothpick is to work away with one hand, while keeping the other hand in front of it over the mouth, as a sort of mask. If you cover the working hand this way, you can join in the toothpick session in public at the end of the meal with the best of them! Just never do it walking down the street: that's simply not done. Smoking is ubiquitous throughout the Philippines. Usually, you do not smoke at the table until the meal is over. <*>

Eating with Your Hands in the Philippines

According to “Food you eat with your hands is known as "banana-leaf" food. “It includes wonderful vegetarian or meat curries, served with rice and sauce on a large banana leaf. No plates, no forks, no spoons, no chopsticks. You reach into the rice, take some with your fingers, gently roll it between your index and middle fingers and thumb (not your palm!) into a kind of self-sticking ball, dip it into the sauce on the banana leaf, mix it with a vegetable or a piece of chicken, then pop the whole thing in your mouth. Here are some other things to note about eating in such restaurants.” [Source: Mike Lininger <*>]

“Wash your hands before you sit down to eat. Many banana-leaf restaurants have washrooms and sinks out in the open specifically for this purpose. (However, you may want to wash your hands with bottled water at the hotel first, since the water at the restaurant may be more hazardous to your health than the germs already on your hands!) You will also need to wash you hands again at the end of the meal, especially after eating the saucy dishes, since you've probably got a good bit of it running down your arm. Don't worry, it's to be expected: don't dress up if you're eating banana-leaf style. <*>

“Dining etiquette for using your hands. Use your right hand when picking up and eating food. Keep your left hand at your side. Do not place your left hand on the table, and do not pass food with your left hand, as the left hand typically is considered the "unclean" hand in Muslim tradition, and many banana-leaf restaurants are Muslim establishments. If you absolutely cannot eat without some kind of utensil, it's usually all right to ask for spoons in such establishments. The proprietors are more than pleased to accommodate Westerners. <*>

Drinking Customs in the Philippines

The drinking age is 21. People who drink too much are regarded as greedy. Women often don't drink. What to do if you don't drink alcohol? This is usually not a problem, since not everyone does, and fruit juices and soft drinks are very popular.

According to “Because you must never pour your own drink (be it beer or tea), you must always be alert throughout the meal as to whether your neighbor's cup or glass needs refilling. If it is less than half full, it needs refilling; alternately, if yours is less than half full, your neighbor is obliged to refill it. If he or she does not, do not refill it yourself, for this will cause them to lose face: instead, diplomatically indicate your need by pouring a little more drink into your neighbor's glass, even if it doesn't really need it.” [Source: Mike Lininger <*>]

If you are a guest at a gathering of people you may expected to make a toast, usually soon after the host does or at the end of the meal, just before everyone departs. An appropriate toast is to the health of the host and all those present, and to the prosperity of the business under discussion. <*>

Filipino Restaurant Etiquette

Do not begin to eat or drink until the oldest man at the table has been served and has begun. It is appropriate to thank the host at the end of the meal for the fine food. [Source: Mike Lininger <*>]

In informal restaurants, you may be required to share a table. If so, do not force conversation: act as if you are seated at a private table. Waitstaff may be summoned by making eye contact; waving or calling their names is very impolite. The business breakfast is unknown in the Philippines. The business lunch is very popular, as is the business dinner. Both may be good times to discuss business, but let your Philippine associates take the lead on this: if they bring up business, then it's okay to discuss it. <*>

Usually the one who does the inviting pays the bill, although the guest is expected to make an effort to pay. Sometimes other circumstances determine the payee (such as rank). Making payment arrangements ahead of time so that no exchange occurs at the table is a very classy way to host, and is very common. When men are at the table, women will not really be able to pay the bill at a restaurant: if you want to, make arrangements ahead of time, and don't wait for the check to arrive at the table. The only time it is considered appropriate for a woman to pay the bill is if she is a businesswoman from abroad. <*>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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