Monday, October 6, 2014

Proudly Filipino, Uniquely Filipino

Filipinos are an inter-racial mix of different cultures that came to our shores to trade, live or colonize. The original inhabitants of our islands were the Malays. They engaged in business with the Chinese, Dutch, Indian, and other cultures long, long before the country was discovered by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.Since then, we have been colonized by the Spanish, Japanese and Americans. So, here we are. Distinctly called Filipinos but bearing a tiny bit of the different races that came and called our islands their home.

In this present time, you would always find a Filipino anywhere in the world. Most of them are contract workers while others have found a new home in a another country. Despite this migrant flow, Filipinos have never lost their distinct traits or habits regardless of where they are in the world. Some of them amusing, some are just uniquely Filipino.

Respect for elders: 
"Pagmamano" - This is the act of taking the hand of an elder, putting in on your forehead while you assume a slightly bowed position. This is a gesture of respect and submission to an elder person. To initiate this act, you would say "Mano po" ("Your hand, please") and the elder would in turn say "Kaawaan ka ng Diyos" ("God have mercy on you" or God Bless you.") Although this is not commonly seen in children born and raised in the big cities, it is still a common practice in the homes of families who kept this tradition alive. 


Calling an elder by their first name is not allowed. We use certain terms to convey respect. Someone a few years older than us is called "Kuya" (elder brother) or "Ate" (elder sister). If a person is old enough to be your parent, a prefix is attached to their name, hence they may be called "Tito" (Uncle) or "Tita" (Aunt), even if you do not have any  blood relations with them. Those who are in their 70s or 80s are everybody's grandparents. They are "Lolo" ("Grandpa") and "Lola" ("Grandma") to the entire community.

We use the words "po" and "opo" when conversing with people who are older than us. There is no exact English translation to these two words. It is used to convey respect. Example. "Salamat" is "Thank you," compared to "Salamat po" which is "Thank you," said with respect.     

Non-verbal response:
Pointing with the lips is body language that is very Filipino. The lips are puckered and used like a finger to point to a direction or thing. I have no idea how this came to be. Maybe because the Filipinos in the earlier centuries had both their hands too busy with work that they used their lips to point. That could be one reason, I am not really sure. So remember, when asking a Filipino for directions and we start to pucker their lips and turn our heads, we are not asking for a kiss. We are pointing you to the direction you asked for. 

Eating Habits:
For the first time traveler to the Philippines, you would want to try restaurants that do not give you a spoon, a fork, or a knife. You have to eat with your hands. Eating without the use of utensils is a skill we learn as children. Get a piece of meat, a few vegetable slices and rice. Form it into a small mound, pick it up with your fingers and use your thumb to push it in your mouth. Its that easy. A true Filipino picnic is having a bamboo table lined with banana leaves and all the rice and meat, fish and vegetables are piled on top of it. You find a space and just dig in! I miss this so much.

Filipinos have 6 meals a day. Yes, you read it right. SIX. These six meals are breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and the late evening snack. It would just make someone wonder why the population is not obese. As the saying goes, "Filipinos eat not because they are hungry but because it is time to eat." 

The love for food is even incorporated in the common greeting. People from other countries would start a conversation with "How are you?" This is not true when Filipinos greet each other. We would start a conversation with "Kumain ka na ba?" ("Have you eaten?").

It is also a fact that no household in the Philippines is without garlic. It is a kitchen emergency to run out of garlic! We use it for everything - in our dishes, in fried rice, in eggs and salads, in dips. A few months ago, the prices of garlic skyrocketed and that was a major cause of concern. Now that the prices are back to normal, we can once again use generous amounts garlic in everything! 

Aside from our staple food which is rice, we always have a sauce or dip with our meals. It could be as simple as catsup or vinegar or it could be specially made, like different kinds of gravy. The everyday dip that goes well with any dish is a combination of soy sauce, lemon juice and bird's eye chili pepper. My husband is Caucasian and he thinks it is weird to always have some kind of dip with a meal, but I explain to him that it gives the rice some flavor. 

The National Past Time:
Dubbed as the "National Past time of the Philippines," the videoke is present in most, if not all Filipino gatherings. We just love to sing! Whether you have a good singing voice or not, it is the company of family and friends (plus beer and bar chow) that makes videoke an enjoyable activity. We either rent the machine or head over to a videoke bar. 

Filipinos are clannish.
Compared to our western counterparts, the Filipino family has more than just a mother, a father and their children in the household. We have an aunt, an uncle, a niece, a nephew, grandparents, a cousin, even a great aunt or great uncle. We do not necessarily have one of each, however, we do have at least one in our household. It has its financial benefits, because the more people in the household, the more there are who will split the utility bills with you. It is just a bit of a hassle when it comes to privacy. The extended family also allows us to save on costs to have a baby sitter or a live-in nurse for the elders.

Faith and superstition.
Filipinos are deeply religious. We are the only predominantly Catholic country in Asia. If the parents can afford it, the children are sent to Catholic schools to guarantee a good education and religious upbringing. However, the superstitious beliefs have never waned. We still think a black cat brings bad luck, just the same as breaking a mirror. Two siblings cannot get married in the same year. We arrange furniture in the house to conform with norms, like the stairs should not have 13 steps, a mirror should not face the bed, and the masters bedroom should face the east. I grew up in an extended family and although I know there is no scientific basis to believe in all these, I still had to follow because the elders know best. 

We are waterproof.
The country gets battered by up to twenty (20) tropical cyclones a year and that means flood, flood and more flood. We have learned to live with it. When I was a college student at the University of Santo Tomas, there was no email blast and no cellphones. I had to listen to the early morning news to wait for class suspension. If there was none, then I had to brave the rain and flood to get to school. My children have to go through the same experience every time there is a storm, however, they are now better informed through text and email blasts from the University. 

In some areas in the metro, flooding can be unimaginable. Half an hour of heavy downpour can bring about floods that are knee-deep, waist deep or even chest deep! The city of Marikina is always under threat of the river overflowing its banks. We live near Marikina and we can hear the warning sirens when the river swells. That siren is the notification for the residents to evacuate to higher ground immediately. We are lucky that we live in a higher part of Quezon City. If we get flooded in our area, I am pretty much sure that the whole city of Marikina is underwater.

All these disasters have not affected the naturally jovial spirit of the Filipino. We still find it in ourselves to smile and find humor in the situation. We pick ourselves up and rebuild. Life has to go on. An great way to describe our spirit is shown in the meme below: 

I was born and raised in the Philippines. 
I love my brown skin and dark hair. 
I love my people. 
I love my country. 


  1. Naging citizen man ako dito sa ibang bansa but in my heart and soukl, Pinoy pa din ako. Walang tatalo sa Pinoy tradition, kung tatanungin mo ko hehehe.

    1. Proudly pinoy! Lumaking kumakain ng talbos ng kamote, naglalaro ng tumbang preso at taguan, lumangoy sa dagat at ilog, at kumain sa dahon ng saging! Love my heritage! :)

  2. I've always said that I'm fortunate to be a Filipino as I was really taught by my parents to all of this values that mostly a person should know and adapt.

  3. One of my best friends in high school was Loel Geroso who is Filipino. We were on the rifle team together. He used to crack me up!!! One of the nicest guys I ever met.

    1. Happy to hear that you had a Filipino friend!

  4. Love this post! I was born and raised in the US, but my parents did a great job making sure the Filipino culture was deeply ingrained in my brothers and me. Except maybe the waterproof part. We could definitely use more rain here in CA. :)

  5. I really enjoyed reading this! I have to agree with you that respecting the elderly is majorly important!

  6. Wow! That's some crazy flooding-- it's great to look into your culture.

  7. I like it when you said that we Filipinos are waterproof. Lol! But what I didn't like is the fact that nothing successful has been done to address the flooding problems in our country.

  8. My Pinoy friends feel the same way like you do. I'm a big fan of your food, culture and nation.

  9. It is always so much fun to read about different cultures than your own. They say, eating several small meals a day is healthier than three large ones... time to go eat. :)

    Life With Lorelai

  10. I really love to learn about different cultures. It's interesting that Filipinos point the direction with lips and that the conversation is started with with "Have you eaten?". Filipino dishes look so delicious!

  11. I've always loved Filipino culture and have had many friends from there over the years. It's such a diverse country with a rich culture.

  12. This is so informative! It had a lot of information I wouldn't have known before reading this. Thanks so much for sharing!


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