Local Culture

What to like about everyday Filipino behaviour

  1. People are naturally friendly. They may be shy of foreigners but they will be happy to talk to you.
  2. People are cheerful, they smile and acknowledge you. They laugh a lot.
  3. Most will try to help you, and even go out of their way to do it.
  4. Generally basic living needs are very cheap, so you will not need much money to travel around and eat if you’re not looking for luxury.
  5. Sports like diving or sailing can be cheap but the safety standards may be lower then you’d wish. Basketball courts are everywhere, despite the heat.
  6. Health care is far cheaper than most countries and the staff are generally well trained, polite and caring. In rural areas it may be difficult to find, and there may be queues.
  7. Although most urban areas are not at all pretty, the countryside can be beautiful.
  8. Everyone seems to be a singer, dancer and actor. Quiet contemplation is not an option. Everyone joins in the fun.
  9. There is colour everywhere. Look at all of those jeepneys and tricycles.
  10. People will patiently wait for a very long time for service. (On the other hand important people may get to jump the queue, perhaps because someone has waited on their behalf.)
  11. People are open and direct, but may be very direct and personal with their questions or observations.

Less good behaviours

It is impossible to look at a culture without making value judgements, and no culture has absolute criteria for judging the activities of another. So in this section I’ll try to make observations about aspects of life that strike me, as a European, as significantly different and more difficult to like. I know that some people like crowds, and get agoraphobic in places that I would find restful. Some people like loud music. Here I’m pointing out what I don’t like.

  1. The heat and humidity in cities and towns. Seeking refuge in a mall is like an oasis in a desert.
  2. Air pollution and fumes in town. Everything can quickly get covered in a dust film.
  3. Litter and lack of cleanliness.
  4. Crowded roads, jams and noise. Awareness of other vehicles is low. Even awareness of passenger comfort may be missing.
  5. Rules and laws are not very important to most drivers. Reckless speed is common.
  6. Government bureaucracy. Multiple steps and visits to different agencies to get things done. Very little is possible online, and when it is there much is out of date with links that do not work.
  7. General inefficiency. Nothing is easy. Things take forever because of measures to counter theft and corruption. Even in shops you may have to deal with several people who check what the others are doing.
  8. Things do not get repaired, but they may get bodged.
  9. People work hard but often seem to lack the right tools. Simple repairs can take forever, wrong parts are bought because numbers are not checked. Work may be done to a very poor standard .
  10. Foreigners may be overcharged in any country, and here is no exception. Bills may be much too high or include things you have neither had nor wanted.
  11. Even trusted people may ask for a loan or cash upfront for something specific (e.g. medical costs) and then spend on a new phone without thinking that’s wrong.
  12. Noise. Loud music. Shouting. Singing. Dogs barking. Cockerels. Tricycles. Boat engines.

Background to the culture:

(For definition of the technical terms and measures here see Culture’s Consequences, Geert Hofstede, SAGE, 2001.)

  1. The family is very important. Parents are obeyed and respected. Individualism (as opposed to collectivism) in the Philippines at 32, is low. The UK is 89; the US is 91. People are loyal to the family and the clan, older relatives are cared for. Harmony is important, confrontations are to be avoided. Filipinos want to be accepted by the group or the community, so, sometimes Filipinos do things just to please somebody else. They not be true to themselves, and may not be frank in opinions in some situations.
  2. Respect for authority, based on tradition. The father is the head of the family; the mayor is the head of the town. This emphasises what role the person has, not what they do. Wealth and political position provide status, and people with power want to increase it. Power distance in the Philippines has been measured at 94; in the UK it is 35; the US 40. (The Power distance is the difference between the extent to which a boss can determine the behaviour of a subordinate and the extent to which the subordinate can determine the behaviour of the boss.)
  3. Uncertainty Avoidance, the extent to which people feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations, is quite low at 44; the UK is 35; the US 46; Japan is 92. This ties in to people not being stressed and sharing feelings of happiness. They may change jobs more, and be less likely to follow rules. Being busy is not a virtue in itself. People are comfortable with ambiguity and chaos. Diversity is tolerated.
  4. Masculinity, at 64, is above average in the Philippines, close to the UK’s 66 and US 62. Japan is 95, Sweden is 5. This implies maximum emotional and social role differentiation between genders. Men should be, but that does not mean women will not be, assertive. Masculinity is also a predictor of religious adherence, which is high in the Philippines, and other poor, masculine societies.
  5. Long-term orientation is 19 in the Philippines. The UK is 25; US 29; China 118. Most East Asian countries scored higher than 40. So a small share of additional income is saved; leisure time is important; it is important that greetings, favours and gifts are reciprocated. The term is “utang na loob”. Filipinos are obliged to do something in return for what others do for them, stressing this owing a debt of gratitude, always expecting repayment. This value has been taken advantage of by politicians. This “utang na loob” may result in faithfulness and cause graft and corruption.
  6. Filipinos may still hold superstitious beliefs, in gods of nature and spirits and offer them food and placate the spirits for health, and to provide a good harvest. It is rarely practiced in the urban areas but in rural areas it is a common practice. Filipinos common irrationalism may present as fatalism or the ‘bahala na’ syndrome. They look upon what fortune can provide. They are the captains of their lives, so whatever happens in life depends on decisions they made.
  7. Personal improvement. Most Filipinos are aiming to improve their family’s standard of living. They believe that education plays a major role in obtaining success, so parents will sacrifice themselves just to send their children to school. In return, older brothers and sisters would help their younger ones to go to school and would not get married until they’ve helped their parents.