How to Behave in The Philippines: Suck it Up

When I first moved to The Philippines I was, well I was poor, there’s simply no other way to say it. I was just getting my business off the ground and my partner at the time was a private school teacher earning about 10,000 PHP (US$200) per month. I lived in a class-c subdivision paying 2,400 PHP (US$45) per month for a rodent-infested townhouse.

As such some of the people I lived around weren’t so educated or nice. When I’d walk into my subdivision the tricycle drivers would yell, ‘hey joe!’ and laugh. Some that don’t understand this culture might interpret their behavior as friendliness but those who know better and, more importantly, understand Tagalog would understand that they were actually making fun of me.

My first instinct was to get angry and yell something back but it just made things worse. I remember some kids used to say ‘what’s up nigga?’ to me. I told them to stop and when they kept doing it I chased them down the street. A few days later I was walking home and I saw two neighbors talking about me. I decided to leave that subdivision. The truth is things could’ve ended very badly for me.

Here’s Why It’s Best to Let it Go

Simon Rawlinson was assassinated in broad daylight in downtown Naval, Biliran Island

If you want to know how to behave in The Philippines then you need to know how to deal with unfriendly locals. Let me be clear the most Filipinos are exceptionally friendly and the country’s reputation for affability is well earned. That being said, The Philippines is still the murder capital of South East Asia and while most of that is drug related it spills over into other facets as well. This is a country where slighting the wrong local can be a capital offense.

In the scenarios above when faced with rude locals my first instinct was to challenge them. But it just made it worse. Frankly, I’m lucky to be here typing this today.

If you want to know what the Philippines is really like the story of Simon Rawlinson, is a perfect example of what can happen. The New Zealander had constant disputes with his neighbors in his small town in Maripipi Island and quickly built up a reputation as a troublemaker. He let his pride get in the way of his judgment, stupidly making public statements disparaging public officials including the mayor and his barangay captain as if he were in a first world country.

There was even a complaint filed against him for throwing a rock at a local boy but it was withdrawn. That’s why it was no surprise to anyone that on July 26th, 2017 at approximately 6:00 am he was gunned down by two assassins waiting for him in downtown Naval in broad daylight.

Read more stories of foreigners who met their demise for not following the customs in The Philippines

This is why I say over and over that you’ve got to learn to suck things up if you want to be successful here. While this is an extreme example Mr. Rawlinson is not the only one to have a date with the grim reaper due to his own ignorance. You can read about an Australian in Ilocos Sur who was whacked by his landlord because he filed a complaint against him.

Related: Your ‘Rights’ As a Tenant In The Philippines

The Most Common Expat Complaints in The Philippines

If you live in the Philippines undoubtedly you’ll encounter these common ‘expat problems’ at some point. It’s best to just mentally prepare yourself to deal with these things beforehand.

  • Neighbors having loud videoke sessions throughout all hours of the night
  • Slow service
  • Restaurants being out of stock of your favorite dishes
  • Women trying to take advantage of you – See: What to expect when dating a Filipina
  • Men trying to take advantage of you through bad business deals – Things (not) to Do in The Philippines
  • Being called ‘Joe’
  • Land ownership is not allowed
  • Petty theft
  • Inconsistent instructions being given at government offices
  • Horrible driving
  • Massive traffic jams (even in the provinces)

Understanding Philippine Etiquette

If you are ever in doubt about how to behave in the Philippines, just remember pakikisama, which roughly translated means “to get along”. Foreigners coming here espousing their culturally liberal values as if they are right is actually a form of cultural colonialism and it’s not appreciated.

Don’t be a shameless foreigner

At a restaurant, if the waiter messes up your order even after he said ‘yes sir’ three times that he understood, don’t angerly confront him. If you do you’ll offend his amor-propio or sense of pride. More so than that you’ll not only embarrass yourself but anyone who is with you.

I remember while standing in line at PLDT to pay my bill a French man was having a go with the girl at another desk. He ended up shouting ‘the amount is wrong!’ so loudly everyone in the entire building heard it. I looked and saw the two women who were with him shrink to half their size and then heard a man behind me say “walang-hiya” (shameless foreigner). I have no doubt the Frenchman was right about the bill and PLDT does suck, but in the eyes of everyone in that room (including his companions) he was wrong.

Cultural correctness vs technically right

That’s the thing we foreigners need to understand. Being ‘technically right’ and ‘culturally correct’ are often two very different things in The Philippines. And as we saw in the two examples above the latter is far more important than the former.  No Filipina is impressed by a loud-mouthed malcontent foreigner. Situations here are best handled in a manner of delicadeza (delicateness) in order to ensure that everyone saves face. When debating whether or not to pursue an issue, ask yourself do you want to be happy or do you want to be right? 

Dealing With Homosexuals in The Philippines

If you are a man living in The Philippines you’re going to be hit on by men at some point. So you might as well be prepared for it and get used to it. Usually, it will be a ladyboy who does it. The reason so many western guys find it so infuriating is that some ladyboys or ‘gays’ often pass as real women.

In a notorious incident, a US Marine was jailed for killing a homosexual who he took to bed thinking he was with a real woman. It created an international incident and was a diplomatic embarrassment for The United States.

If you’re not prepared and are homophobic you may lash out at a gay when they hit on you. If you do you’ll be considered the bad guy.
The reason is many straight locals acquiesce to homosexual flirtations for financial reasons. There’s even a saying Ang lalaki kapag gipit sa bakla kumakapit “if you’re broke go near a gay”, among millennials. So they expect you to do the same. That’s why in doubt you can tactfully ask if the person you’re talking to is a man or a woman. Say something like ‘I’m into beautiful natural women’ in conversation. That should get your point across pretty well. 

If you want to meet ladyboys in The Philippines click here to meet the finest. No one has to know 😉  

Related: Ladyboy Kisses Review

Dealing with Male Chauvinism in The Philippines

An Irish tourist was heading back to her hotel room after a night out with friends in Palawan Province. Her tricycle driver, Perry Gaspe, offered to help her back to her hotel room. Once they reached her room he accosted her. He was “gripped by a lustful desire” according to the police. She yelled and begged frantically for him to stop but he continued eventually raping her. After the attack, Gaspe fled but was arrested by the police the very next day.

If you’re a woman you can expect to be cat-called or face some other form of sexual harassment at some point. Especially if you are in the provinces. The lion’s share of western tourists to The Philippines are men so a white woman is a welcome sight in the eyes of many local men. I hate to tell women that they should have to tolerate sexual harassment but it is what it is.

Reacting to cat-calls and other forms of sexual harassment will only make things worse. Just make sure not to go around by yourself and you should be fine. It’s also not appropriate here to wear scantily clad clothing less you want to be assumed to be a hooker. This includes walking around a resort in your bikini.

Why You Should Swallow Your Pride

To understand why expats that can’t swallow their pride often meet their demise you need to look at things from the perspective of a local, specifically the perspective of an impoverished local. These people in the provinces are working their butts off for just US$6 per day. They’re dealing with drugs on their streets, rampant crime, and most likely problems at home.

Now enter this rich foreigner who thinks he’s a celebrity. He probably has taken advantage of a few women they know for sex and now has the audacity to file a complaint over a small amount of money?! What’s worse is people have explained to him more than once the customs of the culture, specifically the Asian deference to authority, yet he’s still insisting as if he owns the place! That can just be too much for some locals to bear.

To put it into perspective imagine you are a poor police officer earning very little money. Then one day Bill Gates comes into your office screaming and shouting over a US$20 dispute. How would you feel about that honestly? Even if he was technically right?

Related: TransferWise: Not Fast But The Cheapest Way to Send Money to The Philippines

The Best Way to Avoid Rude Locals

The men that killed Simon Rawlinson were indigent shabu smoking farmers without much to lose. That’s the case for most of the locals who assassinate foreigners.

Once I took this into account those tricycle drivers and kids messing with me just didn’t matter anymore. It’s their way of reclaiming their power in their heads. If you think about it, its the same in America. Why is it that it’s okay for a black comedian to spend an entire hour on stage making fun of white people? We all know if a white comedian told even 1/4 of the number of jokes he would be branded as a ‘racist’. It’s their way of reclaiming their power, just let them have it.

If you want to avoid rude locals then your best bet is to avoid living in the poorer areas of the city. Most likely you won’t be called ‘Joe!’ in BGC Manila or Ayala Cebu. But please remember that friendliness is cheap in The Philippines. I personally am a simple guy and prefer provincial living. So dealing with a few rude locals is a small price to pay for the extremely low cost of living, year-around great tropical weather, and wonderful friends I’ve made here.

6 Self Defense Tips That Actually Work

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Thomas
Thomas
3 years ago

Thank you i enjoyed reading that

Nivedita
Nivedita
3 years ago

That was very enlightening. Thank you.

Juddy
Juddy
3 years ago

Great article

Alan Cebu
Alan Cebu
3 years ago

Excellent write up, and very true ! I learned to say Bahala na(not spelt correctly) Which means “Whatever” and shrug your shoulders. Also, that pride thing, is called Hiya in Visayan. It is critical to understand how it works. And NEVER shout at someone in public, you life is in danger if u do.

Duncan
Duncan
3 years ago

A very realistic and important portrayal of how to respect Pinoy Culture… I have been travelling to Pinas for maybe 10 years now and never had a Drama with anyone. I drop a little cash to the Street People, buy the Street Children a Toy or some food…. I have been to some Shanty Towns in Cebu. Mactan, Quezon…Manilla…I sit and eat with the Locals and have a laugh with them. Sure I get hit on ..so I Pose for a selfie with them and buy them a drink…Sure…I get people trying to get me to Marry their Daughters…or Sisters…… Read more »

Ken
Ken
3 years ago

I am here to enjoy the lack of government control those screaming racism at the drop of a hat, and the undisturbed natural setting that starts just outside town…..stay away from most locals keep my circle of friends small and trusted…..

Mandy
Mandy
3 years ago

“I hate to tell women they should tolerate sexual harassment”

Then don’t you absolute cretin.

Raquel
Raquel
3 years ago
Reply to  Mandy

Hey. It is not his fault. He is just documenting things how they are.

Raquel
Raquel
3 years ago
Reply to  Mandy

Hey. It is not his fault. He is just documenting things how they are.

James Pratt Jr.
James Pratt Jr.
3 years ago

Yes that was a good read because I have experienced most of those points listed. I also learned to just suck it up cause they won’t change. I just hang around with the good filipinos and other foreigners

Andrew
Andrew
3 years ago

Interesting