Understanding the Filipino Culture

11 Dec 2013

To somebody who has never met, seen or interacted with a Filipino or has never visited the Philippines, understanding the complexity of the Filipino culture can take time. Unlocking its mystery is a bit like heading into the jungle without a good map – you are likely to get lost. Take the time and effort though to understand and appreciate Filipino culture and mindset and you are likely to find it very rewarding both for your business and for you personally as well.

The Filipino Blood

Chinese, Malay and Spanish are just a few of the races that run in the veins of every Filipino. In addition, the Americans have had a significant influence with the Philippines being an American colony for 50 years. This contrasting blend of cultures has shaped the unique Filipino attributes.

Filipinos are fun-loving individuals who have a passion for festivals and an obsession with singing and dancing. Filipino culture is very family-oriented, and has made people have relaxed attitudes. Although they may not enjoy the extent of material wealth that many western countries have, in many ways they are richer through their tightly knit social and family structures.


The Philippines is a matriarchal society where women are greatly empowered. Both in the family and at work, the female influence is significant with women holding senior roles all through business and in government. Many of successful Filipino businesses are owned and run by women.


The Philippines is the largest Christian nation in Asia and they take their religion very seriously. Most Filipinos attend a service weekly with the church usually being the backbone of any local community. It is very common for people to have all of their family and friends in the same church and it is important to be mindful of the loyalty this creates when dealing with Filipino staff.


The Philippines is a country of more than 80 tribes each with their own local dialect. English is taught in all schools and is commonly used as the preferred method of communication for people with different dialects. Although Filipinos are separated by islands, their strong cultural ties remain and they have a very strong family and community support system.

Striking up a conversation

Having a conversation with Filipinos is easy enough as they usually speak English to a reasonable standard. They are very approachable, outgoing in nature and would comfortably strike up a conversation with a total stranger.

They like talking about their families, local foods and all things American (movies, sports etc). Filipinos are enthusiastic conversationalists who have no problem asking personal questions such as your age, marital status and the like. They are however very reluctant to discuss matters of politics, terrorism or anything else that might cause them to be embarrassed as this is a big no-no for Filipino culture.

Respect and Modesty

Social inequalities are common in the country even though Filipinos generally believe that everyone should be treated in the same way. Filipinos are always compassionate with their less fortunate kababayan (countrymen). Regardless of status, everyone is expected to act at all times with humility and courtesy and respect.

As something that is distinctly part of Filipino culture, it is customary for Filipinos to address their superiors or elders as Sir or Ma’am. Additionally, you will occasionally hear them use the expression “ho” or “po” when they talk – this is a way of showing respect (e.g. thank you ho/po.)

Filipinos love their titles and take pride in their accomplishments, be them academic or otherwise. You will regularly see their titles used before their names in written communications (Dr. for doctor, Atty. for attorney, etc) and it is even common for them to be addressed using these titles in daily conversation.

Upon introduction and on subsequent meetings with people, shaking hands firmly is expected. Female friends, on the other hand, greet each other with hugs and kisses. Touching is very common between Filipinos but Westerners need to be very careful with cross-gender contact as this may cause offence.

One family and community

Filipinos are communal and love to share what they have – particularly food! This is why it is common in most restaurants to see “family meals” which are just as likely to be shared by co-workers. Strangely enough, if you are eating with Filipinos, you will likely notice that nobody wants to eat the last bite on the plate!

Filipinos have a very structured way of life and compared to westerners, they are not as assertive or independent. This is in part because of the extensive influence of family. Filipino children, no matter how old, are likely to significantly influenced, directed and guided by their parents.

Another dominant behavior of Filipinos is “utang na loob” or debt of gratitude. If you do something good for a Filipino, they will usually return the favor. It can be important to remember this with Filipino staff because if you treat and reward them in the right way, they will probably stay with you for a long time.

Filipinos often don’t leave home until they are ready to be married and even then, it is still usually devastating for the parents. Filipinos generally believe they are significantly indebted to their parents for raising them and placing them in aged care facilities is unheard of. It is normal for children to care for their parents as they age.

Business and Professionalism

Filipino Time

Filipinos are notorious for their lack of punctuality. Whether this is as a result of the horrendous and unpredictable traffic is debatable but unfortunately it is a reality. Regardless, Filipinos are in fact very reliable workers. It sometimes can be better to go with the flow and adopt the Filipino practice of “flexi-time” (which essentially means staff who arrive late simply work back to make up the time) rather than fight the daily punctuality battle.

Display of emotion and saving face

Filipino culture can be very emotional at times and occasionally, Filipinos may take things too seriously. While public displays of affection are common and acceptable, being rude or aggressive is not and Australians’ direct style of conversation can sometimes come across the wrong way.

Filipinos don’t like being confrontational. If there are problems particularly in the workplace, it is best to resolve them behind closed doors. As with the rest of Asia, the concept of saving of face is very important to the Filipinos. It is very important not to criticize or reprimand Filipino staff in front of their peers. Filipinos are generally very patient and tolerant but do not push them too far or you will make a permanent and vocal enemy.

It is, however, good to praise Filipinos in public as this increases their social standing and will likely mean they will do more good work in return. Filipinos thrive on recognition. The act of giving them a pat on the back for a job well-done fuels them to carry on with executing a job well done.

Diversify is proud to call the Philippines its home in Asia and the people we have onboard are nothing short of hardworking and engaging. It’s this aspect of Filipino culture that we admire most and one of the reasons we continue to work closely with them. If you want to have some of the best people onboard for your offshoring team, drop us a line today.