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Culture Overview

The Filipino people are deeply religious, resilient, and relatively easy-going. The Philippines is considered the the most emotionally aware country in the world.  While most might see their practice of afternoon napping as a sign of laziness, it is more for practicality, as working under the searing tropical sun during high noon is hazardous. Also, the typical Filipino work/school day starts significantly earlier; both workers and students are usually awake as early as 5 in the morning.

One could easily see an amalgamation of Spanish, American, Chinese, Malay, and Japanese heritage in modern Philippine culture in terms of cuisine, language, architecture and behavior. In addition to that, Filipinos are generally friendly to foreign visitors.

American Influence - The Philippines assimilated the American education system, democratic government, legal structure and American English as a language for education, mass media, and legal/public documents. One can also see a strong American influence in such things as an appetite for coffee and fast food, and a preference for American trends and culture. Coca- Cola, McDonald’s, Levi’s, and a host of other American brands have a very strong presence in the country.

Given their exposure to American culture, some of them are brand conscious and they would rather purchase items that are in the fad rather than for reasons of practicality.  Therefore, items such as iPhones, cosmetic whitening products, and signature fashion items are purchased even if it takes them three to six months to recover the costs for these items.

Spanish Influence - Elements of Spanish culture are in great abundance in the Philippines. For instance, there are numerous loanwords from the Spanish language found in Filipino (the national language), as well as within many of the other distinct regional languages in the archipelago. Words such as pero, mas, pwede, mesa, cerrado, and other words and expressions are present in everyday Philippine conversations. Filipinos enjoy siestas in the afternoon, drink cervezas, and hold fiestas to celebrate bountiful harvests and religious occasions.

Chinese Influence - The Chinese influence on Philippine culture is also very apparent. It can be seen in how the nuclear family lives in close proximity to each other, even if the children are already adults and have families of their own. Respect for one’s elders is also sacrosanct. Chinese cuisine is also part and parcel of Philippine culture, with dishes such as pancit, siopao, siomai, hopia, and others being based off their Chinese counterparts.

Because of the hardworking character of the Chinese, coupled by their natural business sense and tenacity to survive in a foreign land, one can see that the largest and most powerful businesses in the country are mostly run by  families with Chinese ancestry. Around 40 of the 50 richest people in the Philippines listed on Forbes magazine are Chinese-Filipinos. This group usually organizes itself as large family-owned enterprises, controlling the production and sale of essential commodities, inevitably earning them an integral place in the country’s power structure.

Other Cultural Characteristics - Dynastic political families, the clergy, and a handful of family-owned and controlled business conglomerates wield the most power and influence in the country.

Certain reforms are often subject to scrutiny by religious organizations (e.g., Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines). They stand on moral issues concerning decisions in regulations and social reforms.

Politicians, on the other hand, author and lobby for laws and reforms, appealing and granting policies that can affect commerce and investments.

The family-run conglomerates, wielding considerable financial power, are able to sway legislation in favor of their business interests, and as such, are able to maintain and even expand their commercial empires.

Moreover, modern Filipinos tend to purchase consumable items in sachets, such as food, shampoo, mobile credit load, etc. Even if purchasing a larger-sized consumable item would be cheaper in the long run, people can only afford to purchase smaller units and sizes. This “tingi” culture is a habit influenced by a lack of finance to one’s disposal.

It is a common sentiment of most Filipinos to consider leaving the country to work or immigrate as a positive scenario as it is an upgrade to one’s economic status and prosperity. As such, immigrant Filipinos, overseas Filipino workers, and those that have married a foreign spouse are almost immediately viewed as more financially viable.

Cultural Similarities

Indian Family Culture - Philippine culture is similar to that of Indian culture when it comes to their family support system. Just as the parents and elders bring up and financially support their children and grandchildren from infancy to young adulthood, the young ones must also be ready to take care of their elders when they reach an advanced age. This is in contrast to Western culture in which the elderly are often sent to retirement homes or are tended to by hired nurses or caregivers.

Island Time Culture - Time in the Philippines is not valued as compared to cultures of most cities such as New York, London and even other Southeast Asian countries. Similar to the smaller island-based countries, Filipinos are very patient, but they require more active time management practices. From a foreigner’s perspective, Filipinos would rather spend time in unproductive waiting (or being engaged in distractions) as opposed to making better use of their time.

Indonesian Monopoly Culture - A notable similarity between Filipinos and Indonesians is that the extreme power structures that govern both political (multi-party, rampant corruption) and business interests (conglomerates controlled by a small group of very wealthy families) in both nations are eerily similar. Because the big players behave like monopolies (or cartels), it is important to know the people involved in the environment when doing business. Often times, their power and domination cannot be taken for granted because of potential threats to your business. Getting to understand their focus and interests and connecting with them can give you a big chance to succeed without being overtaken easily.

Thailand Tourism Culture - The Philippines and Thailand both support burgeoning tourism industries, and as such, they are skilled in the arts of hospitality and dealing with foreign visitors. These countries are hospitable and kind to foreigners.

Thailand is more advanced in terms of tourism campaigns and marketing its beautiful islands. 6.7% of Thailand’s GDP come from tourism as compared to Philippine’s 5.9%. Take note that Thailands GDP is $365B compared to Philippines’s $250B. The Philippines has one of the most beautiful tropical beaches that still remains underdeveloped. It lacks tourist information and directions for easy access to destinations. One advantage the Philippines has over Thailand is that more of their citizens can speak the English language.

American Spending Culture - As mentioned above, Filipinos have co-opted many American behaviors and interests, and are more Westernized than most of their Southeast Asian neighbors. From sports (basketball), to food (hamburgers, steaks), to entertainment preferences (US music, Hollywood movies), and even language (American English), Philippine culture is very American-friendly, and the Filipinos’ natural warmth and congeniality lends further to making the country very welcoming to American visitors.

The Philippines is known to be a third world country with first world desires, thanks to extensive exposure to American media. One can find a spectacular number of western brands with prices above their means. The typical behaviour of workers would be withdrawing cash from their salaries on the 15th and the end of the month (most companies in the Philippines pay bi-monthly) to celebrate with friends over dinner and splurge on shopping for non-essential items. This is why payday often results to traffic on the road. Including busy Fridays when its the time of the week to spend and unwind.

It might manifest differently, but some Americans and Filipinos have trouble with saving money. While Americans are very fond of credit transactions, often spending more than what they can make in a month, Filipinos are prone to spending what little they earn very quickly, leaving very little to set aside.

Spanish at Work and Play - The Philippines was subjected to colonial rule by the Spaniards for nearly 400 years; as such, many aspects of Spanish culture have been absorbed into mainstream Filipino culture.

Both cultures enjoy beer and tapas, hanging out with their peers and friends during midday breaks and late in the evenings. They also enjoy relaxing afternoons and most would take siestas when they get a chance. This might be viewed as a sign of laziness by other cultures, but it is really no different from the more recently coined “power nap.”

Peru Growth Optimism - The Philippines and Peru are similar in that in the recent decade, both of their economies have enjoyed brisk growth, a break from the trend in the years preceding said growth. Their recent successes have rendered both peoples with a sense of bright optimism and confidence in their capability to succeed. Incidentally, both Peru and the Philippines have similar percentages of people below the poverty line, roughly 27%.

Cultural Surprises

In big cities such as Manila, Cebu, and Davao, the mallrat culture is pervasive. Three of the top ten largest malls in the world are located in the Philippines. Typical mall-going Filipinos are readily able to socialize, utilize free WiFi, watch a movie (movies tickets are $3 on average), enjoy the air conditioned environment, eat snacks, and window shop.

The Philippines is an archipelago that consists of 7,107 islands; a good number of them have sandy shores and coconut trees. It has some of the best beaches in the world, along with world-class diving, as well as some surfing venues. The islands are rich in various natural resources and natural tourist sites,  although the tourism industry is still underdeveloped and lacks proper documentation and marketing.

Filipinos are also known to be great artists, particularly in the performing arts, especially singing. Local singing talents are world-class performers, and there are also many overseas Filipinos that regularly win talent competitions.  It is the region with the most singers and karaoke machines per capita.