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Philippines – Cultural Challenges

Dornet Venturanza, Reloc8 Asia Pacific Group’s Philippines partner shares insights into Cultural Challenges in the Philippines.

Cultural Challenges – Philippines

A significant part of a successful international assignment is being able to adapt to the new culture. Although full assimilation is almost always impossible, it’s very important to at least understand the culture and eliminate the distress that comes with moving into a new nation. The Philippines has an amusing lifestyle, given the diverse cultural influences, mainly from the Spanish, American mixed with the original Southeast Asian culture.

Amor Propio

One interesting thing about Filipinos is the Amor-Propio or one’s sense of self. It’s very important for an expatriate to understand this whole concept of Amor-propio and everything that comes with it, namely the hiya, utang na loob, and euphemisms as this will be a part of your living as they communicate and form relationships with the locals.

To an outsider or an expatriate, amor-propio seems like a simple characteristic, and understood exactly as its literal translation: self-love.

But this high sense of dignity strengthens all other traditional characteristics of Filipinos that may seem contradicting to a westerner who grew up with a strong sense of individuality and frankness.

Hiya or Social Propriety

An example of this is the hiya or shame, if translated literally. Sociologist-anthropologist Mary Hollnsteiner described hiya as a sense of social propriety. This instigates the need for Filipinos to conform to society’s

standards of what’s normal and what isn’t. You wouldn’t want to do anything that will cause your bloodline shame.

Utang na Loob or Debt of Gratitude

Another traditional characteristic is the utang na loob or debt of gratitude. Although utang na loob is not exclusively a Filipino belief, it’s highly respected and followed by the citizens. This concept of reciprocity isn’t as simple as the regular debt, as utang na loob is highly subjective being based heavily on one’s manners or etiquette and quantified solely by emotions and sometimes hiya, or social propriety.

There is also a widely followed idea in the country where the child owes her parents for supporting him and giving them their needs from their birth up to adulthood. This social and emotional indebtedness encourage the children to give back once they get their diploma. When he gets a job, he is expected to help support the family as a way of giving back to his parents after raising him up to adulthood. This is frowned upon and considered irrational by free-thinkers and misunderstood by expatriates but the acceptability of this concept mostly depends on the families themselves.

High Context Communicators

Filipinos are also more of high context communicators rather than low-context. Confrontation will be avoided as much as possible, as this might express negative intentions. Most Filipinos will be very shy to say “No” to you and would rather say something considerate and hope that the other person gets it that he meant “No.” Examples of this are, “Maybe,” “I will try,” “I will make an effort to,” “I’m not sure but I will try,” “We’ll see how it goes,” “I don’t know.” This can be a problem especially at work, if the other person is not used to non verbal cues, and/or cannot pick up the hint that he wanted to say “No” but is too polite to say it directly.

Filipino Time

One thing to also take note of is the Filipino’s concept of time. Filipinos are polychromic as opposed to monochromic like most western countries. Schedules must remain loose.
In general, the Filipinos are very welcoming and optimistic. There are a lot of festivals, or fiestas, and there’s always a reason to celebrate and have a good time. There are also a lot of superstitions that are still widely believed all over the country, but especially on the provinces.

Like all transitions, relocating to the Philippines won’t be easy and will take a lot of understanding and patience. But the Filipinos are, in general, very hospitable and helpful, and will help you as much as possible to make your transition manageable.