Guest Post By Aby Nicole League
What’s the best way of knowing about a culture? Do you need to earn a degree in anthropology, read every book on global culture in the library, or travel the world full-time? These methods can open your mind to cultural diversity, but not everybody has the time and budget for them. An affordable alternative can involve an annual trip to a foreign country and developing friendships during your travels. You can also take advantage of online materials created not by outsiders like yourself, but by locals themselves. Get the information from the source.
For your next travel adventure, explore the sunny islands of the Philippines. This Southeast Asian destination is home to the most beautiful islands in the world and some of the happiest people you’ll ever meet. The Philippine culture is a melting pot of eastern and western influences mainly because of centuries of interactions with foreigners. Don’t be surprised to meet a typical Filipino traveler speaking in American English, including its colloquialism, enjoying Spanish-inspired beef stew while listening to Korean pop music.
Here are 5 interesting things you should know before flying to the Philippines.
No “lost in translation” moments
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The Philippines ranks 13th among 72 countries in terms of English proficiency. According to the EF English Proficiency Index, the country of 100+ million people scored 60.33 versus the Netherlands’ 72.16, which topped the list. This is one compelling reason why the Philippines has a vibrant contact center industry. Yes, you may have been speaking with a Filipino the other day about your insurance premium.
After three centuries of Spanish rule, Americans arrived on Philippine shores. They colonized the land, but unlike their predecessors, they taught the natives their language. English has been a part of Filipino life every since. You don’t have to worry about getting lost in translation. Street signs are in English as well as ads, hotel guidelines and restaurant menus. Broadsheets, radio shows and TV news are mostly in English.
This isn’t Miami. Cover up.
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The Philippines is a tropical country. It has two seasons: the dry months of November to May and the wet months thereafter. If you’re from the colder parts of the world, be warned that even the rainy season in the Philippines can record a high temperature (80-86 degrees Fahrenheit). However, this doesn’t mean that you can show as much skin as you want. This isn’t Miami, after all. The Philippines is a conservative society. It’s a widely religious country and although western influences are strong, customs and traditions are still upheld especially in the countryside.
If you want to show off your abs, there’s a perfect place for that: the beach. In 2016, Conde Nast named Boracay the Top Island in the World. It’s famous for its white sands, pristine waters, and outdoor activities. Feel free to strut the latest Boracay fashion in this world-class tourist destination.
“Have you eaten already?”
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Enjoy a fusion of oriental and occidental cuisines in the Philippines. The roasted pig lechon is of Spanish origin while the noodle dish pancit bihon came from the Chinese. The massive influx of South Koreans in the country is adding a new flavor to the local taste buds. Hungry for hamburgers, pizza, ramen or sushi? Whatever you crave for, it’s available in the Philippines at low prices. The Filipino cuisine is a reflection of the colorful Philippine culture. Every region has its specialty. The southern region of Mindanao serves tasty seafood dishes with authentic Malay flavors. The Visayas region is known for its spicy viands cooked in coconut milk while the northern provinces are popular for European-inspired gastronomic delights.
Sharing a meal with guests is a Filipino’s way of building connections. If you drop by a household, at meal time, you’d be greeted with an invitation to eat. Instead of getting a “hello” or “how’s your day?” greeting, you may be welcomed with “have you eaten already?” It’s okay to say no. Actually, you’re expected to decline unless it was an invitation extended in advance like a dinner party.
Karaoke, tagay and pulutan
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Asians have a reputation for being karaoke lovers. This is not exactly a myth. Filipinos are fond of singing as much as they love eating. In the Philippines, a party is not a party without karaoke. Expect the most random playlist, though. One may be belting out Frank Sinatra after doing his best 50 Cent impression. Oh, and expect a concert of Air Supply hits.
When there’s karaoke, there’s a lot of drinking. The tagay system is a Filipino way of drinking with friends. You will gather around a circle, usually around a table, and pass around a shot glass. Each person takes a shot after another. The pulutan (snacks) may be salted peanuts, sisig or pig’s head and liver, or grilled seafood.
Respect personal space, amigo
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Filipinos are a friendly lot. They’re regarded as among the most hospitable people in the world. Foreigners are welcomed with open arms, sometimes even with a bottle of cold beer. Filipinos love making new acquaintances and building lasting friendships. You will receive a smile and a warm greeting from strangers or an invitation to lunch at home from a new friend. Personal space, however, is something you should be conscious about. Limit your greetings, especially with newfound friends, to handshakes or a peck on the cheek. Avoid getting too touchy. Again, the Filipino society is generally conservative.
Part of respecting personal space is knowing what questions to avoid in conversations. You can talk about politics and religion, albeit the possible heated arguments, but not about one’s salary or sexual orientation. Asking about a woman’s civil status may be taken as an aggressive move. Take it easy on the green jokes especially with the opposite sex.
The best way to know about the world is to get out there. Travelers are students of life. They learn different cultures from the people who live them. But seeing new places is not enough. As Marcel Proust once said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”