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Living in the Philippines: Things To Know About Contemporary Filipino Culture as a Digital Nomad

August 9, 2023

With stunning landscapes, bustling urban centers, and rapidly evolving digital infrastructure, the Philippines has become a sought-after destination for remote workers and digital nomads from around the globe.

Living in the Philippines as a digital nomad can be a great experience, but before embarking on this journey, it’s essential to dive into the country’s rich culture. Beyond the pristine beaches and azure waters lie age-old traditions, customs, and values that have shaped the identity of the Filipino people for centuries.

Filipino Hospitality

The spirit of hospitality and friendliness that pervades contemporary Filipino culture is one of the country’s most remarkable and endearing aspects. Whether you're exploring the bustling city streets or the tranquil rural villages, you will quickly notice the smiles and genuine interest that Filipinos have in engaging with outsiders.

Filipinos are known for their warm welcome, which is often expressed through the word "Mabuhay" (muh–boo–hai) and carries various meanings, including "welcome," "long live," or "cheers." That said, the "Mabuhay" spirit is more than a simple greeting; it's an invitation to become a part of something greater, to experience a culture that thrives on inclusivity, respect, and human connection.

For example, at the core of Filipino hospitality lies a deep-rooted sense of community and strong family ties that extend beyond immediate relatives to include close friends and even neighbors. This cultural perspective is deeply ingrained in the fabric of society, shaping how Filipinos interact with one another.

As a digital nomad, recognizing and respecting the innate sense of kinship that’s deeply ingrained in Filipino identity can open doors to genuine connections and a deeper understanding of the local way of life. Below are some tips to foster connections and immerse yourself in the local culture during your time in the Philippines:

  • Learn basic Filipino phrases: Although English is widely spoken, demonstrating an effort to grasp basic Filipino phrases reflects your respect and appreciation of the local language and culture.
  • Be respectful of customs: Filipinos cherish their customs and traditions. Being aware of and respecting these practices can earn you respect and admiration from the locals.
  • Participate in festivals and celebrations: The Philippines is renowned for its exuberant festivals and cultural revelries (including karaoke). Participating in these events not only offers a taste of the nation's rich legacy but also provides opportunities to interact with locals on a deeper level.
  • Engage in small talk: Filipinos are known for their friendly and talkative nature. Engaging in small talk, whether with vendors at local markets or fellow travelers, can lead to delightful encounters and lasting friendships.
  • Perform acts of kindness: “Community spirit,” popularly known as Bayanihan (buy-uh-nee-hun), means Filipinos help each other without expecting anything in return. Offering to help a neighbor with a task, volunteering for a community project, or participating in a local cleanup effort showcases your willingness to engage and be a part of the larger community. These actions not only foster a sense of belonging but also highlight your respect for Filipino values.

Cultural Etiquette in the Philippines

As you venture deeper into the heart of contemporary Philippines culture, it’s essential to be mindful of the cultural etiquette and customs that shape the everyday lives of Filipinos. Here are some key aspects of Filipino cultural etiquette that will help you navigate social situations with ease and respect.

Respect for Elders and Addressing People with Proper Titles

Filipino society places immense value on respect for elders, which is woven into the fabric of interactions. When engaging with older individuals, addressing them with appropriate titles demonstrates your understanding of this cultural cornerstone.

You might use "Manong" for older men and "Manang" for older women. For those significantly older than you, "Tito" (uncle) for men and "Tita" (auntie) for women are common terms of respect. Additionally, incorporating "po" and "opo" into your conversations showcases humility and deference, especially when speaking to elders or figures of authority.

Observing Religious Practices and Traditions

Religion is important in the lives of many Filipinos, with the majority (over 86%) practicing Roman Catholicism. As a result, respect for their religious practices and traditions is essential. When visiting churches or religious sites, it’s polite to dress modestly and refrain from engaging in disruptive behavior.

Moreover, the Philippines is big on celebrations. Filipinos are particularly well-known for having one of the longest Christmas celebrations, with festivities beginning as early as September. Various customs and rituals may be encountered during religious celebrations or gatherings, therefore, if you want to participate, keep an open mind and follow the locals' lead. If you have any questions about their practices, ask politely, as many Filipinos are willing to share their knowledge.

Understanding Taboos and Gestures to Avoid Misunderstandings

Every culture, including the Filipino culture, has its own set of taboos. Knowing which practices to avoid can help you avoid unintentional offenses or misunderstandings. For example, pointing with your finger is generally considered impolite; instead, an open hand or chin gesture is more appropriate.

Furthermore, avoid putting your hands on your hips, as this can be interpreted as arrogance. Crossing your arms while speaking can be interpreted as a defensive posture. It’s best to maintain open and friendly body language to foster positive interactions. You should also keep sensitive topics like politics and religion in mind, as discussing them without proper understanding can lead to unintended conflict or discomfort.

Food and Cuisine in the Philippines

Filipino cuisine is a testament to the nation's history and the diversity of its people. At the crossroads of different cultures, Filipino cuisine blends indigenous flavors with Spanish, Chinese, Malay, and American influences. As a digital nomad living in the Philippines, embracing the local food culture is not just a culinary adventure, it’s an essential part of understanding the heart and soul of the country.

From hearty stews and soups like "Adobo" and "Sinigang" to "Halo-halo", which provides a refreshing respite from the tropical heat, Filipino dishes showcase a range of tastes that appeal to diverse palates. 

Dining Customs and Traditional Eating Habits

Expect a communal and convivial dining experience in the Philippines. Filipinos value "family-style" eating, in which dishes are shared and enjoyed together, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie. This cultural practice extends to social gatherings, where food plays an important role in celebrations and bonding.

In addition, it's customary to wait for the host or elders to begin eating before beginning your meal as a sign of respect. When you're invited to someone's home, it's polite to express your appreciation for the food by complimenting the host. You should also use utensils when dining, unless the dish is traditionally eaten with your hands, such as "Kamayan" or "Boodle Fight."

Recommendations for Food Exploration and Trying Local Delicacies

To fully immerse yourself in the culinary delights of the Philippines, it’s a good idea to explore local eateries, food markets, and "carinderias" (small food stalls) in addition to well-known restaurants. These hidden gems serve authentic and reasonably priced dishes that will give you the full Filipino culinary experience.

When trying local delicacies, keep an open mind and embrace the diverse range of flavors. Don't be afraid to try exotic dishes like "Balut" (boiled duck embryo) or "Durian" (a pungent fruit with a distinct flavor). Each delicacy is culturally significant and tells a story about the country's history.

Finally, engage with locals and ask for their recommendations. Filipinos are passionate about their food and love to share their favorite eateries and dishes with visitors. By exploring the food scene with curiosity and enthusiasm, you’ll discover the heart and soul of Filipino cuisine.

Bahala Na: Embrace the Magic of the Philippines

In a world full of uncertainty, there's a powerful and enchanting concept that emanates from the heart of the Philippines — “Bahala Na”, which translates to "come what may." It's not just a couple of words but a profound philosophy and a way of life that embraces the unknown with open arms.

Picture this: you're a digital nomad, venturing into the vibrant Filipino culture. The bustling streets, the warm smiles, and the mouthwatering cuisine beckon you. However, adjusting to a new culture is not always easy. This is where the “Bahala Na” concept comes in, embodying a unique attitude towards uncertainty, and helping you to navigate Filipino culture with a curious mind, a welcoming attitude, and a sense of resilience.

You can also get help with adjusting to your digital nomad lifestyle by introducing your employer to Remofirst. As an Employer of Record (EOR), Remofirst will help your employer with everything related to international employment, including visas, compensation, and benefits. 

Read this Philippines country guide to learn more about how Remofirst helps companies hire and take care of global teams.