Culture shock can range be simply that something is done differently to what you are used too, right through to something that you find really shocking, or something that makes you feel bad, and many things in between.
Philippines Culture Shocks may not be the correct wording as they are not so much shocks as differences in culture. However as “Culture Shock” is the common term used we will use it in this article even though many times it is not really a shock.
As a foreigner you have to expect culture shocks and you have to learn to live with the difference in culture. Have an open mind and you might find some of the cultural difference can improve your life if you take them on board.
Culture difference works both ways and Filipinos often feel offended by the things Europeans do or don’t do. We now live in a world where global travel is normal and we have to learn to accept or adapt in our own way to cultural differences.
Personally I have grown to accept many of the culture differences, some I have adopted, but there is one that I just can not handle as it is such a massive shock, I will talk more about that later.
Much of Philippines culture is better than European culture, the fact no matter how difficult their life is they always have a smile, the way children can find something in the street and play with it for hours without getting bored, the respect they have for elders, there is far less homophobia than in Europe, the friendliness you never feel alone in the Philippines, the fact you can just start a conversation with a complete stranger and they won’t think it is strange, the laid back attitude (most of the time it is good but at times frustrating.)
Being British and coming from a culture where guns are rare, one of the first things you notice is security guards with guns everywhere, seeing guards with guns on the door of McDonald’s or Jollibee is one hell of a shock when you first arrive in the Philippines.
When you first see the guards with guns everywhere it does make you wonder what sort of country it is that they need guards with gun at McDonald’s, but don’t panic you will soon realise they do not really need armed guards on the door of McDonald’s there simply is not people trying to shoot up McDonald’s. Don’t ask why they have them it is their culture it is just the way they do it so accept it.
Another culture difference you soon notice is the lack of toilet paper in toilets, it is not because Filipinos are dirty, it is because when it comes to cleaning themselves after going to the toilet they are cleaner than the British. They use soap and water which is far cleaner and it is something I have adapted to doing, thank you Philippines for introducing me to this I get far less problems with my rear because of it.
Accepting and understanding cultural differences works both ways, and can offend people in both directions. An example is if you get invited to a party of a European do not eat and then leave the party not long afterwards, it might be normal to do this at the party of a Filipino, but when you do it at the party of a European they will feel very insulted, it makes us feel like you do not really like us and just came to our party for free food.
Don’t feel insulted if a foreigner complains about poor service, he is not insulting, being negative about, or angry with your country or your people, he is simply standing up for his rights as a consumer. Even if you are the member of staff he is complaining too it is not you he is annoyed with he is just complaining about the company you work for.
Very often when a Filipino meets a foreigner they will quickly get to the question: What religion are you? If the foreigner replies “I am Atheist” or “I do not believe in God” it does not mean he is evil. When I first came to the Philippines I used to lie to avoid upsetting anyone and say I was Church of England but that meant getting into a long discussion explaining what Church of England meant, also I did not like lying. Now I tell the truth and I will say most Filipinos accept it, however some seem shocked, others quickly start trying to convert me, some have called me names saying I am evil and even told people not to go near me, and one said what sounded like a death threat. If the reply is going to upset you it is best not to ask the question. Religion has been dying in Europe for many years now we grew-up in a different culture it does not mean we are bad people.
When it comes to the British if they start making fun of you it probably means they like you so don’t feel offended. Sarcasm is something the British are known for worldwide, it is often difficult to grasp British sarcasm Americans do not get it at all and often get upset or puzzled by it.
For the European
When a Filipina woman raises her eyebrows it is not a come on, it means hello or yes, sorry to burst your bubble they are not doing it because they fancy you.
Dealing with government agencies in the Philippines is slow, you will have to sit in long queues often with a few hundred people, sometimes they will make you come back a few days or weeks later to collect what you have applied for. It is no good getting angry about it if you talk to locals you will discover they are just as frustrated by it as you. I suspect it is down to the population growing faster than changes in law can adapt the rules to cope with the growth.
Most Filipinos are very religious and get very upset about people criticising their Church, it is best to keep your views to yourself.
It seems like one of the biggest insults to a lot of Filipinos is pointing at them. If you are trying to get your point across and you point you might as well give up, because the only discussion you will get is how rude you have been to them, every other point no matter how true it is has gone out the window.
A local was in a very heated argument with my wife and her mother, he was getting very loud and looked aggressive so I stepped forward and told him to calm down, without thinking I pointed at him as I told him to calm down. He instantly forgot what he was angry about and started ranting and raving about how rude I had been to him.
Balut is a major culture shock, most Europeans will find the look of Balut stomach churning, however this is one part of Philippines culture you can comment on, feel free to tell them it is disgusting the locals will laugh about it and have great delight making your stomach churn by slowly eating it with a big smile on their face.
Class System in the Philippines
The UK is probably one of the most well-known countries for class system, however if does not come close to the Philippines class system.
The class system in the UK in terms of looking up at people with more wealth died out a long time ago, in the Philippines it lives on.
People look up to others that seem to have more money, they show respect to them in so many forms. The rich seem to use this at every opportunity, even to the extent they will sit in their car and expect stall owners to run over to them take their order rather than get out of their car. I know one that drives up to his gate blasts his horn and sits and wait for one of the poor people who live on the other side of the road to run and open his gate for him, he does not even tip them for doing it.
Engineer is used as a title in front of the name the same way Doctor is in Europe.
The fact that we do not show respect based on how wealthy a person is sometimes causes a bit of a dislike towards us from a few of the richer Filipinos. It is by no way always the case but you will find a few that do not like you talking to them as if you are the same level as them.
The Culture Shock I can’t handle
While I do my best to accept and adapt to Philippines Culture when it comes to death I just can not handle it.
Open coffins are not something us British are used too, and I really do not feel comfortable standing looking at a dead body. Thankfully my wife understands and explains to people that it is part of the culture I unable to come to terms with.
But it is more than just the open coffin thing that I can’t handle, it is the whole thing from the wake to the burial that I find disturbing, it is just so different to what I am used too. I am not saying the way it is done here is wrong it is just I can’t handle the way it is when I am grieving myself.
I still show my respect but I will stand to one side and do it in my own way quietly with head bowed.
I have spoken to other British about this and they felt the same, so be prepared if you are attending the funeral of someone who you were close to you are going to find it a real shock that takes a while to get over.
I will say I have been to one very nice funeral over here so it is not always the way, but others have left me feeling so down.