Believers of Christ
Because the Philippines has a strong Catholic heritage (at least in the North), nearly everyone believes in Christ. They teach Christianity at school. You’ll see lots of different churches throughout the Philippines and lots of crosses and pictures of Christ everywhere you go. There is often a picture of the Last Supper or of the virgin Mary displayed in homes. Public transportation, such as buses, Jeepneys, and Tricycles, will proudly profess their faith by decorating their vehicles with religious sayings and pictures of Christ. God and religion are not seen as taboo subjects in conversation, as often seems the case in America. The fact that there is a God is not really questioned. For most Filipinos, that’s simply a given.
Filipinos are very friendly, especially to foreigners. They want to talk to you and get to know you. They love to practice using whatever English they know with you. While walking down the street, you’ll be met with a lot of smiles and waves. They’ll call out things like, “Good Afternoon”and “Hello Madam”or “Hi Joe.” And if you answer back in Tagalog, they’ll be surprised and delighted. At church, it is customary to shake hands with everybody. Filipinos know their neighbors and make friends easily. They spend a lot of time outdoors because it often gets too hot indoors during the heat of the day. This gives them ample opportunity to mingle and visit with friends and neighbors, something that is becoming a lost art in the states.
Ask a Filipino who has been to America what he thinks of the American lifestyle, and he will likely say something like, “work work work!” Americans are always in a hurry, they say. Filipinos work to live, but they don’t live to work. They realize that people are more important than things, and they act accordingly. They take time for people. Time to talk, listen, and serve. Even if it means they’ll be late for something. They are wonderful examples of President Monson’s counsel to “never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” Family is the most important thing to Filipinos and they go to great lengths to sacrifice for their families. Although they have very small means and live by a lower standard of living than do most people in other parts of the world, that doesn’t stop them from raising large families.
Anywhere else in the world, you might have doors slammed in your face. But chances are, that won’t happen as often in the Philippines. Filipinos are generally very kind and courteous to strangers. They are very sweet by nature and very easy to love. With each other, they use the word “po” in each sentence, which is to show respect in their language and is an expected rule of politeness when conversing with strangers or the elderly. With the elderly, they also show respect through something called “mano” (where the hand of the elderly person is raised to the forehead of the person showing respect).
A principle that Filipinos value highly is that of not offending people, and they will often go to great lengths to avoid giving offense. As a result, they tend to avoid open confrontations and conflict. They are generally less blunt in conversations and prefer to beat around the bush a bit, especially when there is a possibility that the topic could in any way be offensive to someone.
Filipinos also have tender feelings themselves and can be very sensitive to offense (they can get their feelings hurt easily). When this happens they may tend to hold grudges without confronting the offender in order to avoid conflict.
Filipinos may have small huts, but they have big hearts. They will often open up their homes to you in a heartbeat. They want you to feel comfortable. I will always remember the sweet hospitality of a sweet old, bent-over elderly Filipino lady who, when she saw us coming, would get up off her bamboo bench, go find chairs, wipe them down thoughtfully with a rag, and pull them up for us to sit on. I also remember another dear old Pangasinan lady who, although she didn’t speak a word of Tagalog or English and had but little to offer, invited us over and shared her mango with us.
As a guest in someone’s home, you will often be offered a meryenda, or “snack” – usually a soft drink or juice and some crackers. When you drop in to visit, they will likely invite you stay for dinner. They expect you to help yourself to seconds and thirds and to feel at home. Even if you happen to just be passing by on the street when someone is sitting down to eat a meal, they will likely call you over to join them. Even if they have little to offer, they offer it generously. If you compliment them on something in their home or something that they own, it is not uncommon for them to take it down and give it to you.
In the Philippines, they have to work hard to get by. They wash clothes by hand and most build their own homes. Many plant and harvest their own rice, and because of frequent natural disasters they often have to rebuild their homes and work extra hard to compensate for lost crops. Because of a lack of modern conveniences, they do a lot of heavy manual labor just to get by from day to day with everyday tasks like showering, cooking, etc. It’s not uncommon to see even the very old out chopping wood or pumping water into buckets and carrying the full buckets of water on their shoulders. As a result, the Filipino elderly tend to be very agile and strong compared to the American elderly.
Filipinos are masters of creativity. This is probably partly out of necessity. “Make do or do without” seems to be the motto that would explain their resourcefulness. They creatively use everyday items in building their makeshift homes and other gadgets. They’ll use old billboards and pieces of scrap metal/materials in building their houses, which usually end up being very colorful. They paint and colorfully decorate their sari-sari shops and their Jeepney’s. They make brooms out of the spines of coconut tree leaves. They do beautiful woodwork. I’ve even seen them make chairs out of old tires. They also find creative ways to squeeze in a few more people onto a Jeepney when you thought for sure it was already full. And they are creative in their efforts to make a living. Since most Filipinos are entrepreneurs out of necessity, they will find all sorts of things to do to earn pesos here and there. Side jobs, random odd jobs, recycling, opening a restaurant, selling all sorts of homemade goodies and random things on street corners, converting themselves into ice cream trucks (carrying ice cream bars in a styrofoam box on their back), and more. It’s a fun culture.
The Filipino people have a child-like charm about them. They love to laugh. Sometimes it seems that Americans curb their chuckles to conform to social norms. But when something tickles a Filipino’s funny bone, the giggles come out freely and unreserved. They like to bask in cheesy humor that, sadly, sometimes we seem to outgrow. Ward parties are full of fun, active games that if done in the U.S. you’d probably associate with a primary or YM/YW activity. But the adults get so into the fun and games, and it’s a blast! At one Ward Christmas Party I attended, it tickled me to see the full-grown women in Relief Society perform a choreographed hip-hop dance presentation, grandmas and all. Filipinos are never too old to play; they really know how to have fun.
Filipinos are happy. They smile easily. They rate high on an overall happiness and contentment scale. A maxim they use in describing themselves is: mababaw ang kaligayahan (happiness is shallow), meaning that they are amused easily. Even grown men will sometimes gather around on the streets and make use of random objects (pesos, marbles, and coke bottle tops) for games of fun. I once saw some children tie the end of some strings to moths and run around having a blast with their new ‘kites.’
You’d think that they wouldn’t rate so high on the optimism scale. The Philippines is not a country without problems: there is much poverty and political corruption, not to mention that the country is a hot spot for many natural disasters. I once heard that they had been ranked the world’s most disaster-prone nation. Most of these disasters are typhoons, which hit the country an average of 20 times per year. And there stands the curious paradox. Despite all their trials, Filipinos still hold onto that wonderful childlike charisma that is so seldom seen in societies today. Perhaps it is because of their constant difficulties, not in spite of them, that they have achieved such a happy mindset. They have learned what is really important, and so they don’t stress over the relatively trivial things that would stress out many Americans. They are not time conscious; instead, they live for the moment and soak up the joy of life, with a faith-filled hope that everything will work out. Before my mission, I was told that Filipinos are always smiling. And it’s true. You’ll still see them smiling, even as their house is being flooded or destroyed by a typhoon. They always seemed to find the silver lining in everything and the humor behind every hardship. They find peace and contentment with little.
They have a childlike sense of curiosity; they aren’t afraid to ask strangers personal questions, such as whether or not you are married, how old you are, or what you do for a living. They don’t feel awkward opening themselves up to complete strangers, often telling you a large chunk of their life story when you first meet them.