Originally published on 30 March 2011. Updated 27 March 2023.

Several things make Manila and the adjoining cities in the metropolis a congenial place for expats. A friendly people who understand and speak English…beautiful women…great variety of food and entertainment…a relatively safe environment. However, Filipinos have certain quirks. Understanding them and their culture can make life more pleasant for the expat.

The following guidelines should be useful to both expats and non-resident foreigners who deal on a regular basis with Filipinos.

1. Realise what makes the Filipino tick – Filipinos are arguably the least Asian amongst the Asians. The local culture is so Americanised that Americans will probably feel the most at home. In addition, the Filipino character has been shaped by Spanish and Malay-Polynesian influences. The former, the result of nearly 400 years of Spanish rule, explains the Filipinos’ outward religiosity, love for merrymaking and braggadocio. The Malay-Polynesian element is an offshoot of both history and the tropical environment. It explains the common tendency to take things in stride and to be laid-back, if not lazy.

2. Call people by their nicknames – It is a casual and personalistic society where people are addressed by their nicknames. Some expats may find this a bit awkward, especially those not used to such display of familiarity. But the practice makes for smoother interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Moreover, Filipino employees know well enough to respect office authority. They will always address their superiors, Filipino or foreigner, as “Sir” or “Sir John.”

3. Show up at the funeral wake – Filipinos are a sentimental people, and there’s no better way to be closer to their hearts than to show up at the funeral wake when a Filipino business associate or employee has lost a loved one. Don’t just send a wreath of flowers. Show your face, stay a while and condole with the family. Aside from flowers, which are almost de rigueur, a cash donation (the locals call it “abuloy”) to the bereaved family will be greatly appreciated.

4. Brace yourself for tardiness – Few Filipinos are sticklers for punctuality. Many often come late for appointments, meetings and social gatherings. Expats should correspondingly adjust their level of tolerance for such disregard of time. In the workplace, though, it is best to lay down a clear, strict time policy in regard to reporting for work and observing deadlines.

5. Impose high standards at work – Filipinos can be excellent workers. However, they need to be encouraged, told what is expected of them and reminded of the company’s standards. Expats would do well to be firm when it comes to work ethics without being despots or slave-drivers. A reward system for exemplary work performance wouldn’t be a bad idea.

6. Don’t be arrogant or too aloof – Filipinos are a hospitable lot and will often go out of their way to please foreign guests. On the other hand, they dislike arrogant foreigners. They won’t confront the individual, but they will talk about it and pass the word around. Expats should tone down the arrogance especially in the manning sector, where there’s plenty of jealousy and rivalry. As for being aloof, this could be a natural trait amongst some foreigners. It shouldn’t be an issue if the expat would smile a little more often when interacting with the locals.

7. Bear with government agencies – As in many developing countries, dealing with the bureaucracy can be a pain in the arse. Maritime regulatory agencies in the Philippines are famously inefficient and corruption is rife. How to deal with the latter, whether to dance with the music or not, is a question of corporate policy. If an expat has to deal directly with a certain government office, it is best to talk to the big boss and to write or call the latter if his underlings are too slow to move.

8. Demand honesty from employees – It’s a materialistic society that is also poor. So honesty, sad to say, isn’t a commonplace virtue. Expats can do nothing to change the culture, but they certainly can propagate honesty in the workplace by imposing a strict prohibition against all acts of dishonesty and malfeasance. That would include, in the crewing sector, the exaction of money and gratuities from seafarers.

9. Understand the manning culture – Witih so many manning agencies, backstabbing and cutthroat competition are common. Most players are motivated by money and not much else. If you’re a shipowner, impose a strict policy on your crewing agent regarding monetary matters. It is a widespread practice among manning agencies in Manila to manipulate the foreign exchange rate to skim money from seafarer remittances.

10. Be aware of local training practices – Every shipowner wants his Filipino crew to be properly trained and highly qualified. Unfortunately, many local training centres are below par. It’s also not unusual for a manning agency to patronise certain training institutions because they give kickbacks to the crewing managers. It’s a good idea for foreign principals to conduct due diligence and use only the reputable training centres.

11. Don’t disregard the anti-dummy law – Foreigners who insist on having a direct hand in crewing operations should remember that they are forbidden by law to occupy managerial positions. Some get around the prohibition by serving as chairman of the board and appointing a local as figurehead president But it’s always wise to do what is proper and legal. This includes having the necessary work permits from the Bureau of Local Employment.

12. Watch your after-office activities – Manila’s maritime community is small and word gets around fast on who’s doing what and where. Nothing wrong with going out for an evening of relaxation but expats should choose the places they go to. They should also keep in mind that, while womanising in the maritime sector is common, being seen with female company at night can send mouths prattling.

13. Don’t drive in Metro Manila – What is known as defensive driving doesn’t exist. The city roads are a mirror of the society — motorists changing lanes at whim, buses and jeepneys offloading passengers where they please and pedestrians darting across the street like mice. Expats who want to preserve their sanity should leave the driving to a chauffeur.

14. See the rest of the country – For all the good things that it offers, Metro Manila can be stifling at times. Travel down south for a change of scenery — to Iloilo, Dumaguete and Cebu in the Visayas region and Cagayan de Oro, Camiguin Island and Davao in Mindanao.

~ Barista Uno

Did you like this article?  Buy me a coffee

Let us know what you think of this article

Don't Miss the Brew!

Sign up to be notified of updates to Marine Cafe Blog

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest