Common Responses in the Philippines Part 2

Business Cultural Notes

Common Responses Part 2

Filipinos are basically cheerful people. Even if they are facing a number of personal problems in life, they still find it easy to smile and express optimism. This is best captured in a number of everyday greetings in Tagalog that convey some important meanings. For example, the greeting Kumusta ka na? (from Spanish, Como esta?, or “How are you?”) not only means that the person is simply asking about one’s physical condition but also about his life in general. The usual response to this question is Mabuti naman (Good, or Fine), but other possible responses could be Nakakaraos naman (Barely surviving), Buhay pa (Still alive), or Heto, mahirap pa rin (Here, and still poor). While the latter expressions may be interpreted superficially as negative responses, it is not necessarily the case. It’s because in Filipino culture one has to be modest and humble in describing his condition in life, even if there is really nothing wrong with it. And even if there may be some troubles in one’s personal life, it is still better not to talk about it openly and simply say that everything is still fine. 

In Filipino culture, having to hide one’s real life condition is a way of having to save his face, especially to those who are not really his close friends or members of his family. Being too open to strangers about one’s life situation is taboo in Filipino culture, because there is fear of having to be the object of tsismis (from Spanish chismis, or gossip). Hiya (shame) is the Tagalog word that best captures the underlying reason for not having to be too open about one’s real condition in life, especially if it is not good.  On the other hand, even if one’s condition is basically okay or very good, it is also taboo to brag about it. If one brags about his wealth or good situation, he is called mayabang (arrogant, boastful). The opposite of such a person is called mapakumbaba (lowly, modest), because he remains humble in spite of his wealth and good life.   

Greetings with Respect

One way of greeting your elder in the Filipino culture is the act of “pagmano.” Youngsters greet their parents, grandparents, godparents, and sometimes uncles and aunts by taking the elder’s right hand and placing it on their forehead. This is also a request for a blessing from the elders and a grateful acceptance of that blessing by the youngsters.

pagmano bow
Child greets with a pagmano bow as sign of respect to elders.

Another aspect of speaking that is obligatory in the Filipino culture is the use of the particle “po” or “ho” (a less formal variant of “po”) for older people, for one’s superiors or for strangers. Although “po” is significantly absent from speech of older people and superiors and interchanges between equals, it is obligatory in the speech of “barrio” folks. “Po” is also obligatory accompanied by “kayo” (second person plural pronoun) or by the even more respectful “sila” (third person plural pronoun) in greeting and addressing older people or one’s superior. When greeting a friend, you can say, “kumusta ka na?.” However, when greeting your grandmother, you have to say, “Kumusta na po kayo?” or “kumusta na po sila?”

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