Filipino Culture: Friendly to Strangers

Business Cultural Notes

Filipinos are basically a friendly people, even to strangers. They are not xenophobic but are in fact willing to learn new things about other peoples and their cultures. Their skills in learning new languages speaks of their ability to adjust to a new environment or country that may have a different culture from theirs. For how else can one explain the presence of millions of overseas Filipino workers all over the world (in the Middle East, Asia, North America, Europe) except for this natural ease with other people who may come from a different culture.

Filipinos are always friendly with strangers or newcomers. They want the newcomer to feel at home or part of the group. They normally ask questions about a newcomer’s background, which may be interpreted as being nosy at times. But it is just their way of having to “feel” the person, of having to “know” him in order for them to establish rapport. 

The most common question asked of a stranger is, Taga-saan ka? (Where are you from?). Knowing where a stranger is from helps a Filipino establish rapport because it is his way of trying to figure out whether he knows somebody else from the same place. If it happens that a Filipino knows someone from the same place, then it starts a much deeper conversation between him and the stranger based on shared experiences. On the other hand, if he doesn’t know anybody from the same place, he will just simply use the information to add to his knowledge about something that is totally new to him. In fact, it could even be an opportunity for him to have a future contact in a place where he has never been based on this interaction with a stranger. 

Asking about the background of a newcomer or stranger also helps a Filipino test his skills, in particular his ability to use other languages that he knows. For example, English-speaking visitors to the Philippines might find it strange that Filipinos respond in English even if they attempt to talk to them in Tagalog or any other local language. It is because Filipinos want to prove to the foreigners that they are able to speak a language, be it English, Japanese, or other foreign language, that they know. For some Filipinos, it is a shame if he or she cannot speak good English to an English-speaking foreigner. By showing that he is able to do so also proves that he is an educated person as well. 

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