Cultural differences: Filipino versus American

Eric Ariel Salas

Eric Ariel Salas

In my over two years of stay in Brookings and in my travels across the U.S., I learned a few things Filipinos and Americans don’t have in common.

In the Philippines, the family is the center of the social structure. That includes the nuclear family – aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. We have close-knit families where godparents, sponsors and family friends are called “tito” (uncle) and “tita” (aunt). We have a high respect for elders and high-ranking officials and we always use “sir” or “madam” in conversations. We learn more courtesy before we are old enough to go to school.

Not here in the U.S. A 10-year-old child can call an 80-year-old woman by her name. Students address their gray-haired professors not by their academic or honorific titles but by their first names.

Filipinos have a different concept of shame. We believe that we have to live up to the societal norms of conduct, and if we fail to do so we bring shame not only to ourselves but also upon our families.

That is why we are willing to squander more than what we can afford on a party rather than be shamed by the financial conditions. In America, people only spend what they can pay for. In parties I had been to, a few drinks and a bowl of finger foods are enough to keep the partygoers happy. A party is defined not with a food feast but bottles of beer and tortilla chips.

Filipinos are known to be very hospitable people. We always offer the best to our guests. If you happen to be in a Filipino house during dining hours, expect to be invited to the family meal. Regardless of what food we have and how much, regardless of who you are, we always invite and share.

It is a far cry from the American culture. Most Americans do not know the line, “Wanna share with my snacks or food?” or “Do you wanna have a slice of this?” They just eat. Too seldom you hear an offer.

Filipino Time is the coined phrase for the embarrassing problem of tardiness among Filipinos. We have developed this culture to arrive at parties or events an hour or so late. It has been tested. Any American who has been to the Philippines would say this is true. Try having an event stating an arrival time of 1 p.m., and invited guests will start trickling in at 2 or 3 p.m. In the United States, punctuality is so highly esteemed that the Filipino Time appears like an eye sore. Americans value time. Filipinos value extra time in almost everything. (That explains why we are late all the time.) By the way, we are not proud of it.

Americans do not visit their neighbors often and converse. Filipinos do. We constantly stop at each other’s abode to say hello and just to know how life has been. It is fair to say that everybody knows everybody in a town. Americans are satisfied with just mowing their lawns and (sometimes) exchanging smiles at their neighbors.

Americans love to read during their spare time. Filipinos love to go to “malling.” While Americans bombard themselves with books, Filipinos delight in watching movies. Promotion of reading in my country is a problem that stares Filipinos right in the eye. With poverty becoming a barrier for people to buy and own books, it will take ages for everyone to see the pleasures of reading.

There are countless differences. The list is long. I will share more once I learn more about why Americans love fast foods.