Have you taken advantage?

As I have mentioned many, many times on this site and other places where I write, the Philippines, culturally, is a very different place compared to our homelands.  I mean, if you are a westerner – American, European, Australian, etc., the Philippines is not the same as where you come from.  So many things are different, and it can takes years to reach an understanding of the cultural aspects of various experiences that you may encounter.  I have been here more than 9 years now, and I still learn new things.

Bebe Metillo is my Bisaya teacher, and also has language lessons here on LiP.  During our weekly classes, Bebe and I often get into discussions about cultural issues and experiences that I have in the Philippines.  Getting Bebe’s insight into my experiences helps me a great deal and shows me new things that I would not have realized without her input.

A while back, Bebe and I got into a discussion about Filipino Hospitality, and meals in general.  In the Philippines, you cannot go into somebody’s house without being offered a meal or a snack most of the time.  I mean, as soon as you walk in the door, they ask if you want something to eat or drink.  If you happen to stop by somebody’s house during the time when they are eating a meal, watch out, because they will practically pull a chair up to the table and put a plate of food in front of you!

Sometimes it is a little embarrassing to me when something like this happens.  I mean, if you go into a home where the people are obviously poor, and they are offering you the best food that they have, it can make you feel that you are really imposing, and even leaving the family with no food for themselves!  But, what are you to do?


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Well, Bebe explained something to me and made me look at this kind of situation in a whole new light.  She gave me a different angle on it from what I had previously seen.

You see, when people ask you if you want something to eat, they may actually be hoping, even praying that you will say no.  Culturally, they must show you their hospitality by offering you food, even if they can’t afford to do so.  To not offer you something would be downright rude.  But, in their mind, they know that if they feed you, there will be less for their family to eat, and frankly, their food might already be lacking for the family, even if you don’t eat.

As a rule, if a Filipino family offers you food when you visit, you should say no!  Yes, this is true.  You should really say something like “Oh, thank you, but I am full” (even if you are hungry).  If they offer food again, you should again say “I already ate, and I can’t eat more” or something like that.  However, if they offer you food for a third time, then you know that they sincerely want you to eat, and you are free to accept their generosity!

To my western mind, in the past, I always felt that if I was offered food, even if I did not want to eat, it would be rude for me to say no.  However, based on what Bebe told me, the polite thing is to say no.  If the offers keep coming and that third offer comes, then, my opinion would be that you not only are free to eat something, but you have some obligation to accept what is offered.

What did you think about this?  Did you always feel that you had an obligation to accept food when it was offered?  Did you, like me, feel guilty about accepting food from a poor family?  Well, I believe it is important to know that in the future, you really should say no, out of politeness, unless your host really insists.

Post Author: MindanaoBob (328 Posts)

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur who is based in Davao. Bob is an American who has lived permanently in Mindanao since May 2000. Here in Mindanao, Bob has resided in General Santos City, and now in Davao City. Bob is the owner of this website and many others.


  1. Henry says

    Hi Bob,

    Oh now this rings true to my last visit to Davao. My girlfriend took me into town to visit her neice. Now since they knew I (the foreigner) was coming, a full meal spread was prepared. Was this their typical meal or a meal made in my honor? I lean toward the latter on that question, but I may be wrong. Their home was a simple, modest place, but very comfortable. The meal that was laid out was awesome! I hadn't eaten that well in a long time! After I had my fill, I started thinking of this meal not being typical. Guilt quickly sat in. I had nothing to offer in return, so I suggested we all go to People's Park for the remainder of the evening. Too bad it evetually rained on us at the park. For future reference, maybe I'll cook for everyone. :-)

  2. Ron LaFleur says

    Bob this happens here in our house. When someone is coming over Marlou has the oven working. She will offer everything and anything that she can to be hospitable. We have a very prolific social life here with some Filipina having a party just about every week. What I always find interesting is the baggie platoon. At the end as everyone leaves the host is filling large baggies and passing them out to take home. I got introduced to this on Marlou's first party. I wanted her to be happy so I catered in BBQ brisquit,ham, and burned ends. I ordered more than we would need with the idea that I would be enjoying left overs for a few days. That idea was quickly ended as I watched baggies filled with wonderful BBQ leaving the house. It is all fun but at times the budget is stretched. For me this just is another example of how wonderful the Filipino culture is-I love it. Good article and as always thank you. Ron

  3. tonka says

    when i was in davao visiting my wife sister the samething happen to we walked introduced her family and let eat no way i 3 plates of food early and was still full no, no, you eat i said full you big man you need food ( i'm 6'5" ) my wife say you must eat i got a plate a big plate shook my head i cant eat this tooooo full i took my plate outside to eat a few minutes later a little girl walked the on her face i knew she was hungry i gave my plate to her as i did my wife walked outside what are you doing i said giving this little girl my plate look at her she broke my heart i told my wife to tell its her's the was about 11 years old i could eat and see her with a full belly and a coke that is good but why? i said i'm a grown up i can't sit here and eat and she does not no way i coudn't do it

  4. Evelyn says

    Last time I was in Leyte, my family made a big lunch just for us. I was so honored. We were there for the day so i was sure that they had planned for us to eat. The best thing was when 2 of the young men climbed the coconut tree and brought coconuts down for all of us to have a drink of coconut juice. Then my husband tried to climb the coconut tree, well let's just say we all had a good laugh at him.

  5. Jon says

    Bob this is one of your articles that is indispensable reading. The only exception I would give is if they know you are coming and clearly have a meal planned for your arrival. It still may put a big dent in the budget (it almost certainly is) but if they obviously went all out for your arrival then you have to eat…or they really did waste a huge portion of family budget. An observant eye at the simplicity of the house, furnishings, etc. reveals what level of sacrifice was made for you and perhaps others to have that meal. So my solution was to pick up the tab and there throughout my stay (there was a clear feeling they broke the piggy bank for that meal). When it was time to shop I went along "for the experience" and bought the groceries…also insisting more than once, or even twice, that I pay. By the end of my visit I made sure they came out a little ahead.

    But your teacher's advice about saying no until the third time reminded me of an interesting inverse counterpart. If you ask a Filipino would you like to come over for dinner (in casual passing) they might say "yes" but it doesn't always mean yes. Even a second time you might get a "yes", but on the third time you might ask them a day or so later or call them, and this time they might give a reason they can't make it. Saying "yes" even when they really mean "maybe" or have really no intention of coming is a way of being respectful, to avoid saying "no" to you. They may have a similar hope that you will forget you invited them.

  6. says

    I know the feeling and glad you clarified it. When I was invited to be Nanog at the baptism, I was asked what I liked to eat so they would have food for me. I knew they were poor and the whole affair was expensive for them. I told them what ever they have was ok with me as long as I did not have to use ginamos (excuse spelling)
    May times thee vendors at Agdao that I am friendly with offer me food. I smile, say thanks and tell them I already had breakfast.

  7. Anthony says

    Hi Bob- Thank you for pointing out the correct protocol for this situation, I will make sure i'm more aware when in R.P.

    On a similar vein, when ex-pat Philippinos entertain, here in Aus, or I'm sure elswhere, not only is there PLENTY of food for everyone, but also plenty extra for the guests to take home with them also.

  8. Adamite says

    Really interesting article!

    I think it depends a lot on the situation on whats the "correct protocol" and it may differ around Asia. I usually say "no thank you" no matter the circumstances (be it economic status, country or how hungry I am). Even when I'm in my home country (Denmark). In my opinion, no matter where you are, by being humble and politely turning down the first offer shows that you dont want to intrude and it gives the host a chance to not lose face (by having offered you something and then dont have to feel selfish).

    I too have heard about the "not accepting the food is rude" though. I apply this after having rejected the first or second offer. If they insist, it doesnt matter how horrifying it looks, smells, may taste or if you're full … EAT IT (having a drink nearby helps a lot here).

    I've been speaking with a girl from Manila for a while now, who has a pretty good life compared to filipino standards. Once in a while, she visits the children living on the streets / railway / river and plays with them. One day, the kids offered her a loaf of bread (something that means the difference of life and death for them). She turned it down many times, but they kept on insisting. In the end, she accepted on the terms that they all shared it.

    Something that has stuck me a few times is that it seems the poorer people are, the more generous they are – and exactly the opposite for rich people (which you could say I am and most of you are, to filipino standards at least). You recon thats the reason they are poor in the first place … they have too big a heart?

  9. BrSpiritus says

    Here in Alaska the Sorters are all Pinoy. I can't pass by their housing without being offered soup or fried salmon bellies. Not to get off the beaten track but the other day we did sashimi with a Salmon that was alive not 15 mins prior to consumption. All I can say is WOW it doesn't get any better than that.

  10. Bob New York says

    I went to a Beach Party at Marvella Beach Resort near Cagayan De Oro with a group of Filipino friends I had made there. I paid for some of the food and beverages as I had previously expressed the desire to visit this beach. I had seen many pictures taken there and just wondered what it would be like actually being there to see the rest of it.

    The day before I had been asked if I liked Mango Float. I had never heard of it before and thought it was some kind of drink. We went to the store and I paid for the ingredients. At the beach party the next day it was unvieled to me. I am glad that I paid for the ingredients because I just could not stop eating it !

    In honor of my visit one individual in the group bought a cake with my name on it saying " Thank You for visiting us ". I found out after the fact that the indivividual had pawned their cell phone so they could buy the cake. Talk about someone going well out of their way to show their hospitality ! I already knew by then how attached Filipinos are to their cell phones for texting.

    When it became known to me, I made sure the individual had their cell phone back the next day, with some extra load to go with it.

    Things like this are what made my visits such a great experience and give me the desire to learn more and return again.

    Thanks for this article Bob. Should I be at a private residence when food is being offered it will give me some kind of indicator as how to react although I had kind of figured that out in a basic sense.

  11. says

    the first time we went back to P.I when we arrived my wifes family had a big spread ready for us as soon as we walked in the door !we even drank wine!we stayed there a month and while we where there we went out grocery shopping and filled there fridge up with food ! i got so fat gained like 15 pounds, we ate nukos almost every day(i love fresh calamare) we ate lapu lapu, lechon baboy a lot. fresh vegies like kon kong,green beans fresh mangoes ,longanisa for breakfast with pandasol bread!pancit and steamed rice! sorry got off subject!!!!!wish i was there right now!

  12. says

    sometimes, i forget that it might be an automatic assumption to some people. to me, saying no is a given.

    i grew up around a family business with a lot of employees. i always remember walking in offices during lunch time being offered their lunch meal ("kain tayo, sir mac"). a simple wave of a hand & saying thank you will suffice.

    it would be quite awkward pulling up a chair by the office desk & waiting for my share of her meal. so, yes, this is just a polite offer.

    you could say it's done out of embarrassment because the filipino has a good meal in front of him/her and you are standing there empty handed.

  13. Dave says

    Hi Bob as you know I have only visited the philippines and not actually lived there as such, so what I say may not be practical for those actually living there. What I found was when I visited anywhere I would always offer to buy the food for all those eating at the time, if the food was already cooked and i had arrived unexpectantly I would find some way of paying, one of the first things i was concisious of was just exactly what you say.Even when I was in the pension house I would give daisies mom money to buy food for me. It might sound a little "tighfisted " as we say here but it was a way of making sure that they too had a meal to eat. One thing I quickly learnt was very few filipinos will admit they havent eaten or cannot afford to eat.

  14. John says

    Hi Bob,

    Good subject. I was raised to politely say no when offered food when visiting others. I don't know if I could, in good conscience, accept their offer if I knew they were poor and might not have enough for themselves. I would not want to offend anyone but show an understanding of their economic situation. How would I get out of accepting an offer of food without offending the well meaning family?

  15. says

    I've been through this dilemma also. Last year when my boyfriend introduced me to his familly we went from house to house and everywhere we came we were offered food. I have to say I love Filippino food, but at the end of the week I just had enough of food.

    My dilemma was also that I knew that a lot of theese people had a short supply of food, but then again I did not want to offend anyone by saying no.

    What I did was that everytime we got offered something, I looked at my partner with begging eyes but when he nooded in accept I knew that I had to eat. A few places I got around with "Just a glass of water please" but it was very hard not onley because of the huge amounts of food but also because of this dilemma.

    However I think it was the right choice at the given time. After all it's a catholic country, and acceptance in a relationship (especially same sex) is not allways easy to come by. Thank God there's been no problems for us though, and maybe the very polite way to handle the situation has helped pass it very easy.

    This time as we've returned the problem has not been nearly as big, but then again we haven't been visiting as many family members this time as we did the first time. I do understand the guideline you layed out Bob, and I'll definately have it in mind, but I think I'll allways feel a little rude, when saying no. But maybe in time it becomes just as normal as well..wearing pants hehe :)

  16. Boss says

    Yep good article Sir BoB. Like you said it is a house by house situation, some people can afford to give you some food, others simply cannot. Just looking around the house will tell you the story.
    As I became Philipinoized, I looked forward to the numerous celebrations and I enjoyed the food on offer. Yet, having said that the longer I lived here, I felt the best thing to do was bring some food with us to help out the family who invited us. Now, whenever there is a planned visit we bring food along with us or if it is unannounced we purchase more food for all to eat.

    On a side note, on a couple of times I invited large numbers of relos to a restaurant, I noticed two or three people didn't eat their meals. They didn't even remotely look at the food let alone touch it. Even after many inquiries into why they did not eat, I got no response. It was only at the end of the evening, the meals went into a "doggie bag" so to speak. Well, when I got home my partner explained that the meals will be given to their kids to eat. I thought to myself – now that is true sacrifice!!!

  17. Phil R. says

    when we go to someplace we allways take some food with us so that we aren't impossing on them to much ..My wife will say they are poor and we will buy the food ,,that is ok with me ,,makes everyone feel good …Phil n Jess

  18. Todd says

    "Another is when waving someone over (”come here”). Outside the philippines, you would normally have your palm turned up and wave inwards, which they find rude and instead have the palm turned down and wave inwards."

    That is so funny because I still have hard time with that one. One time my fiance and I were at the Mall of Asia. She was in a store and I walked in to see what she was shopping for. She motioned me in a way that Americans (and most other people) would think is saying "go away". The palm turned down and waived inwards can look a lot like them waving you to go away.

    Anyway, she motioned me to come over to her but I did not know that. So I puzzlingly (is that a word) looked at her and walked out. Well she puzzlingly looked at me and wondered why I left when she was motioning me to come over.

    This happened like three times in a row…and finally I figured out what the heck she was wanting….but our patience was really tested. LOL.

    Just one of those different things between cultures.

  19. says

    Hi Henry – I've been there before too (in your shoes, also in People's Park!). It's a bad feeling to think that these people just gave up a huge percentage of their monthly income to put on a great meal for you.

  20. says

    Hi Ron – Ha ha… leftovers? What's that? It's been so long that I've forgotten! Maybe we, as a group of LiP readers should buy stock in the "baggie" company!

  21. Bob New York says

    I know there are households there that do not have refridgerators and in some situations even if they did they may not be able to afford the cost of running it. Is it possible that the idea of the baggies is to distribute left over food so it can be enjoyed before it goes bad ? Particularly if it is something highly perishable considering the climate and all.

  22. says

    Hi Jon – I am happy that you found my article worth the read. I know that this information, and pretty much everything that Bebe tells me, is invaluable for me too.

    Yes, absolutely, if they know you are coming, and have prepared something for you, then you would be expected to eat, but in an unannounced situation, it's better to play it safe.

  23. Manny says


    maybe they just don't want to waste the left overs. If they know its not excess and others will still be coming as the party is not over yet, most likely they will not pack.


  24. says

    Yes that was common in Hawaii as well. Invite 10 cook for 100. Never went to any gathering there or in the Philippines where they ran out.

    If you are with your wife or girlfriend you can also look to her for guidence if it is is a good idea to join their meal.

  25. says

    Hi Manny – Absolutely! Sayang if it is wasted! Don't misunderstand, I am not criticizing all the take home, I know Feyma always enjoyed it when we were in the States!

  26. says

    Hi Adamite – Of course! The situation is something that has to be considered every time, no doubt on that. :smile:

    You know, what you say is so true, the poor people are the most generous! It doesn't seem that it would be, but people with nothing will give you the shirt off their back if they think you need it more than they do! It's humbling.

  27. roy says

    Hi Bob, I would think that your language teacher Bebe only wants to make it very clear that one should not pay too much attention over the pinoy's casual offer of food. I agree w/ Adamite that in any place the "correct protocol" is to say 'no' upon the first or even 2nd offer. This applies if you're a total stranger w/ the host. If you are at the very least acquainted to the host, or even good friends to the host, the dynamics change. You might partake of whatever it is they having w/o much prodding.
    As in any issues about manners, consideration is the key. The host considers the guest's feelings that's why the host tries to approximate the guest's needs. The guest on the other hand don't want the trouble of seeing his host fuss over him like running to to near sari-sari store just to buy soda w/c he doesn't really drink. That's why we do not really say "yes" immediately when we are offered anything by a host we don't relly know. It's because we are considerate of the potential trouble.
    The pinoy's casual invitation of "can I get you anything, coffee, juice, anything.." is just as casual as an american saying "How are you" or "How you doing".

  28. Adamite says

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for the reply. After submitting my previous post, I remembered something I had learned about people from the Philippines that I hadnt heard of in other countries. I'm not sure if it has been posted before, but it could help first-time travellers to the Philippines and although not directly linked to this topic, its a "culture" thing.

    The first one is pointing. While most people outside the philippines would normally use our index finger to show a certain location, its considered rude in the Philippines. They gesture the direction with their mouth, to show the location.

    Another is when waving someone over ("come here"). Outside the philippines, you would normally have your palm turned up and wave inwards, which they find rude and instead have the palm turned down and wave inwards.

  29. says

    That was really a huge gesture, Bob, for somebody to pawn their phone to get a cake for you! What an honor! In that case, it certainly would have been an insult if you did not have some cake!

  30. says

    Hi roy – Ha ha… I think what you said and what I thought I said were pretty much exactly the same thing. Of course, if you go to your friend's house, the dynamics are different. Every situation must be judged on a case by case basis. This is just something to keep in mind.

  31. says

    Hi macky – This is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about. The person is just offering out of politeness. In the case of a westerner, like me, we have pretty much been taught that if you are offered food, even if you don't want it, it would be rude to say no! So, the two cultures kind of work against each other on this one.

  32. says

    Hi John – Yeah, I understand. You really have to feel these things out. Sometimes accepting may be the wrong thing to do, other things not accepting might be an insult! It's best to always "feel it out" by saying no, and seeing how serious they are about wanting you to eat!

    Hey, if you come to my house and I offer you something… if you say no… well, you ain't gonna get anything! :lol:

  33. says

    Hi Todd – Ha ha…. I can certainly understand your situation. Feyma and I have gone through similar things too. That "come here" motion is one that is basically totally opposite between the two cultures.

  34. Jack says


    Adamite sharing of the story about the bread is very humbling. Juramie was telling me about a neigbor in Leyte who has a hard time providing 2 meals a day for her 5 children. I told Juramie that I wanted to provide sud-an, ulam and bugas for the family on my next visit. (The children are shy but very cute. I was trying to give the youngest one chocolate on my last visit and the child would run home on every attempt.) Juramie and another neighbor discussed my offer and thought it was a good ideal. I'll let you know how it goes when I get back to the USA.

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