How shameful!

Mindanao Bob Total Package - Get 74 eBooks!

Last week, when my language teacher, Bebe Metillo, came to my house for my Cebuano lesson, an interesting discussion ensued between the two of us.  In fact, the discussion was so deep and interesting that to be honest, we never did get to the language lesson!

One of the things I enjoy about Bebe is that not only does she teach me the language, but she teaches me Filipino Culture as well.  In the early days of  my lessons this was not really the case, but as I have become  more advanced in my knowledge of the language, we have veered off more into cultural issues than language at times.  Normally, even when culture is the talk of the day, we still spent at least half of our time on language learning, but not last week.

It all started when Bebe and I were making small talk at the beginning of our lesson.  You know, the normal stuff – “how was your week” that kind of thing.  Somehow, I don’t recall exactly how, the topic of “ulaw” came up.  Ulaw is the Cebuano term that is the equivalent of “hiya” in Tagalog.  In English, ulaw or hiya means shame, shyness or similar meanings.  If a child is shy, that is ulaw.  If a person is displaying shame, they are displaying ulaw.  It is a deep part of Philippine Culture.  As I have written many times before, Philippine Culture is based on a system called SIR, which stands for Smooth Interpersonal Relationships.

Shame is part of Filipino Culture

Shame is part of Filipino Culture

When Bebe and I got onto the topic of ulaw, I said to Bebe that ulaw was the part of the Philippine culture which I really hated.  Immediately, I could see a look on Bebe’s face that she was quite shocked that I said that.  I could tell that she could not understand why I would say that.  So, we talked more about it, and I explained what I meant to Bebe.  What I meant when I said I hated it was that I don’t like kids being taught that they should be shy or ashamed.  I feel that in many ways, Filipino kids are ingrained with a lack of self worth, lack of self esteem due to ulaw being forced upon them at a young age.  These Filipino kids, through the teaching of the society, come to feel that they are inferior to others (especially toward foreigners) just because they have less money, fewer means, etc.  It is something that really rubs me the wrong way.  In fact, I honestly believe that many kids have it so driven into their heads that they are inferior that it is nearly impossible for them to have much success in life.  They aren’t good enough (in their minds), so why even try?

I don't believe in forcing shame on kids

I don’t believe in forcing shame on kids

Some of the points we discussed:

Learn Bisaya/Cebuano

If you were to tell a Filipino that “wala kay ulaw” (translated, it means “you have no shame”) it is probably one of the most shameful things that somebody can be told here.  No worse words can be said to a Filipino.   However, if I were talking about my niece, Nicole, and told Feyma “wala shay ulaw” (meaning “she has no shame” or “she is not embarrassed”) that could actually be a complement!  So, if I say it to Nicole, it is a huge insult.  If I say the same thing about Nicole, but direct it to Feyma, it can be a compliment.  How can you make sense out of such a thing?  I can find no way to make sense of it in my mind.

Another example…  If Nicole would come to me and say “Daddy, can you give me 5 Pesos?” (Nicole always calls me “Daddy”), that would be something that she should be very ashamed to say.  However, if a stranger on the street comes up to me and demands 5 Pesos from me, there is nothing in Filipino culture that would make that shameful at all!  So, a person that I love dearly (Nicole) asking me for P5 is terrible, but a stranger demanding it from me is no big deal.  To me, it should be the opposite!  Even if Nicole asked me for P100, I might not give it to her (or I might), but I certainly would think nothing of it, and would not think badly of her for asking.  If the stranger came up demanding P100 and getting in my face about it would be terrible in my mind, and I would want to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.  Strange, don’t you think?  Again, the Filipino thinking would be the exact opposite of mine, and I suspect the opposite of most foreigners.

As Bebe and I went on with our discussion of ulaw for over an hour and a half, a lot of interesting points were raised by each of us.  In fact, the longer the discussion went on, I could see that Bebe was beginning to see my side of the argument, and I was also seeing hers.  However, we came to the conclusion that ulaw is probably the most difficult aspect of Filipino Culture for a foreigner to understand, and probably made the biggest gap between Filipino thinking and Foreigner thinking.  As a matter of fact, in the end, I believe that we both reached the conclusion that it is probably impossible for us to understand each other on this particular issue.  I began to understand more than I did before the discussion, but so much of the whole thinking just baffles me.

What do you think?  Can you grasp the concept?

Post Author: MindanaoBob (944 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.

Author Info


    • says

      Hi Jeff – Interesting though about the Catholicism. I never thought that before, and am still not sure I’d agree, because ulaw is just as strong in areas like the Muslim community. I’ll have to think on that, though.

      • says

        Bob, I hope your conversation with Bebe was in Cebuano. At least that way you got your money’s worth for the Cebuano lesson.

        Ulaw of course could come from multiple sources, but I’ve certainly read news stories of Japanese businessmen who killed themselves over shameful dealings. It might be a part of Asian culture generally.

        • says

          Hi Peter – Our conversation was mixed… some Cebuano, some English. But, regardless, I always get my money’s worth from Bebe.

          I think that the comparison with the Japanese has some basis to it… not 100%, but I agree that it is really an Asian thing, though.

          • AlexB says

            Hi Bob,

            First thing that came to mind. Asian thing. You mentioned Japan, but also China. Hard for Asians to say no, since it is a strong word. There’s the Spanish, “orgullo” self pride. As you can see Filipinos have the best and the worst of all worlds. :-)


  1. preben says

    Very interesting topic, that I never have thaught of before, it does give me answers to some problems that I encountered over the years.
    What I also do not understand is that when I was thaught english, shame and shy, were to very different things, maybe I have misunderstood that?

    • says

      Hi Preben – Indeed, shy and shame mean quite different things in English. The term ulaw or hiya, though encompasses both. I have some understanding of it, but certainly not at the level I would like. Explaining it would be quite a challenge, though.

  2. says

    Kudos on this one, Bob. It’s one of the most complex and absolutely puzzling things for a foreigner to understand … and, indeed, as you found with the discussion with Bebe’. Filipinos “know” what it means but to explain it? nearly impossible.

    I kind of lost a good online Filipino friend over this issue .. he and I were talking about progress in the Philippines and good qualities of Filipinos that somehow never seem to get shown and he mentioned one of the most important strengths of the Filipino is that s/he is “meek”.

    I argued back that “meek”, in the sense of ‘weak”, which is how many Filipinos consciously (or unconsciously display themselves) is not a very good attitude for getting ahead in this world.

    Although not one angry word was ever spoken, our frequent conversations just dropped dead from that point forward.

    I know what I meant, and he knew what he meant, but between the two of us, we just never could get even close to common ground … even though I think both of us wanted to, very strongly.

    People often latch on to easy examples of differences between Filipinos and foreigners with such easily observable signs like eating embryonic duck eggs. Compared to the difficulty in understanding the real implications of hiya/ulaw, balut are easy to understand. I just don’t think we ever will…

    • says

      Hi Dave – That’s sad to hear about your past discussion with your friend, and how it kind of pushed the friendship aside. I certainly understand it though. One thing I am happy about with Bebe is that we have a very good relationship and we can discuss this kind of thing openly. We may surprise each other, but as long as we each address our issue without demeaning the other, there are no hurt feelings.

    • reza naranjo says

      haha I’m a FIlipino and meek is not our culture. Lol, you have a point on that one but you have to consider that “Philippines is a third world country” and i agree on the reality that we have lots of catching up to do, take note that Filipinos do have difficulties of explaining the culture because this country almost lost its own identity and that is because of “Spanish Colonizations” and American influence, don’t misjudge me but you can’t deny this fact. I believe also that we need to redeem ourselves as well, don’t forget to update me with your blogs my friend. It’s a good thing to know your own perspective with us.

  3. says

    Honestly, I think what young Filipinos are taught is not to be “shy” but more to be humble.

    I also think the thinking that foreigners are better than Filipinos has more to do with history (being colonized) and all, but rather than a product of conscious training in a Filipino household.

    I for one was never taught that foreigners were better than Filipinos. In fact to the contrary I have been taught that as Filipinos we should strive to be at par with foreigners when in their countries. Or strive not to be treated as a “lesser” citizens or of a “lesser” intellect.

    • says

      Hi Claudette – Nice to hear from you. Not trying to talk in a demeaning way, or disrespect you at all, so please don’t take it that way. However, I feel that your third paragraph drives my point home. For a Filipino to feel that they would need to “strive” to be at par shows me that the Filipino feels that he is naturally inferior, and has to work hard just to reach equal status. That makes me sad.

      • says

        I guess I was just echoing some of my relatives in the U.S., maybe they felt some kind of discrimination over there. I don’t know how that feels of course, over here. Because over here, I do not feel like a second class citizen in any way. As you can see I hardly think myself inferior. :p

        And so do most of my relatives who are here. We don’t suffer from the same thinking. And don’t worry I don’t feel demeaned either.

        All I am saying is that I think for the vast majority, if anything, feeling “lesser” is more a product of colonial mentality. But I must admit my “thinking” is not the same as the great majority because in my college before we were taught to get out of that “colonial mentality”. In fact you can say my school then was steep in activism. It is even ironic now when I think about it when I marched the streets before to kick out the US bases, would you believe? And now I am married to an American.

        What I am just trying to say, its history and colonial mentality if anything else. It was never a conscious thought in most people. But just like everything else, there are exceptions to the rule, and in my opinion, the education you get over here can play a great part in it.

        • says

          Hi Claudette – I think it’s also important to remember that you are not in the same class as the vast majority of people here. You are not destitute and poor where you don’t have food and such. I find that those kind of people tend to have thoughts that they are inferior, making it difficult to overcome the situation they live in. Anyway, this is not about you, nor am I an expert on this…. I have just been exploring my thoughts on this topic for the past couple of weeks, and wanted to share some of my thinking here.

          Regarding colonial mentality, there are VERY, VERY FEW people who are still alive in the Philippines who have ever lived in a colony. That is several generations since the Philippines has been Independent. If we look back 100 years from now, I would wager that hiya or ulaw will be the same as it is now…. but the Philippines being a colony will be a thing so distant in the past that it would be crazy to consider it a major influence on the culture. I believe that if anybody has a colonial mentality now, they need to get over it, because it is highly unlikely they have ever even lived in a colony. Just my thoughts.

          • says

            I agree that it has been years since there has been a colony, but you have to admit, a “mindset” is passed on from generation to generation. A country that has its “independence” handed down to them by a “foreigner” can hardly be considered as proud. And as sad as it is, until now, the Filipinos still think themselves inferior when their dignitaries go from country to country asking for foreign aide instead of building a stronger and better Philippines with an industry base that can create jobs for their own countrymen.

            And I say this with the utmost respect, I also do not want to trump it up as being about me. My elders were just as poor as majority of the Filipinos, but the mindset of getting out of “being inferior” was there.

            I long for a time when the Filipinos will see they do not have to go to a foreign land to better themselves. I long for a time when the Filipinos have work here in their own country and creating prosperity for their own country and not through remittances.

            But of course, as of now, all of that is just a pipe dream. And I certainly do not take it against them to look outside to look for jobs where there is none here.

              • Holger says

                Hi, Claudette.
                I think nobody gets rubbed the wrong way with your posts. I am also an “Americano” (white). But that was Bob’s article describes, is that what I didn’t liked at all in the Philippines. Because… I saw that some rich Philippines where using that against there own people. “I am better than you, so kneel….” And you no what? They did! Than I came along and told the friends and neighbors NOT to do that in front of me, because I feel than “usaw” by my self, because I am NOT better than anyone in the neighborhood.
                Maybe crowing up in Germany with classmates from Turkey, Poland, Yugoslavia, Spain, Italy, Russia and a lot more, helped to think multicultural and to learn that other kids have also two arms and legs like a German kid.

                I see here in Edmonton sometimes the Filipinas thinking the “usaw-way” (that’s how you say it?). There are still single, sometimes single mama – and if the smalltalk gets a little deeper, comes: “Nobody wanted me because I am less than the others…” If you talk to the man and you figure out that they are not happy at work, because they become only 50% of the money than the “white” guys and I say: “Holy cow! You are a crown man. Talk to your boss or look for a other workplace….”, I get the answer: “that is not the filipino way…..” But hey. I am a Immigrant too. So a little bit do I know what they think. I am “white” and get sometimes words “on my head” from Canadians – so what are the “colored” people have to take….. I know. Same old world, same old story – it is a shame too.

              • says

                Hi Holger – It is very true that the way the system is here… the person with money really does command the poorer person a great deal. Good example!

            • says

              Hi Claudette – I think that the attitude of “getting out of being inferior” is lacking in the Philippines. I think it is because of hiya or ulaw, but I can’t be certain.

            • Josie Curran says

              Hi Bob, regarding your earlier discussions with Claudette, I have a different view. Here in America, Filipinos not only strive to be equal, but to outperform. They do it quietly and not in your face. They work harder, learn more, save more, build more, and in almost every way outperform their American peer groups. They do it quietly. In my opinion , it is an ingrained outgrowth from “hiya”. The “inferior” label is a natural result as a human being who is under- utilized or unemployed. All humans strive for self worth. Weather you like it or not, in a Capitalistic society, a portion of self worth is measured by ownership. If you do not own anything and are unemployed while others work and own, it would be natural to feel inferior. I believe, like Claudette, it probably is generations away, but the heritage rich Philippine Nation will overcome.

          • Neil says

            Hi Bob
            I believe for some people who are poor may feel inferior only in the sense that they are not as successful as they would like. When many Filipinos struggle it can hurt their self-esteem and they begin to doubt themselves, I’ve noticed that in some of the Filipinas I talked to. Just as some people feel superior when they are rich.
            I don’t see how a country would feel inferior because they receive foreign aid. Countries like Israel asks and gets foreign aid and I’m sure they don’t feel inferior. If that was the case the Philippines would never ask for medical missions, or maybe getting any foreign assistance for natural disaster would make the Filipinos inferior.

  4. louie says

    Not exactly Catholicism but most likely, partly because of Spanish Colonialism. We all know in history how Spanish conqueror treat the Indios (it’s how Spanish conquerors called Filipino natives) during the Spanish time in the Philippines. They ingrained into Indios mind that they are in inferior and not equal to the colonizers. That’s the main reason we have Jose Rizal our national hero. But that’s another story.
    Perhaps there are more clear explanation about this. First, shame and shyness although in some degree might be similar in meaning, can also mean opposite in meaning depending on a given situation. For example, shame can mean plain dishonor or disgrace. In contrast, in Filipino culture shyness can be positive trait because if you’re a shy person, then it almost follows that you wouldn’t do dishonorable thing against anyone because it would be a disgrace to your family.

    • says

      Hi louie – It could be a Spanish thing, I am not sure. I do know that the culture is strong even in places that the Spanish never was able to take over, so I have a bit of doubt. Certainly, people have moved into those areas over the years, though, so you could be right.

  5. says

    To have a “sense of shame” has little to do with having ” low self esteem”… we are speaking of two different things here, which appear to be the same on the surface.

    In all social groups, we are able to choose who we socialize with except one! It is with this fact, that we find the Filipino Culture and its concept of Ulaw. To have Ulaw, is to honor the life that was given to oneself. Of course, this life must have come from God because who is it that was able to choose their parents before birth.

    Therefore, we find a very strong need for women to choose a husband so that they are able to pass on this “ulaw” for ones’ life.

    It is this one group: Father, Mother, and child; that the child must always have “ulaw” above that of being an individual. What the individual does to have greater “ulaw” for this group shows a greater valve they place on being given life.

    It is with this relationship of God (giver of life) to that of family (father, mother, and child) that the idea of an hierarchy can be found when dealing with all others in society.

    • says

      Hi Richard – I believe that when it has been pushed into your head that you are not as good as others, and you should be ashamed of it.. well, then your low self esteem can be ascribed to the sense of shame. Maybe I am wrong to think that, but that is what I think.

      • says

        I don’t think it is about self esteem at all. In the west being an individual is where one finds value of self, in that if one can have a business and make lots of money than self can help others. In Filipino culture self finds value in others, than maybe you get a business.

        If a Filipina married a westerner, she would just assume her husband would help her parents because it is through them giving her life that you was able to marry her. It would be very “ulaw” for her to have raised in social hierarchy and not help her parents.

        To have “ulaw” is to show how an individual relates to a group. Being called daddy is showing “ulaw” to you as the head of the group where you are the dad. You being a westerner see yourself as an individual person able to make your own decisions, where as the Filipino sees you as the head of the group being able to make decisions for the group.

        This is very much an Asian thing. I do understand what you are saying about the “low self esteem” thing. I have a janitorial business here in Alaska, and if i had listen to those around me I would still be waiting for the economy to get better before starting a business. What I see in the Filipino Culture is that they will sacrifice self for the group. The concept of saving money for the future is hard to get across, when they can use it now to help the group. The value of self is almost always seen through the group, the group almost always is that of family.

        • says

          Hi Richard – We’ll have to agree to disagree about the self esteem thing…

          On the group dynamic, you are right on the mark. That is another aspect of SIR culture, and it is called “Kita” or “in group”. I wrote an article about that in 2008, and you can find it here.

      • reza naranjo says

        you’re both right, I’m a Filipino and some of what you are pointing has truths. Truth that shame has a bearing also with low-self steem, colonial mentality so on and so forth, but shame is not all a negative aspect in the Filipino Culture.

  6. Bryan G says

    I first came upon this concept when I worked with Filipino engineers in Iran – Most of our bosses were American,some of whom were far inferior in ability to my Filipino colleagues yet they would defer to them instead of pointing out the mistakes they were making.Later when I was able to make promotions I found Filipinos of great ability refusing on the grounds they did not want responsibility.The same attitude means that anything imported must be better than locally produced goods. The Philippines is a country completely lacking in self confidence – I do not think this is a colonial thing as the attitudes in ex colonies such as Malaysia and Singapore – even Indonesia are not like this. As I have said before there are no successful ex Spanish colonies -perhaps Spanish rule left this legacy.

    • says

      Hi Brian – Interesting thoughts. I don’t know if the ulaw or hiya tradition was present before the Spanish conquered the country or not, but it would be interesting to know. You comparison to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia do make an interesting point to ponder, though.

      • Bryan G says

        Bob – I have found Filipino society and culture more complex than at first sight,there are nuances that I do not think that anyone not born into the culture can fully understand. Filipinos seem to take everything literally and the concept of making a joke at someones expense without any kind of malice is not acceptable. It is impossible to get a direct yes or no to a question,decisions are delayed indefinitely in case the wrong one is made.When I first came to work in Manila in 1988 it took me months to realise that getting things done with Filipinos in a Philippine environment was totally different to getting things done overseas.
        The best I ever worked with were ex Air America veterans of the Vietnam war,these people were the best of the best,tough as nails and with tremendous technical ability – I learned more from them in a year than ten years working in the UK.To this day I still am friends with some of them. Just recently I worked with some of the sons of these men – their fathers worked with my father in Iran in the 70s so I have long connections with this group.
        I will be in Davao on 3rd of Feb – weather in Europe permitting!- it has been grim since November. Will PM you nearer the time and hopefully we can get together with our wives and shoot the breeze.

        • says

          Hi Bryan – I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.

          When you mentioned at the beginning of your comment about the complexity of the culture here, you were right on the mark. I’ve lived here for 11 years, and have tried to understand the culture, but there are some things that I am still trying to get a firm grip on… like ulaw.

  7. AmericanLola says

    Hi Bob, good article! As you know, I have done some thinking about this one. I don’t think that kaulaw comes from the Spanish colonization, as you don’t find it in Mexico or other latin American countries that were under Spanish rule. I think it is an Asian thing, and is seen in various forms in other Asian countries. ‘Ulaw’ cannot be translated into one English word, as yuo said. It is shame/shyness/embarassment rolled in to one word that doesn’t really mean any of these, exactly. Self-effacement is also involved as well. I think it helps to understand that too much self-confidence is considered proud/big-headed, and is an undesirable trait. It is also a bad trait to be agressive and pushy and opinionated (isog). So, kaulaw, when it is hanging back, not pushing oneself forward, not voicing an opinon, not speaking of one’s abilities, is considered a positive character trait.

    Kids are taught to kaulaw from a very young age. When a child shows any sign of hiding, or being shy, it is defined as kaulaw. It is not discouraged or encouraged, but called out as the state that the child is in whenever he is looking the least bit timid or anti-social. Interesting!

    My kids were observed to be very friendly and not shy (in a positive way) because they would look new people in the eye, say, ‘Nice to meet you,’ and smile. Their Filipino peers would be in varying agonies of kaulaw in the same situation. BUT, try to get my kids to sing in front of a group and they died a million deaths, while their Filipino friends marched up there and belted it out like they were born on a stage! (Just like their parents!)

    • says

      Yes, I would agree that it is an Asian way of thinking about God, and family in respect to being an individual as well as a member of a social group. The way of thinking being that God will let happen what will… therefore one should be humbled waiting for God to do something.

      • says

        Hi Richard – Personally, I don’t think this cultural norm has anything to do about God. That’s why it is prevalent in both Christian and Muslim areas. It’s a cultural thing, not a religious thing. That’s my opinion.

        • says

          God and religion are not the same thing. If a person believes there is a “god”, than he will have some form of ” ulaw”. I think this way of thinking goes back to the mountains of India and the Malayans with a desire to be fair skin. Historically in the Indian subcontinent, fair skin was equated with the richer classes.

          If you ask a Filipino if they are prejudice and they answer, they will say no… but what are the best selling supplements.

          It has nothing to do with being a racist, but more with being closer to god.

            • says

              In the west it would be looked upon as being racist the way many of the advertisements are used to promote having whiter skin in the Philippines, one of the largest type of supplement sales.

              In the Philippines and in other parts of Asia, a lighter skin tone is historically linked with affluence and privilege. I believe this as while as the idea of “ulaw” was introduced into Filipino culture by the Malayans some 10,000 years ago.

              • Bob New York says

                I remember seeing some of those adds for ” Skin Lightener ” including one on a Billboard. While skin lightener may be a highly desireable item, here in the USA many people spend a lot of money and risk gtting skin cancer by going to ” Tanning Salons ” to make their skin appear darker !

    • says

      Hi AmericanLola – When you mention your own kids, that brings a lot of other thoughts to my head. Of course, my own kids are much like you describe yours. My kids are not shy or feeling shame in most instances. For the most part, ulaw is not part of their character, even though they pretty much grew up here. I suppose it is because in our home, it was not taught to them. Yes, when it comes to singing (as you say) or reciting a poem or something along those lines, when a Filipino child will do it with no sense of shyness… my kids would shudder in fear! Very strange the way that would be compared to the “regular shame” that is part of ulaw.

  8. says

    Shame on you, Bob! :lol:

    Seriously, though, I think the western cultures lost a lot of respectfulness and righteousness when shame went out the window. Anything goes has replaced shame, just as charity has been replaced by entitlement. That stranger who might get in your face and ask for P100 has no shame–anything goes. Rising number of unwed mothers (and fathers) have no shame–anything goes. The increase in crime, drug use, an evil in general can be laid at the feet of having no shame–anything goes.

    True, man has a free will. Temper it with a little shame, and you have a civil person who is able to control that will.

    HEY PAUL – Get down from the soap box! :lol:

    • Bruce Michels says

      True TruePaul;
      I work correction at the Jail in J-ville and let me tell you their is now shame in our country anymore. I’ts all about me self-gradification by any means possible.Heck just listen to the music and watch the TV. We here in the States sure could us a major dose of Ulaw!

      • says


        Samuel Johnson said it best: “Where there is yet shame, there may in time be virtue.”

        But still, I’m not sure that this is the kind of shame that Bob is talking about. Shame should motivate you to do better, not to be more accepting of mediocrity.

          • Bruce Michels says

            Peter & Bob;
            No I think that these run together. Ulaw or Shame were impoetant back in the
            States when I grew up To be arrested, caught stealing or doing anything else that would shame your family name was concidered taboo. People would work hard and protect thier family name from slander and try to live a God fearing life. But the new generations of today just don’t care there is no shame in their game.
            Believe me working corrections for 17yrs has given me a whole new perpective on todays American culture.

    • says

      Hi Paul – I agree with you about western culture having lost a lot of the respectfulness. Probably, there needs to be a balance somewhere in the middle, don’t you think?

      • says

        Hi Bob – I don’t see shame being used up here as a means of accepting mediocrity. It’s being used to instill a sense of selecting the right path to live by.

        As for something in the middle – a girl in her fourth month is pregnant, just like the first and last month. Her friend who isn’t pregnant, is so for the same periods of time.

        Letting the camel get its nose under the tent is the first step in “having company.”

        With shame, however, goes forgiveness. I forgive you! ;)
        (with ref to my last article)

        • says

          Hi Paul – I see every day examples of how shame is part of accepting mediocrity.


          A new road is built. Somebody in the process is skimming money from the project, and as a result the quality of the road is poor. The people do nothing, because of hiya or ulaw, they cannot confront the Government officials. They are to ashamed to do so, and thus they accept the poor quality of the road.

          That is ulaw accepting mediocrity.

          • says

            Is it ulaw, or just a belief that the “authorities” to whom they could complain are just as shamelessly crooked as the skimmer?

            I’ve seen what you’ve experienced, but it’s more “bahala na” than hiya. They’d rather save their breath (or get in on the take) rather than complain to those without ears.

            Mediocrity isn’t accepted – it is tolerated at best, but begrudgingly, by those who feel they have no real recourse. Perhaps that’s why “pseudo-reformers” get elected to political power over and over. Voters take the “street money” from the grafter, but vote for the reformer who, in most cases, turns out to be a grafter, too.

            Too much talk – please forgive! ;)

    • Aklan Heat says


      I agree with everything you said as in “anything goes,” and this is especially true with the Philippines even if I get off-topic here. LOL! In my childhood in Aklan I wasn’t even aware of “hiya”, it’s there but I didn’t get “too deep” in knowing what it was. Maybe I didn’t really pay attention to it until one day when I was watching one of those Tagalog movies when this really angry woman slapped another woman saying, “Walang hiya, ka! You have no shame!” That was my introduction to that word, “hiya/TAGALOG.” In Aklanon, interestingly it is “huya”. And now, “ulaw/Cebuano” which is my very first time to hear the word!

      And to you, Bob, thanks!

      Bongga! Social! :0)

  9. Dave Keiser says

    I’m sorry, but I really have to disagree with you on this. I think this whole shame concept is fading away here. There seems to be a growing trend towards rudeness and ill manners. As the song says “It’s All About Me”. In just a very short generation, it seems that manners have been thrown out the window, and selfishness rules in many ways. This is not MY observation, but my wife’. Line jumpers with no shame, motorcab, and single drivers that yank out in front of you…..after looking right at you, but not having enough courtesy to wait for you to pass. The rule of thumb seems to be ” No Problem, they other guy can slam on his brakes and not hit me.” Old women that keep pushing and prodding you as you stand in a check out line….because the line is not moving fast enough for them. I guess they think I should do the same to the person in front of me perhaps? Then we have the ones that dash up to the store counter and bang a coin on the counter in front of you shouting ” Di, Di, Di. When the poor sales girl walks by they start babbling at her , demanding immediate service.
    Humility? I don’t see it a lot anymore.

    • dave bennett says

      Hey Dave,
      You know i think your right about the rudeness. Many times people will butt in front of me in line, seem to just ignore you. If i am carrying a heavy load and want to walk by and they are walking real slow i have to say excuse me like 3 times and they still won’t even acknowledge my presence. But i think it is more with they younger generation. That is my wife’s observation she is from the old days (she is 60). But yea the older ladies can be very bitchy always have a mean look.

      Anyway good article from Bob

      • says

        Hi dave – I fully agree with you and Dave that there is a lot of rudeness here. Indifference too. But, these examples, while very true, have nothing to do with hiya or ulaw.

      • Katrina says

        I just remembered an experience in high school. Was at a fast food with some classmates. We were not rowdy but we were like 5 in the cashier and the other one doesn’t have one attending to it and then a middle aged lady asked us if we were in line and we nicely said no, and then she remarked that why were we even standing therein a snobbish manner. It’s like she’s lording over us just because she’s a lot older than us.

    • says

      Hi Dave – Not trying to be rude or insensitive to what you say, but based on what you say, I don’t think you understand the concept of hiya or ulaw. As I said in the article, the stranger has no requirement to feel shame, because they don’t have a relationship with you. It is the person you know who is supposed to feel shame. That’s why, in the article, I said that a stranger asking for money is not required to feel shame, but my niece would be. So, all of the drivers and other people you are talking about – unless they are a personal friend of yours – can do all that without any sense of hiya, because they don’t’ know you.

  10. louie says

    Hi Bob- If I may add, I agree with Claudette that generally, Filipino parents taught their children to be humble and not be braggart of themselves. In your given example, in a situation like that, your niece may somehow feel ashamed to ask money from you for the simple reason she has her own dad to first ask that favor. And in the case of the stranger asking some money. It may appear no big deal to some Filipinos because they’re used to seeing people helping fellowmen, specially if this stranger is begging money to buy food. They feel for others sufferings. Of course it’s another story if this stranger seemed just taking advantage of the giver. Also, giving and demanding are different things altogether. The amount to be given can also be a determining factor.

  11. says

    I remember growing up, than a woman did not go into a man’s apartment, and a gentleman would never invite her to come in. Why? It was the idea that if she was not your wife, mother, or sister… than the only reason she would be there was for some shameful act. The shame of a mother in the west having a child out of wedlock is all but gone. Remember, the “shot gun weddings” to “save the face” and respect in the community.

    Money and sex are powerful forces upon an individual to overcome any idea of “ulaw” upon one’s family. Look at the areas where the military has been… for example Clark to this day, the area is one of the biggest red light districts.

  12. Bruce Michels says

    Ulaw is an interesting concept. Some where long ago I believe it was away of teaching someone that they sould not ask for something from there parents or others that they know they can’t get. This was probably to avoid a situation of embarassment for all. From there through the time of the Spanish and American colonizations to present most Filipinos still don’t have much so Ulaw is still practiced to a point.
    America use to have a form of Ulaw. I grew up in a family of 9 kids I the oldest Boy have an older sister. We were not rich my any means. I can remember on many occasions wanting something that the other kids had but could not get it. So on many occasions my Mom would sit me down and let me know that my Dad did not have the money for it and not to ask him ,because it would hurt his feelings. (embarasses him) So I didn’t and that was on many occasions. So that to me is a form of Ulaw. Not untill I had my own family did I really understand what my Mom was teaching me. Humility.
    But now in America that is lost. Hope it doesn’t get lost in the Philippines as well.

    • Holger says

      Hey, Bruce.
      I am 47 and my parents didn’t hat much. I know what you meant. But I didn’t see any “Ulaw” in the beginning of our vacations in the PI special in the way of getting money. My wife has only one brother in the PI. So ok I thought no big deal. One week before our flight he left for Abu Dhabi. So I thought saving a lot money, cool. After arriving and saying Hello to everybody, my wallet was empty. My wife asked me if we could go for a lemonade. “Sure, Honey. But we need a ATM.”…. “Why is that?, she asked. “Because of all the “Ancheta’s (my wifes maiden name) this evening with this “filipino-handshake” (I called it- I am a Ancheta and the flat side of there Hands in front of my nose.) I thought you haven’t any relatives left here!” She said:”OMG! Ancheta is the most common family name here!” (like in Germany Mueller and Schmitt….Millions of them) So I learned that lesson on the first evening. For money – there is no Usaw in there head…. :-)

      • Bruce Michels says

        I guess Ulaw only pertains to Filipino to Filipino Westerners are exempt from that. Were rich didn’t you know that. :)
        My family over there don’t ask for much, because when I lived there I had a rule if you want something from me you must work for it. After coming down and working two or three times for the money they just stopped coming or stopped asking for money. Funny how that works even over her in the States with my kids. :)

  13. Bob New York says

    Is it possible that ” Ulaw ” could be more a state of mind than something that could be defined to an absolute meaning for each and every situation ? I think this may be something that could come under ” same word but a different meaning in American English and Filipino English ” or as Jimmy Buffet sang, ” Changes in Latitude Changes in Attitude “.

    This reminds me of an expression that I have heard in person or more than that in a printed or internet chat ” I am shy to you ” . To me I would define that as meaning I do not know you well enough to discuss this with you. I have always felt there may be a different meaning of this comming from a Filipino. I am still trying to figure that one out.

    I am also under the impression from articles I have read here on LIP and elsewhere as well as from my visits there that some may be embarrased in their knowledge or word usage of the English Language. I once read in an introduction to an American English Dictionary ” The English Language is one of the most far flung languages in the world ” .

    I always try to bear in mind when having a face to face conversation, or even a printed internet chat that a word or series of words or expression may at any time have a different meaning than what my ” American English ” programmed brain may instantly think that it means. At times I may try to clarify that the word or words being spoken may have an entirely different meaning from American to Filipino English. Word useage or the placement of a sequence of words at first may sound a bit off the wall but if you re-arrange the words or try to define the words and apply it to the topic, many times after some thought it makes perfect sense.

    A couple of expressions that come to my mind is when one Filipino said to the other ” Turn On The Off ” . The meaning in American English was ” Turn on the lights ” as one individual was reaching for a bank of electrical switches.

    One from my recent visit which I will always remember. I presented an electrical engineering student with an analog Multimeter, in looking at it after taking it out of the box, the student touched the end of one of the meter probes and after feeling the pointed end commented that it was ” Too Pointed ” . American English translation ( to me ) meaning the point was quite sharp. Maybe also ” Too Pointed ” meaning more pointed than it had to be for making electrical measurements. Once I thought about it for a few seconds, the comment ” Too Pointed ” made a lot of sense to me. I actually like that term and will probably always remember it.

    I will agree with you Mindanao Bob that I find teaching a child to be ashamed is not easy to understand unless the child has done something to be ashamed of but to be ashamed of just being a child that one kind of baffles me because at one time in our lives we are all a child.

    If anyone can give me the meaning of the Filipino expression ” I am shy to you ” I’d like to know, if it is something different from what I described here, there may be a percentage of translation loss somewhere in that.

    Good article Bob, a very interesting topic about Filipino Culture.

    • says

      Thanks, Bob. When you are chatting and somebody says they are shy to you, they might mean that their English is not good enough, or they don’t know you well enough… but it could also be ulaw… they feel that they are not up to your station in life, and thus feel ashamed that they should not really be chatting with you, because you are on a higher level than they are. Hard to tell.

  14. Bob New York says

    Concerning the use of the word ” meek ” as a generalized description for Filipinos, from my own experience and to me I think I would describe it instead of meek as ” Less Agressive ” when it comes to certain matters such as in certain business competition. Another instance would be less likely to follow up on something than their American counterpart .

    For example if I was expecting to recieve somethingfrom somplace such as an ordered item or something that was supposed to arrive on a certain date, my ” impression ” is that the Filipino would patiently keep on waiting if the item did not arrive within the expected time frame. If it were me, or for that matter probably many other Americans as well, I would be on the phone , send a letter or an E Mail with an inquirey as to whats going on with my order ( I want what I ordered have you sent it yet ? ) .

    In fact I did exactly this for a Filipino friend who was expecting a scholarship stipend from a certain Philippines Govt agency. The stipend payment was delayed for weeks after the scheduled due date. My friend told me about this several times and I asked if he had called the agency to inquire. To make a long story short, I got the appropriate info from my friend, called the agency in Manila myself from New York ( using a VOIP prog. on my Pc ) I chose my words very carefully as to not sound as if I was ” mouthing off ” to the govt agency, and my friend had his stipend payment in a couple of days.

    Would I call my friend ” meek ” , absolutely not. Would I describe him as ” Less Agressive ” in comparison to the way I know of attempting to get something done in persuing something that was very delayed ? Yes, but once again I think it comes down to a difference in culture and the differences in the parts of the world we live in. Maybe that could be further defined as ” Geographical Conditioning.

    Hope my rambling here did not stray too far off topic. Maybe I am just giving some examples of how I try to figure some of these cultural differences out for myself to see if I am on the right track with my comprehension of it.

  15. says

    What makes this hard to understand for most westerners is the fact that most westerners go to church to have a relationship with God. In Asia, God is in their culture! In the west God is separated from day to day life. In Asia day to day life is God. To have God is to have the spirit of your ancestors, or family.

    The Chinese have the idea that if one lost face, than you would also loose your spirit. This idea carries over to the Filipinos in that it is better to say nothing than to loose spirit (what we may think of as self-esteem ). To loose spirit is to be cut off from your family tree, and is worse than death. To loose face is to not keep “ulaw”…

    The idea in the west i guess for lack of something better would be a man keeping his word. It is better for a man not to promise something that he may not be able to keep. Than it is to promise and break one’s word. It would be something like a person’s credit rating. Before there was a credit rating, all that one needed was a hand shake. But, after so many have lost face, a credit rating was made up to determine how much face was lost. In Asia, this idea goes back 1,000 of years throughout their family ancestry.

    A zombie from the movies would be a person that lost “ulaw”.

    To have “ulaw” is to be able to have shame, or the act of being shy, it means you still have spirit. “You still have family.”

  16. Dan says

    Well..One thing for sure………No body knows for sure where ulaw or hiya tradition came from…but it came from some place, maybe so far back in history that nobody knows where it came from…and it looks like from the posts there are different meanings or concepts of shame…any way…interesting post Bob…

  17. Bill B says

    Very deep post Bob, I still need to read all the comments, but from what I have read everyone makes a good point to their view of hiya/ulaw. One thing that I have seen with the Tagalog and other languages is that sometimes the word does not translate into one word in english and because of that it can be hard to translate what is turly ment.

    One thing that I have been teaching my niece and naphew’s is that they can do anything with their life and not to let anyone tell them they can’t. If you let someone tell you that you can’t do it then over a given time you will being to beleive it.

    • says

      Hi Bill – Like you, I try to teach my nieces and nephews a little more western thinking. They can take it or leave it, but at least it plants a seed in their head.

      • Bill B says

        Trying to teach them more of western thinking can be a good thing, but the Filipino way of thinking can all be good. I feel that as a member of the human race we all need to learn as many ways of thinking as we can and take the good from them all to come into one combined way of thinking that is good for all man kind. If everyone from every country would view life with this same approach then the world would be a better place for all.

        Now the problem with this is that the leaders of the countries want power and to have more land for their country and with that they lose site of what is good with man kind and for the world as a whole.

        One can only dream, wish and hope for the best and as our kids learn this and pass it on then in time it will happen; time is all that is needed.

        • says

          Hi Bill – Oh, I agree fully that the Filipino way can be good too. I suppose that if I didn’t think that there were good things in the Filipino way, I would not be here! :lol: I guess what I am saying is that I show my nieces and nephews the American way. They already know the Filipino way. It just gives them a choice, and an understanding that there is more than one way to live.

  18. says

    Bob, I’m not sure about all the Ulaw “stuff” in terms of cultural mannerisms, but I do think to certain extent your feeling that Filipino’s feel “less than” and being brought up to feel this way, is largely a function of their lack of economic power. For those that are so poor, and are barely getting by on a day-to-day basis, it is maybe NOT that they feel less than, but that they feel they just don’t have the power to effect change. This feeling of powerlessness is maybe what your referring to. Are the feelings of the truly poor in America or any other country so different? Unfortunately, in the RP, there is an extremely large portion of the population which is truly poor which causes this perception of “less than” to seem even greater.

  19. says

    I really liked your discussion here…I believe you are doing a great service to not only the Filipino community, but to the Western world as well by opening up discussions like this publicly…we as westerners NEED to understand the thinking and customs of Filipino and Asian cultures in order to live peaceably…I may not agree with all of the differences, I just need to understand them as much as possible, especially when you are married to a Filipina (o)…I hope I am correct in my verbiage, I’m still learning…..Mike

  20. chris says

    I know that when i first met my daughter she was very shy to me ,probably as i was a foreighner ,she did the back of hand thing to show respect when she first met me ,i think as i have said before that a lot of importance is placed on your social standing :ie if you are a proffesional or just a laborer in philipino culture ,my wifes sisters are all teachers and command respect in there country ,well it aint the same here i tell you i wonder if this is a way to make them strive to be above the rest i dont know but one thing is for sure stranger comes to me and says give me 5 pesos i tell him to get lost my daughter asks me i give her 20pesos i personally think that children should be made to feel proud of who they are no m,atter what step on the ladder they are on if someone comes to me and has there head down the first thing i tell them is to put it up when talking to me ,i am not a king and i am certainly no better than any other man

  21. says

    This is a fantastic conversation!!! As far as Filipinos being meek…I do not see that. I see, as someone mentioned, them being much less aggressive in certain situations. But certainly not meek.

    Filipinos can be as aggressive as any people I have ever known once you flip their switch, it just takes longer to flip that switch than it does in most Americans for sure.

    The shame thing is very interesting because when I met my ex-fiance I heard that word more in six months that I had EVER heard it. It always made me wonder what EXACTLY shame meant. I am still not sure.

    Finally, I will say this and I am positive I am right. I have been in the Filipines many times, been in Japan many times, and been in Korea many times….this ulaw (shame, shyness, whatever) seems to be in many Asian countries.

    But…in the filipines it is taken to the extreme. I am not sure filipino children are taught to be shameful (not exactly sure that that means to an American) but what filipinos seem to be taught is to not rock the boat and first taught to not be aggressive.

    While this might work in their family situation to a certain extent…it does NOT work on an international basis. For the Filipines to succeed on an international level they MUST be more aggressive. The world is full of aggressive people that are more than happy to take money and business away from the Filipines.

    Once the Filipino people realize that they are in competition with EACH other every day for jobs and that their country is in competition EVERY day with other countries for jobs and business they will realize that this lack of aggressiveness at times NEEDS to stop.

    • Bob New York says

      Todd said

      ” Filipinos can be as aggressive as any people I have ever known once you flip their switch, it just takes longer to flip that switch than it does in most Americans for sure “.

      My Comment >

      I would agree with that, one night I was in a CDO ” neighborhood Bar ” type of place with a group of friends. All of a sudden a typical ” Bar Fight ” breaks out, just like I have seen here in the USA. Different words, different language but the empty beer bottle smash against the edge of a table was identical. My Filipino friends I was with formed an ” instant shield ” to shield me from any harm even though the fight broke out more than a few tables away. Although I am not a fan or participant of ” Bar Fights ” it was ” an experience ” for me.

      The bar owner immediately removed the offending individuals from the premesis and it was back to business as usual in less than 5 minutes.

  22. says

    I have to say one more thing and give an example. I honestly believe that the Filipines does have a self confidence problem. I know it does.

    Many filipinos seem to think that Americans, and other foreigners, are better than them.

    That is simply NOT true.

    As an example: A few months ago I met my girlfriends family. A wonderful family. I really love these people. But what was interesting is that I was told they were nervous to meet me. It seems as though maybe they thought this American would not act right or I would think I was better than them…it was really interesting.

    These people were so polite and I guess they were very pleased, especially my GF’s Granny (love you sweety if you are reading this), that I acted properly and didn’t seem like I was better than them.

    You know what? It did not even cross my mind that I was better than them! What in the world would make me think I am better than them? Because I have a bit more money? Because I am an American? It almost seemed like they took a back seat to me.

    I am not better than these people…and to be honest I wish I had the strength many filipinos have. I bitch and moan and groan about the most ridiculous stuff you can imagine, while the daily lives of many filipinos are much more difficult than mine.

    Heck, if anything these people are stronger and better than me….but I am certainly not better than they are.

    Filipinos do NOT need to take a back seat to anyone in the world. The sooner they figure this out the better.

  23. says

    Bob: I’ll never forget an incident, I’ve written about it here before, that perfectly illustrates hiya… One of the housemaids’ kids, about 3 years old, was eating noodles or something with us, and I giggled because it was really cute (as kids can be) watching him. He saw me laugh and got really upset, crying. Rebecca told me what I did (I was just the big dumb Kano).

    To this day, Rebecca’s mother will try to shame her if she feels Rebecca is dressed inappropriately.

    It is way too simplistic to blame it on “colonialism” or other such things. Indeed, as I’ve researched on the Albularyo site, I’ve put many proverbs on there, many that are centuries old, that are intended to produce shame. They often predate the Spanish times, so that explanation doesn’t work (Though, the Spanish certainly encouraged the cultural affinity, no doubt about it). There are elements of Chinese culture in hiya, and, it may simply be a Filipino thing, originating here, when people lived in small family groups and had to listen to their elders in order to survive.

    That being said, there are times that I simply don’t understand the thought process behind hiya, probably never entirely will… It is how you are raised. I can, however, state that it appears that there is a big difference between how hiya was taught to Rebecca’s generation and how it is taught now. I think that it is slowly, very slowly, going away, at least in the cities, and being replaced by more western thinking.

    • says

      Interesting example, John, about the kid eating noodles. And also about Rebecca’s mom enforcing a dress code through hiya.

      Although I agree with you that hiya, or ulaw, is changing by the generation… I think it will still be strong a hundred years from now.

    • Mars Z. says

      So true observation, John. And if you happen to imposed hiya to your wife –will result in a big dose of “tampo” (you wrote about this before). I agree that upbringing is the cause of this due , like when you are kid, you cannot participate in the adult conversation resulting in growing up lacking assertiveness, also not looking in the eye when talking to somebody in authority or so they think.

      If you asked any Filipino here in the US what they could have done different early on in their career is being assertive. But the feeling of somebody thinking that you are boastful (mayabang) is always there even though you are exercising your leadership authority.

      Lacking of self-esteem and perceive inferiority, some of the Filipino in the group would not complain even they are right or have reasons. But they will complain to other Filipinos.

  24. Dwayne says

    Very interesting. I was wondering about this just didn’t know what it was all about. I am staying with a family here and they have a son that is almost unbearably shy and he is 17 years old. I found it so odd but just figured okay he is shy but I did wonder how anyone this shy could be successful in the harsh reality of the world. Your article put daylight on this. Thanks. For sure if I ever have any children here they will learn the value of self esteem, self respect and self love.

  25. rebecca Ferry says

    Being away from home for so many yrs, i blended well w/ other cultures and understand what you mean by “Hiya or Ulaw” in our culture, sometimes it’s quite frustrating and irritating everytime i went home for holiday and talked to my nieces and nephews about something like ” can you wear something comfortable when you’re at home” coz the weather is too hot, i told them , why don’t you just wear a short or shirt bcoz i’m the one feeling uncomfortable just by looking at you, something like this thing, but you know what my niece said, ‘Sorry Tita Vicky (Auntie Vicky) nahihiya kasi ako na makita yung legs k ( i was ashamed to show my legs), i said “what the heck are you saying? As far as i know you have a great legs coz you’re quite tall and slim and honestly my niece is quite pretty and cute and nothing to be ashamed of, it’s just quite normal nowadays to wear short if the weather is too hot but honestly until now i haven’t seen her wearing short at home (always wore jeans) and she’s already 18 yrs. old. i wonder how she’s going to run her life even in a very simple ways……
    Here’s my niece (Princez Aleli) just click on her photos), she’s a sweet girl and my favorite niece…

      • rebecca Ferry says

        Thank’s Bob i hope this “hiya” thing will not ruin my niece future, she’s so sweet but when it comes to other important things she seems has no idea how to handle it.

        • says

          Hi rebecca – since you have been abroad so long and have overcome the sense of hiya, I bet that you could play a big influence on your niece and help her overcome it!

          • rebecca Ferry says

            Yes, Bob, that’s what i’m doing everytime i went home and since they live on the other cities, i told them to stay w/ me when i’m home for the duration of my stay so we can have quality time together and to instilled in them everything i learned from living abroad but there’s some instances like they can’t believed i’m their aunt coz in my family i’m the only one who learned the value of hardship in my early age, i mean i matured fast than my age and learned to live independently so my principles and beliefs are quite opposite w/ them and then they asked me” Is that really you Auntie? i asked them , why, what’s wrong w/ me, you’re not like that before, they said, of course i changed and infact i worst than you all when i’m still in the Philippines but everything change now and i’m glad that it’s for the better.

            • says

              I am really glad to hear that! Its very important to respect one’s family, but there must be balance between family and one’s independence.

              The idea of having “hiya” i think is directly related to one’s family.

              With my wife it has been hard to have her understand that its ok to do things for yourself without it directly benefiting her family.

              For example, she loves to eat pizza… but she has lots of “hiya” if she goes out and gets pizza for herself without bring pizza home for her family.

              To Americans, this seems very silly… but she sees it as a selfish act and not being godly.

  26. sugar says

    Hey Bob – Good topic. Shyness is part of the Philippine culture. It will always be. There is shame mostly with poor ones. With their status in life, it becomes a hindrance to them. They think they should be accorded just certain things and not equal.

    As an example, I have a friend who is not poor but not rich either. I’d always treat her. We ate one time at an expensive fine dining restaurant. My treat. I told her to order what she likes. She ordered the least expensive one and refused to order any drink.. just wanted water. I’m likes it’s okay it’s my treat. She said she’s not used to such place and doesn’t have money and she’s embarrassed. It’s shameful. She even calculated how much of what she ordered would cost. I said don’t and no need to do that.

    That’s just with food.. what if it’s about work or something else. Because they’re too shy and shameful they’re poor, they would let others walk on them so to speak.

    • says

      Hi sugar – That sounds like a pretty typical encounter… very sad indeed. Probably the girl is so shy and reserved that it will be hard for her to overcome it and gain success in her life. Good for you to take her out like that!

  27. says

    From reading the article and the discussion. I can only account for my own personal experiences as a Filipino and a Catholic. We’ve always been taught to be patient, respectful to one another and respect our elders regardless. Likeways we’ve also been thought to be “ashamed” of.. this, that and few other little tidy bitsy things because others may percieve us to be different—in essence status quo is important. Yes, religion also plays a part in this because I grew up with a notion to cower in humbleness and some degree shame in front off-God/Jesus as being an authoratative figure.

    I was not taught to be inferior amongst Western society—but was taught they had all the resources and always had something better than us (err….indirectly taught being inferior much? to the haves and the have nots?). But we were also taught that we are better than our Western counterparts(as far as respect and humility and all that asian respect thing)-which shows anyway in our day to day living.

    Thanks to this article the notion that this is burried deep in our thoughts, culture-now got me thinking—it is very prevailant in our culture and now I ponder the history of why we are the way we are now. Having attended primary (until Grade 5) in Kidapawan where I was born. Public humility was just part of the norm which of course increases the being “ashamed” part in us. So we walk on the streets weary that if we do anything silly/shameful the repercusion would just that — being humilated in public.

    • says

      Hi JC – I found your comment quite interesting. I especially found it interesting that you were taught that westerners “had something better” than you, but you were also taught that you were better than your western counterparts! Wow, that is shocking to me.

      In my culture we are taught that all men are created equal. We were never taught that we are better than any other people in the world, regardless of their economic status, or anything else about them – we were equal, not better. Honestly, I find it shocking that young Filipinos are taught that they are better than others.

    • says

      I think there’s a bit of mis-understanding there Bob. It’s only in relation to the have’s and the have nots that I was taught the Western has more, and also the respect bit, that we have more…

  28. says

    Well Bob, you might have been taught that you are not better than others but trust me on this one….come back to America and ask people about the filipino people and country and I guarantee that if you put these people on a lie detector test and asked them if they thought they were better than filipinos and they said NO…they would flunk that test.

    I cannot even begin to tell you how many people I know that think they are BETTER because they are American. So many Americans think that. So many and I am not even sure how that can be argued.

    Since I started my travels to the filipines in January of 2008 I have been SHOCKED by the blatant negativity by many Americans towards the filipines and the people of the filipines. It has been a shocking shocking experience to me.

    There is NO doubt that MANY Americans think they are superior to people of other cultures. You might have been taught properly, and so was I, but many Americans have NOT been taught properly. I have lost friends over my travels to the filipines because of their attitude towards the filipino people and the country.

    And as far as filipinos being taught that they are better than others…that is a HUGE surprise to me because not one of the filipinos I have met, and that is thousands, has given me that impression.

    Well I re-read the comments that JC said and he said they were taught they were better as far as respect and humility….I 100% TOTALLY AGREE…because on average that is true.

    • says

      Please re-read what I wrote, Todd. I didn’t say that American’s don’t “think they are better” I said that we were not taught that we are better. That’s two different things. So, in the school that you went to, was there a lesson when you were taught that you were better than others because you were American? I never had such a class.

      • says

        Yes, its the idea called “Manifest Destiny”, The belief that God gave Americans the mission to promote and defend democracy throughout the world. Its one of the reasons Bush gave to go into Iraq.

        In his January 20, 2005 inaugural address, President Bush spoke to this issue:

        “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

        America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value…. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.

        So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

        This was a big issue during the Philippine–American War (1899–1902)

        • James Fox says

          Actually, the hostilities of the Philippine-American war continued on through 1913, during which time a million Filipinos lost their lives. It got started when Filipinos resisted the American occupation. While the US was haggling with Spain over the price of the Philippines in Paris, politically active Filipinos, who had been barred from attending the negotiations, were back home putting together a new government. President McKinley would have none of that! This documentary film premiered in 2001, and tells the “Rest of the Story.” I attended with a group of Filipinos and was amazed afterward that none of them had been aware of how momentous this war was…

    • James Fox says


      I think you’ve got it pegged! I agree with you 100%!

      When Bob wrote…
      “These Filipino kids, through the teaching of the society, come to feel that they are inferior to others (especially toward foreigners) just because they have less money, fewer means, etc. It is something that really rubs me the wrong way…”

      … it reminded me of my LAST comment in the article on the Philippine abbreviation question. No one replied. In fact, I suspect either no one thought much of it or were somehow “put off” by my remarks. Based on the history of the Philippines I’m aware of, your remarks above are right on the mark. The Spanish established a pecking order soon after their arrival, and you know who ended up at the bottom! I know it might be unrealistic to expect the power structure there there to embrace the idea of renaming the country, but it might help the people to lift their heads higher and get out of this cycle of corruption and poverty if they became aware of what colonialism did to them. And who knows, if the discussion widened, a movement to dump old Philip could emerge, and a new name could result!


      • says

        Hi James – Actually, I did reply to your comment about the name of the Philippines, perhaps you overlooked it. You made a 2nd comment, but it was a reply to Roberto and not directed to me.

        Personally, I don’t think that the cultural ulaw or hiya has anything to do with the Spanish. It is very prevalent in areas that the Spanish never conquered.

    • says

      I do not believe that Filipinos or asians have more respect/humility. Nor do they have less. We all show what we show in different ways. People are people with the same motivations, just different methods.

  29. says

    Hi Bob! Wow. I really like this article. But let me add some of my wisdom since I to am Bisaya. Ulaw, like many words in my culture can mean many things in different context or intentions. For instance, when you yell at someone “Wala Ka’y Ulaw” in public, then that means you’re telling them that they have no shame or honor and they should be ashamed of themselves. However, if you sayl “Ayaw og ka Ulaw, kaon lang dinha” (Don’t be shy, just eat) in a good way without trying to humiliate the person. Then that can be taken as a form of encouragement. Another way is of using Ulaw in a positive way is when you say ” Gusto gyud ka na ko kay wala gyud kay Ulaw-ulaw.” (I really like you because you are very courageous).

  30. jonathan says

    Hi Bob!

    Nice article. I think everything has been said about this Filipino trait called “hiya” so I’m not going to comment on that anymore. I’m just going to share my experience with “hiya” when I was a young boy. Me and my brothers were brought up in the usual Catholic Filipino family setting were discussions about any topic is usually done on the dinner table. And as always, our parents would instill in us on how to work hard after graduating school to get what we want in life and reminding us how difficult life would be for the undeducated. They would always tell us not to be “mayabang” (braggart) and be humble in front of God and people. So, one day, there I was, wanting to buy something from a sari-sari store, and I can’t even approach my father for a 1 piso coin (lol). It’s like my conscience is telling me not to ask that money (hiya conscience?) haha. And, during my birthdays, I would just wait what would my parents give me as my present, I would never tell them what I want but surprisingly they always knew what I wanted (lol). Well, I have become assertive as I grow older coupled with experiences of working in multi-cultural environments, but I still have that “sense of shame” called “hiya” in me. “)

  31. louie says

    Hi Bob- It’s ok, I was just expressing my opinion as I see it. We will always be friends Bob. We’re just exchanging points of view.

  32. louie says

    Hi New York Bob- I agree in many things that you said in your comments. Yes, “ulaw” might be just a state of mind. There are things and situations that when encountered by two different nationalities or culture, can drew different reactions, “ Changes in Altitude Changes in Attitude”.
    “I’m shy to you” spoken by a Filipino can mean many things. If I may, I’d like to borrow what Bob had said on this:
    “ they might mean that their English is not good enough, or they don’t know you well enough… but it could also be ulaw… they feel that they are not up to your station in life, and thus feel ashamed that they should not really be chatting with you, because you are on a higher level than they are. Hard to tell”.
    Of these 3 possibilities, I leaned more towards the first one. Most Filipinos who are not good enough to speak in English(me included), are shy to communicate in English. It also answers your impression that some are embarassed in their knowledge or usage of English. They’re afraid they might say gramatically incorrect sentence, or worse, because of their limited knowledge of the language they might unwittingly say improper words that could offend others.
    The second one isn’t much likely the reason. Filipinos are friendly and if they can comportably communicate in English would be gladly oblidge to a casual conversation.
    I’m not sure of the word “Ulaw” in Visayan dialect, but if Bob is correct in his definition of it, then perhaps there’s a difference in meaning from that of the Tagalog word “Hiya”.
    Having said that, the third one is remotely possible. Filipinos although shy at times, are accomodating and hospitable. They wont automatically shield themselves from others even if there’s apparent distance in their status in life. They’d kinda wait for signals. If for an example situation the one in higher status is friendly, then theres not much to be shy about. But if the other person behaved differently, then most likely that’s the time she/he’d just quietly shy away from a conversation.
    I think in most occurrences, it’s just the language barrier that compels many to say “I am shy to you”. Just my thoughts.

    • Bob New York says

      Hi Louie, and I thank you for your additional thoughts on this. Yes, I have become aware that in attempting converstaion with some Filipinos they have come right out and said they are sorry but their english is not very good so the conversation is very limited, even though when I am visiting in The Philippines I usually have a Filipino friend with me who, if need be, can be an interperiter.

      There are some that I have met in person that can carry on a conversation and vocally sound like they could have lived down the street from me here in New York !

      I have asked some that I know from my visits, if when we are internet chatting in text, if when they read what I say they have to convert it to their own language in their mind, then create a response in their own language, then convert it to English, then type it on their keyboard. Some have informed me that yes, they do this.

      That is a situation where I would honestly say I admire them for that, I am only fluent in American English and for someone there in Philippines to carry on a conversation with me doing all of those conversions in their own mind in near real time I think that would have my brain spinning around inside of my skull ! Many times when I type something in an IM or chat with some of my Filipino friends it always seemed as if their response was ” slightly ” delayed, It was after I asked some of them about what I have mentioned here ( the language conversion reading and writing back ) it explained the delay to me.

      I really admire them for that. So when it comes to being multi-lingual to almost any extent at all, I’m afraid I am the one that is not up to ” their station in life ” !

      Thanks again for your thoughts on this item, This whole article and the comments are very helpful to me as I am sure it is to others too.

  33. says

    Hi Bob,

    The concept of shame/reputation/self-worth is very prevalent in all of Asia, as I’m sure you know. And it is very baffling to many westerners, myself included. You hit the nail right on the head on all your points! I agree that Filipinos see things very differently than westerners.

    What bothers me most about it, is that Filipinos expect to be treated with respect and not be challenged, when they themselves have disrespected others and behaved poorly themselves! Linejumping, begging, anything they can do to intimidate or take advantage of foreigners.

    In one way, I can understand westerners not causing issue because it IS their country, not mine. But, one can also say, disrespect and poor behavior are never acceptable, anywhere, anytime. It’s a hard thing to grasp!

    Bob, please continue to make posts like this. You’re obviously adept at relaying information, and it is always a good service to your readers when you are talking about this subject. All westerners can benefit from learning more about this touchy subject of ulaw.

    • says

      Hi Mike – In Philippine culture things like jumping ahead of you in line are not considered bad behavior. To be honest, I don’t understand why, but I do know that it is just normal behavior! Haha

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Mike.

  34. Nina says

    Hi Bob, personally, ulaw in the Filipino culture is not limited to the concept of self-worth but is also a part of Filipino values, mainly of humility and modesty. We have been taught of those value in whatever we do, basically. It also goes hand in hand with respect, to oneself and to others as well.

  35. Nina says

    If I may add, Karl Rivera says it right to the point:) Ulaw can also be associated with the virtue of prudence. Somehow hiya or kaulaw prevents me from reacting badly or violently? in situations that may trigger such reactions. But as we know, not everyone of us who were taught of those values and virtues may display such.

  36. Katrina says

    I’m not sure about this but I think the concept of “hiya” being instilled among children has a lot to do with the strong “classism” the Philippines that has existed for so long where blue-collar workers are expected by the society to be “humble” while white-collar workers are expected to be confident. When someone who is not rich(not necessarily poor) acts confidently, generally they are labelled as “arrogant” (and remarking that they’re not rich enough to be acting like it ) while if it’s someone from upper class speaks with confidence, it is admired. Here comes the use of the word “lang”. Katulong lang siya — she’s just a house help.

    However, I do not think this mentality is exclusive to Filipinos. Asians seem to share this cultural trait. In Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, “maid” as a profession is deemed as “unsavory”. Not to bash any nation but I heard that in Singapore, maids are not entitled to minimum wage and they are often given just one day off per month and they are not allowed to have cellphones

    That being said, it has been “applied” to how we deal with other nationalities. People from “rich countries” are thought of superior to Filipinos, while people from countries that are less fortunate than the Philippines are thought of as inferior. This is not universally true as there are open-minded Filipinos but majority, I would say, are like that.

    Another thing, Filipinos and East and Southeast Asians in general seem to put too much emphasis on what people would say about them. Per se, it’s not bad but I think it’s taken t the extreme in this part of the world. Say, for example, *some* Filipino families who has one of their kins married to a national of a developed country take pride in it. On the other hand, people view those who are married to foreigners(esp from a developed country) to be “very lucky”. Not to offend anyone here but I’ve heard of stories where families would encourage their young daughters to work near Subic and Clark to try their “luck” to marry an “American”. This is a very sensitive and controversial issue so I’ll stop from there. I just want to try to demonstrate the psychology of many Filipino families.

    But this is just my penny.

  37. Jeff says

    Thank you for this article. It helps to explain attitudes and behaviors that I’ve struggled to understand. I’ve heard Filipinos talk about shame and being ashamed. However I never did quite grasp their meaning. This is primarily because I’m not too familiar with the Filipino culture and meanings are often times lost in translation. My view of feeling shame is more like having a sense of guilt for wrongdoing. This is being ashamed of yourself. To be ashamed of someone else is to be angry with that person for wrongdoing. So anytime I was told about feeling shame or being ashamed my first thought was, “Why? What’s wrong?”. Apparently this is not the exact meaning of ulaw even though it translates to shame. I think it would be better to teach people humility or to be humble. What is the Cebuano translation for this? I believe when society teaches people have shame without cause it has the unintended consequence of indoctrinating people to have a sense of inferiority. If I understand you correctly this is also your position. In my experience this practice is not limited to the Filipino culture. Anyway it could be worse. There are societies in this world that teach people from birth to feel victimized without cause. There are also societies that teach people superiority. The results are disastrous. Again, thank you for the insight.

  38. Bryan G says

    Every now and then an article is posted that results in many replies giving an insight into the subject with information and ideas coming from every angle. This one has certainly given me a greater understanding of aspects of Filipino culture that have puzzled me for a long time.

  39. Jun says

    Bob, Filipino kids ARE NOT TAUGHT TO BE SHY OR ASHAME but they’re taught to be shame on for doing something wrong. You won’t understand them because you were raised an American culture.

    • says

      Hi Jun – I am sorry, but I disagree. Filipino kids are indeed taught shame. Many young kids are shy or ashamed to even talk to me. When I ask why, the parents say it is because I am a foreigner. Even though I can speak their language, they are too shy or ashamed to talk to me. You sure are right, though, I will never understand that.

      • Jun says

        Bob, yes, I said they’re taught to be shame. The word shame meant mahiya in Tagalog and not hiya, shy, or ashame. They’ve a different ways of using each words in Tagalog or (Filipino languages). It really depends in a situation. If you were raised as a filipino you would understood them. Mahiya (shame), is a good part of a filipino culture because it teaches/reminds them to have a good behavior, be civil, or in whole to be a good citizen.

    • Katrina says

      If Filipino kids are not raised to be shy, why is it so common for Filipino parents to tell their kids “Nakakahiya”? Most kids in the Philippines grow up too shy to ask for a little help.

  40. says

    Filipino kids are ingrained with a lack of self worth, lack of self esteem due to ulaw being forced upon them at a young age. These Filipino kids, through the teaching of the society, come to feel that they are inferior to others
    That’s the one part of our cultures we have to bring here … Giving these kids a feeling of self worth … otherwise as the years progress we are all gonna be up the creek without a paddle.

    • says

      Hi Alfie – Nice to hear from you. I agree that there are some things about Western Culture that we can bring here, and would be a good mix. For the most part, I like Philippine Culture, but in the case of ulaw or hiya, I just don’t care for it.

      Take care, my friend.

  41. Tom Ramberg says

    Hi Bob,

    One thing also that I observed is that there is also a connection to the class system here. I have seen the children of wealthy people here treated like royalty by the helpers and as a result they are lacking in basic respect for others. There is one store that I frequent where the grandson of the owner runs around like a banshee with store staff walking on eggs lest they offend the prince. I have a nephew that has the same attitude and when he is here he never blesses his lola like the other children and often ignores when his mother calls him. In private I jokingly suggest that I would be happy to reprogram the lad. I am no way suggesting beating the child as my two children managed to avoid even a single spanking and turned out pretty good. I am always told by my Filipino friends that at first they are hesitant to speak with me because they have encountered some arrogant foriegners. I am always flattered when they tell me I am different and approachable. Maybe they think I was a rich kid before HaHa.

  42. says

    There are several cultural paradoxs here, I just don,t understand…another part of the shame issue is about the fear someone will laugh at them if they try something and it doesn,t work…they are paralized with a fear of failure…so many never try a business venture because they don,t want to be embarressed if it fails. In the Usa , theres a saying its better to try and fail , than to never try at all. Its just a bad attitude here about some things.

    • Katrina says

      I agree with you here. I think once source of the concept of shame is the tendency of Filipinos too gossip too much about other people’s life…even if they are not celebrities. So in turn, people tend to “be careful” not to fail.

  43. says

    hi bob,,,i like you’re article.maraming meaning ang ”ulaw” and dipindi yun sa na feel mo.example,you do something wrong and you feel guilty coz someone knows what you did,and you feel ”ULAW” sa eyaha and you feel also ”ulaw” sa emung self.but ”ulaw” is very important na maramdaman ng lahat ,,,,lalo na pag maka gawa ka ng mali.dahil pag ang isang tao hindi marunung mahiya it means ”BAGA xa ug FACE”,,,,,,marami pa sana akong gustong sabihin kaso lang i don’t know how to Xplane it.kaulaw man gud ko kay basin dili kaayo nimo masabtan.

  44. Joe says

    Hi Bob,Happy New Year! Whatever you want to call it…..some people don’t have any shame! I have a lot of experience with “No Shame”. They (in-laws),consider me as a “Walking ATM”.I stopped this awhile ago & things are not good between my wife & I. Hope the family survives! All that needs to be done is for them to LOOK for work! Nobody is going to knock on their door! All the best to you & your Family!

    • says

      Hi Joe – Sorry to hear that you experienced such problems. I think it is something that nearly every Filipina/American couple has to go through, though. Best of luck with dealing with it.

  45. Leah Lynn Geanga says

    Sorry to hear Joe my husband also could say the same, and to us married to a foreigner also feel embarassed of that kind of mentality. Many filipinos think that all foreigner´s are millionaires.I hate also when some relative ,telling me how fortunate my life compared to them coz i´m living abroad.They just don´t have any idea and even how i would explain they can´t understand it, if i say NO,OR I don´t have.. to anything they requested.And THEY say nasty wordx on me such greedy or murag sikinsa( Sir Bob could help explain such word in english hahahaha). Ask your wife maybe she feels the same way like I do, she´s also struggling… i guess.

    • Chasdv says

      Your right,many have experienced such.
      Maybe you need to tell them “Yes we earn 10 times more than Filipinos at home,but our cost of living here is 10 times higher also”.

  46. Chasdv says

    Hi Bob,
    Its a difficult situation for sure,which in some ways i can relate to,it also breeds low self esteem.
    Its not actually alien to some of us old timer westerners,lol.

    A variation of Ulaw was present in Victorian and Edwardian Britain and right up into the 1960′s.
    Bear in mind,i grew up in a small rural town,where everybody knew each other and most of each others business.Most went to church every sunday,many went twice,morning and evening.
    I had a very strict and disciplined upbringing,where certain standards had to to be kept.
    Some of my fathers rules,”don’t speak unless you are spoken to”/”respect your elders and those in authority”/”dress respectable/tidy and be aware of what others think,they will judge you on your appearance and manners”.
    If you broke those rules,you would bring shame on the family,the belt wasn’t spared neither.
    My fathers favourite rule “Children should be seen and not heard”,sounds very archaic now,lol.
    However,he was passing down the way he was brought up,there were no parental skill advisors in those days.
    Needless to say,i suffered from low self esteem as a youngster,joining the Armed Forces in my teens changed all that,never the same again,lol.

    Although i have spent the last five years learning to understand Philippine culture,there are some aspects i will never fully understand,sometimes i just have to go with the flow.

    I still find it difficult to understand my own upbringing,but life was very different then,and Asian culture has always been different,even today.

  47. Bryan G says

    If you really want to know about the basic culture and attitudes of any country .stand at a busy road junction for 10 minutes and that will tell you all you need to know! The standard of driving and courtesy to other road users is an exact mirror of the countries character – this works everywhere in the world. I do not think that anybody would disagree that this is especially true in the Philippines.

    • says

      Hi Bryan – I once had a friend from Canada visit here. After he observed traffic here for a while, he told me (in all seriousness) that Filipino drivers are the most polite drivers in the world. I nearly fell out of my chair!

      • Bryan G says

        I have worked in Toronto and Montreal and found the traffic much like the rest of North America – disciplined and safe.Where he came from I do not know! India has about the worst driving I have seen, then Nigeria Iran,Saudi in the 80 s followed by just about any Arabic speaking country you could care to mention. The saving grace for the Philippines is that in Manila where there is the largest concentration of vehicles it is impossible to drive fast so the accidents are low speed usually non fatal. The” me first ” mentality certainly slows things down – with discipline and patience the traffic would move considerably faster – it is a case of everybody trying to occupy the same piece of road at the same time with no thought for the consequences,much like the way the rest of society works! The U.K. has very disciplined and considerate driving – our accident rate is only bettered by a Scandanavian country – Sweden I believe. There are fewer fatal accidents than in the 1930 s when there was but a fraction of the traffic on the roads.

  48. says

    @Joe—that is so true! My cousins are the same. They somewhat expect us to have money dangling from everywhere. One of my cousin got pulled in the system erm.. jail.. that is. He was doing a legit work, but part of the work is to collect money. Apparently I forgot the term. But apparently you can collect part of the money and use that money for something else (but still in the same company) to make ends meet. Dodgy way of dealing business if you ask me. But anyway. From where/whoever he was collecting all these money from. At the end of the day he has to put it back to the company and he was short of P80,000.00. My mum went to visit (last breathing days of our grandma) and whilst she was there. They asked her for P50,000.00 so she can bail out my cousin. Uhmm.. My mum only had AUD$3,000.00 budget which includes all their trips to Boracay, Bohol and who knows where else she went.

    And we are Filos… ! eeep! The point I guess is, it doesn’t matter what colour your skin is. As long as you’ve been overseas or wait… “abroad” and returning back home they see you as a bank.

  49. Heidi says

    I agree with Dave Keiser in his comment. I think when people are rude and have no conscience, that to me signifies an example of “walang hiya”. They have no shame. They’ll do whatever they want. Shame and shyness are two different things when used in this term, and to me “walang hiya” means “no shame” and is not the same as “no shyness.”

  50. Ricardo Sumilang says

    In my opinion, the sense of shame, or “hiya”, is an innate characteristict of every human being regardless of culture. It is a powerful motivation that forms the basis of his personality throughout life. I don’t think it came from someplace, somewhere in time, nor is it exclusive to a particular culture. In practically all the Asian cultures, the sense of shame is more pronounced, which probably gives rise to the popular belief that is an Asian thing. Individuals are no exception. Whether the individual is an American or a Filipino, I believe that each person has a sense of shame, but in varying degrees. Since it is an innate character trait, I don’t believe that it is learned. Moreover, the sense of “hiya” is a profound Filipino value that should not be confused with being embarassed (“napahiya”), or shy (“mahiyain”).

    • ian says

      Richard- how do you see “guilt” in relation to shame ? Do you think there can be shame without guilt ? [ I havent read all the posts here so appologise if this has been discussed already]

      • Ricardo Sumilang says

        As stated, I believe that every person, regardless of culture or geography, is born with a sense of shame. Even if that person is raised in a an environment devoid of warmth and lacking in direction, I believe that that person still possesses some degree of shame, though probably not as developed as one possessed by an individual who was nurtured during his formative years under ideal conditions. While environment does play a very significant role in developing a sense of shame in each individual to a point where it becomes his life’s guiding principle, guilt, on the other hand, may be one of the driving forces behind shame. Also, possessing a well-developed sense of shame helps keep an individual away from situations that would potentially bring about a lose of face.

  51. says

    I think it will take many many years for a white guy to understand this. But is it just me – or does it sometimes feel a little bit like it’s being abused as an excuse not to come out of the comfortzone?

  52. Likko says

    I wanted to read the entire comments but I just really wanted to post something here so I wasn’t able to read everything. What I will say might’ve been addressed already, i don’t know.

    Well, Ulaw is an intricate concept that even me as a Filipino, cannot entirely comprehend but I will try my best to illustrate it. As I was growing up, I was always told by my mom to be respectful to the elders and always greet them by Mano or kissing their cheeks depending on our relation and with this, was asked to always show my best in front of them, that means no boisterous horseplay,etc. Basically, tying my hands to my sides and smile. The concept of Ulaw for me has mostly been whenever I’m around relatives, Titos, Titas, Lolos, Lolas, 2nd degree Titos, etc. You know the drill. But when I’m around people outside this group, I didn’t have to be Ulaw like I am in front of my relatives. I think there is another term for this in Bisaya, Maikog. I often call it the Ikog culture. Being Maikugon is like trying your most to avoid giving any kind of burden to others. Being Maikog prevents me from confronting people especially my relatives as I do not want to burden them with anything seeing that they have their own lives. It’s not being shy in the end. And it forced me to go out on my own outside the big family to venture for myself. Basically being Ulaw is only to a person’s in-group (i think). I think what this does is that it forces one to create his or her own path of success, thus expanding the capacity of one’s big family, which is, the goal of Filipino families in the end. It made me create my own success story and thus adding to the successes of my Titos and Titas and other relatives within the big family. And I’m Bisaya, too, btw…lol

  53. says

    I think the easiest way to explain it is quite simply … status and poverty… nothing more nothing less

    In the PI it’s where is your next meal coming from… i personally believe from my experience (no one get angry please no malice intended ) that Philippino’s are opportunists generally. If you lower your head and place someones hand to your forhead they might give you work or food or peso. If someone has money then you need to do this to get some … period that is it nothing more. The reason for this is (almost all of ) those with money lord it over all others. In the PI if you have money you can buy a court case and win you can buy a vote and win you can pay a fine for murder and walk away free……… Money is the ultimate power and it establishes a pecking order…… …….why be submissive to foreigners….> to lull them into a sense of superiority that they will not be robbed when they turn their head that you will not cheat them…. that you are not able to harm them………therefore the guard is lowered and things are gone.

    In any culture there isa pecking order……. in America we aquiesce to our boss, father, mother, grandparents, and police officers if we know whats good for us.

    In the PI the pecking order is determined by money primarily….. my ex fiance even though she was raised and put thru college by her parents .. she was rude and condescending to her parents… she did no work in the house and told everyone else what to do…. why … she was a teacher and had a big (lol) income. It did not matter that she was in debt to the neck and had nothing and never would because she is an idiot with money. It mattered that she had the prestigious job…….. later after we were no longer together and the community found out that she was a complete whore ( she performed in a pornographic movie ) everyone looks down on her yet is willing to forgive her only because they believe that there may be a time that they need her monetary help. This woman as I said is a teacher and it seems none will rock the boat or fight her corrupt family ties because it could affect their table. I am certain that once she is imprisoned for her crimes against the community and all know what she has done her entire family will be looked down on and most likely will leave the community due to their shame and none will support or aid them with food or peso….

    The filipina that I did marry lived in Shame for 7 years with no support or help from any because she had a child out of wedlock. Once she was married to me she could hold her head high again and she then could return to public relationships with her family.

    The PI is a culture of the table ……
    Your important if….. you can put food on my table or affect my ability to put food on my own table.

    In America food is easy….. we are a culture of the Jones’s
    Your important if…… you can give me an increase in money that i may gat more things
    we are not as afraid of any because food is easy all we are seeking is things usually bcause we just want to achieve more…………….

    sorry kind of long winded but the table domminates everything in the philippines

    The stranger begging in the street has no shame on you because you will not affect their income except in that moment and if you give then they have more on the table….

    Now this applies even if the person is rich because there are so many poor who fight each day to get a little on the table….

    Christmas what is most important……..put much food out and feed all that come…..

    New years put much food out….. etc

    Festival …….. put much food out……. etc

    Celebrate your own Birth Day……Put much food out and feed all comers again……..

    its all about the table……. if you are the step father then its about the table… the childs real father shud be shamed that the child has to ask the step father for money. The real father is not providing basic needs.

  54. reza naranjo says

    the reason why a person is not ashamed of asking a 5 peso to you is that probably he is a beggar. the second reason probably is that he was at ease with you. you know probably the, concept of “kaututang dila,” that person has a warm feeling with you, he can easily budge in with you because he feels you, it does mean that you are warm person, easily to deal or you might be a approachable person. Take note that you should consider also the personality aspect, it would be bias then to interpret a culture base on the culture itself you need to consider also personalities of one individual especially his background as well, and you even cite the SIR, this is not just only smooth but also complex in nature, the more you stay long here and the more you mingle with Filipinos, the more you understand the Culture. Another thing, you should understand also that Filipinos are relational, the society function as one organ interrelated with each other, not individual. Please search for these books: clash of Culture by Melba Maagay, Ed Lapis: Papaano maging Kristianong Filipino, and some of the writings by Felipe Landa Jocano with his studies on the perception of the expats towards their Filipino co-workers.

    I even disagree on what you said that you can’t understand our culture, you just need to open your mind and your heart for you to understand ours, by the way, you are in the right track. You need to become one “Pusong Pinoy” If my American friend reads your article, he will be debating with you all day long, that’s “Pusong Pinoy,” as Pinoy welcomes you with open arms you should welcome them with open arms as well.

  55. reza naranjo says

    the only way that you can understand our culture is that “when you eat balot,” what i meant of eating balot is not to eat balot literally bu to go in the heart of the culture and that is to be “PUSONG PINOY PERO LAHING AMERICANO,”LOL.

  56. Raf says

    Bob, I think you keep insisting ulaw or hiya as a negative thing because you think it just means “shame” as understood in the western world. In fact it could be bad or good depending on how it was used. Filipinos just translate hiya or ulaw as shame because that’s the only word that is the nearest equivalent. The western meaning of shame is just a very small part of it. The truth is “hiya” covers a whole way of thinking or culture that’s a whole lot more than your “shame” means. It really covers a whole lot more in so many levels than the western concept of shame.

    • says

      So, Raf, I have a question for you as I am curious. Why is it that you say that as a westerner, I am unable to understand Filipino thinking, however, you say that you understand western thinking? Seems a bit biased to me.

  57. Raf says

    Bob, Because ever since childhood or became aware I was exposed to western media. As a child, I mostly watched american shows and read or listened to western news so I learned american culture and sort of gleaned what was exaggerated from the truth. I got to learn and appreciate american humor and american way of life. My brother was in the US navy and whenever he would come home, he would tell us his experiences of how americans are, of what americans are like, of what american life is, etc.

    I was a voracious reader while growing up and I’ve read tens of thousands of american contemporary books and novels starting from hardy Boys, nancy Drew as a child and going on to the western books by Louis L’amour, Max Brand, Zane Grey, etc, as i grew up. I Read bestsellers by Ludlum, harold Robins, etc. I even read the Mills & Boon and Harlequin romance books if there was nothing else to read. American and world history was also part of my high school and college curriculum.

    I also had an american as a block classmate in high school and an american classmate in college in several classes. I also had an black american family lived next door when I was in my teens. Aside from that, I have lived here in the US for almost two decades now, truth is, even then when I have just arrived here, there weren’t really that much culture shock for me because I was aware of what is. Of course there were some surprises but most were like affirmation of what i read from books and saw and heard from western tv shows and news.

    So I think it’s safe to say that I understand western thinking more than you understand Filipino thinking. Maybe i’m a special case (I don’t think so) but I’m sure the ordinary Juan Dela Cruz knows more of american culture than what the ordinary joe Schmoe knows of Filipino culture.

    • says

      If you think that watching US tv is an indication of culture, Raf, all I can say is good luck to you.

      I am happy for you, though, that you are such a “special case.”

  58. says

    Hi Bob,

    I am starting to love your website. :-) This was shared by my friend and when I found out that you speak “Bisaya” i felt comfortable. hehehehe

    I am glad that you are learning the language. This “Ulaw” thing is a bit normal to Filipinos. How I wish it would change in years to come.

    I am reading write ups here and I am enjoying it.

    Keep it coming… :-)

    • says

      Jess, thank you so much! I appreciate your kind comments.

      Yes, I can speak Bisaya, and I really enjoy it, learning the language made my life a lot more enjoyable, I can tell you that.

      Keep visiting, and please share your comments, I”m always interested in hearing from my readers!

  59. Anne says

    Hi,Everyone Maayong Buntag: I’am filipina (Bisaya Ako) living in UK .My husband is learning cebuano too hehehe.Good luck Bob:)

    • says

      Hi Anne – Maayong buntag pud sa imo. Kumusta ka ba? Kabalo pud ko ug bisaya, nageskwela ko’g bisaya sa miaging upat ka tuig. Maayong swerte sa imong bana. Ayo ayo.

  60. viahfey says

    Hello Bob,
    Maayong buntag!i’m living here in america but i came from davao too..My hubby was so happy reading your website to give him more knowledge about moving how tp live in philippines esp. in davao which i was born.
    We looking forward to relocate by 2014 (if God’s will)…starts a new life being around with my family and relatives.
    Thank you for all your good info that makes him feel good to proceed our plan.
    More power and God bless..


  61. Fred says

    Hi Bob,

    To come from this at a completely different angle I’ll ask this question, “Have you ever heard of the crab pot theory?”.

    This concept is very common all over the world. It is basically this.

    If you have a big pot full of crabs they will try to get out of the pot. They will climb all over and on top of each other in their attempts to escape the pot. This is especially true if the pot is being heated.
    Now as one crab manages to hook a claw over the edge of the pot and it looks as if it’s freedom is imminent the other crab(s) in the pot will drag the escapee back into the quagmire at the bottom of the pot.

    This method of controlling people through unearned or unwarranted shame is nearly universal in it’s application. It is a subtle yet powerful cultural mechanism. It is partially rooted in laziness and low self esteem. i.e.

    If you escape and I do not what does that say about me? What does it say about you? What do I say to myself because I have not escaped? And what might others think about me? Best to let no one escape. That way no one has to look in a mirror and find something lacking.

    Earned shame is a different story altogether. But what and why is there shame at all?

    I suggest you read John Galt’s(really Ayn Rand’s, the author) philosophy. It can be found towards the end of Atlas Shrugged, a book she published around 1957.

    Take care,

    • says

      Hi Fred – Yes, I am very familiar with what you are calling the “crab pot theory”. Here in the Philippines that is known as “Crab mentality”. It is so true, and you have hit the nail on the head.

      Additionally, I am familiar with Ayn Rand’s books, especially “Atlas Shrugged”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *