My acculturation in the Philippines, a new series

Culture is something that I care a lot about.  It is something of a hobby of mine to study Philippine Culture, learn from my studies and then try to apply what I can to my life.  Because I am living in the Philippines, I believe it is important for me to adapt the culture as much as I can.  I say this for two reasons, firstly because becoming more culturally similar to those around me will improve my life, and also because showing respect for the culture will make a good impression with Filipinos who come in contact with me.

There are many ways by which I study the culture.  I am not talking about reading books and such, although I do read about the Philippines fairly extensively on the Internet.  My primary means of studying culture, though, is to just observe things that occur when I am out in public.  Watching how Filipinos do things, their reactions to things around them, and such, are really the best way for me to learn about the culture of the Philippines.  So, this is my primary means of studying the culture and deciding which aspects of the culture to work into my own life.

What is “Acculturation?”  According to, the definition of Acculturation is:

  1. The process of adopting the cultural traits or social patterns of another group.
  2. The result of this process.
Bob and his 3 boys
Bob and his 3 boys

I have come to the point that I feel that after having lived here for 12 years that I feel my acculturation in the Philippines is complete.  No, that does not mean that I live 100% by Philippine Culture, but what it means is that I have gone as far with the process of acculturation as I wish to go.

In many ways, I have become very Filipino in the way that I live.  In other ways I am still very American.  There are some parts of Philippine Culture that I do not care to adapt.  These are mostly personal lifestyle things.  When I go out in public, I believe that I blend in very well with Filipinos, culturally.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to write a number of articles on different areas of Philippine culture and how I have adapted myself to those ways of life.  In some areas of the culture I will write about how and why I have chosen not to adopt the culture of my adopted country.

I will say that as I have adopted culturally, I have found my life has become more enjoyable and happier.  As I reflect on why that is, I believe it is because I am no longer “swimming upstream” in those aspects of my life.  I am “going with the flow” instead of fighting the culture, if you know what I mean.  That said, though, I believe that any 1st Generation immigrant to a country will never adapt 100% to every cultural norm in the country they move to, which is why there are some areas where I have decided that adapting is not in the cards for me.  I would expect that my children will adapt much more fully than I have.  In fact, I suppose I should say not that they “will” but rather that that have adapted, because really they embrace the Philippine Culture.  In the house, though, they also display many aspects of being American, as we live quite an American lifestyle in the house, and the kids pick up on that, of course.

A few weeks ago, I was having a talk with one of my sons.  I don’t recall the exact topic, or how we got to this point in the conversation, but I asked my son a question:

Do your friends consider you to be a foreigner?

Bob & Jean
Bob & Jean

I was kind of surprised at his answer.  He told me that they do not.  To his friends, he is Filipino.  I was surprised, and I was also somewhat happy as well.  Why was I happy? Because being a foreigner can present challenges at times, and I like the idea that my son is accepted here and not treated in a way that he is “different” as I am and other foreigners are.  I believe it will make for a more pleasant life for him, and a life with fewer challenges.

I know that some of you probably think that this is not important, and won’t affect you should you decide to live here.  But, believe me, it will have a big effect on you.  You will either swim upstream and get aggravated, having an unhappy life, or you will make adaptations, enjoy life more, and be a more well rounded person.  It’s up to you.

So, tune in over my next several articles, and I’ll be delving deeper into this topic, and addressing specific situation and issues dealing with my acculturation to the Philippines.

Articles in this series:

Post Author: MindanaoBob (1353 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.

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  1. John Leick says

    Bob, I enjoyed this and look forward to your series. This is particularly interesting to me, and do read quite a bit on the subject. The ability to assimilate into a culture is high on my list as I choose where to move. Example: I was very close to moving to Hong Kong in August of last year, but it just did not feel right, and I heard about how difficult it is to penetrate into the local culture, so my friends would all be expats, not what I was looking for. I have traveled extensively to the RP for 13 years, but never lived there, but I can tell the Filipinos are some of the most accepting people I have found, way above anywhere else I have traveled.

    • says

      Hi John – Thanks for your interesting comments. I agree that Filipinos are a very accepting people, the vast majority of them are anyway. That said, I can attest that adjusting to living here is still difficult for most westerners. But, having been here for nearly 12 years now, I feel that I’ve made the adjustment, at least I’ve made it as far as I wish to go, which is pretty far. There are still Americanisms that remain, but that is what I choose. Thanks again, John.

  2. Mike says

    Perhaps, the point best illustrated by this article is that, like many things in life, it takes time to become “in-sync” with Philippine & local culture. Therefore, any foreigner planning on living in this country will need the experience of actually being there, before they, or another, could assess their suitability for doing so.

    • says

      Yeah, that’s probably true, Mike. What people learn by vacationing here is really not relevant, as I am sure you know already, having lived here. You can only learn if you live here, what you do about it after learning is a personal choice. I choose to assimilate as best I can.

  3. John Miele says


    Anyone can simply glance at your writing and immediately know you are pretty much adapted.

    In my case, I’m about 60%… There are still things that make me crazy, but, you know what….

    In nearly every instance it is something that would make me crazy anywhere, not just here. (I’m a bit hyper and high-strung to begin with)

    To be fair, the longer I’ve been here, the easier it gets after the “honeymoon period” wears off. I do have a personal resolution to learn more Tagalog this year… I really think that will make some of what still gets to me easier to bear.

    • says

      Hi John – I know what you mean. There are things that still make me crazy, but I am much better about controlling my craziness than I was in the past. Also, the number of things that make me crazy is only a small percentage of what it was.

      Good luck on the Tagalog.. I know you are quite a busy person with your work and all, but I will say that learning the language does make life here a lot more enjoyable.

  4. joseph says

    Wow what a broad subject matter. Culture refers to a few different things. As Usual I will probably put my foot in my mouth and so forth but try and read between the lines: first off, I think it is a great topic and I Look forward to future segments. You have assimilated well in the Country by your own choosing by adopting many aspects of the culture here. While I have too many issues with learning a language I feel comforatable around Filipinos and many are generally accepting of me. However to be honest I have real prejudices that apply no matter where I am (in the world) and that is with the Culture of Ignorance which I feel the MASSES here excel in. I mean to me their ignorance of practically everything precludes me from wanting to be around them in any way shape or form except if forced to in a polite atmosphere like a party with my inlaws. Philippine culture has been diluted over and over again with all the conquerers here over time. So what exacly is Philippine culure. Hard to say. Especially their brainwashing from the Church the biggest conquerer and poisoner of their identity. Now the majority of my filipino friends here cultivated over 30 years come from the upper levels of Philippine society and those that do not are still very well educated and traveled and have excellent knowledge of the world around them. They have beeter cultural knowledge with the arts and civilized society elements. They of course have Filipino culture as does the average person here but due to their knowledge I actually learn more about the philippines. I will quit now as I could go off on many tangents and get myself more in trouble

    • says

      Indeed, Joseph, it is a broad subject, very broad. That is the reason I elected to break it down into a series of articles.

      I must say, I was surprised to read it when you said that you feel comfortable around Filipinos, because in the past you have said the quite the opposite, so I applaud you for that. The way I see it, if we choose to live in the Philippines, getting along with Filipinos is a very important thing.

      In my opinion, Filipino culture has not been diluted by the different countries that have ruled the Philippines over the centuries, the culture has been reshaped by that, and ended up in the current culture. To be honest, I have no idea what the culture was 500+ years ago before the country had gone through such conquests.

      Like you, I have many friends who are from the upper crust of Philippine society. However, I also have friends who are poor, and not part of that level of society. I find good things about both types of people.

      • joseph says

        Yes perhaps I have become more patient in my old age LOL. Frankly, I still have the same challenges with the typical people you would run into in gmall, VP, MCCC but I try and avoid verbal contact at all costs so I can keep my calm aura. Honestly, I try and stay in Ayala establishments like greenbelt, abreeza where the brain power meter moves off of zero every once and awhile. It is interesting in that whenever I see an expat they are either with a filipina, by themselves or with a group of other expats. The reality here is most expats (I have spoken to hundreds about this very topic) truly want nothing to do with filipinos as they can’t relate and only put up with inlaws when they have to. Even the ones that have made an attempt to learn the language say there only advantage is they can get things done easier but that is it. You are the exception that actually enjoys them. Now again I am not talking about the monied, educated, traveled filipino who funny enough are more interested in us expats than we them. I do enjoy their company and I can talk to them about stuff.

    • Jim H says

      I’m not really sure how to put into words what I felt when I read your comments Joseph; but I’ll try.

      I like the Filipino people very much. I miss the Philippines like I belong there, and I love to watch, sometimes in amazement, the way people behave…I do that in the West too though, and in fact have more of an urge to complain about their stupidity here.

      I feel that ignorance is not entirely the fault of the ignorant in the Philippines; people tend to learn only what we need to know. I’m struggling for words with this, but I guess I could sum it up by saying that it seems as though you have some kind of “superiority complex”. For the life of me, I can’t understand why you choose to live there. I’m quite offended by your use of language such as “…their ingorance of practically everything”.

      Of course, intellectually, you have some points with which I cannot help but agree, such as the influence of the Church, but at the end of the day, some things simply don’t need to be said if saying it won’t benefit anyone.

      I like to engage in intellectual conversation at times, other times I like to be half drunk and enjoy the less intellectual subjects. My approach to life is “just chill out and let people be who they are”, though there was a time when I was a grumpy fellow like yourself too; I’m happier now though.

      Have a great day.

  5. Simon Harrison says

    Thanks for the article Bob. I am an Australian who has lived in The Philippines 15 yrs. It been so long I do feel half Philippino myself. To me the bottom line is that there is good and bad everywhere and in every place. It is somewhat of a paradox. There are things I cant take, like what happens to the enviroment here and the corruption but there are other things like the family values, the way older people are treated within the family and the over all friendliness which I would have to say are superior to Austalia..

    • says

      Hi Simon – Of course, I agree with you wholeheartedly that there is good and bad everywhere. No doubt on that! You are so right about environmental things. I am no environmentalist, but things like throwing trash in the streets and such is so easy to change and keep the environment clean and healthy for all of us.

      Thanks for your comment, Simon. I hope to hear from you more often!

  6. says

    Good article Bob…..

    Learning the culture here, now seems more important than learning the language.

    I took a 3 month language class, and what I learned about the culture during the class was as much a learning experience as being taught the language.

    I think what most foreigners don’t do when they first come to live here, is to give respect to the culture. We can adapt, and most do over time. For some the “battle” never ends.

    I don’t know where I am percentage wise, but I think the timeline will vary from individual to individual.

    Learning at least some of the local language will also make the acceptance part a whole lot easier. A simple “maayong buntag” will make a face light up.

    • says

      Hi Greg – oops, sorry, it looks like I missed replying to you. Sorry for my oversight.

      During my language classes, I also learned a lot about culture. And, speaking and understanding the language, I learn about culture just about any time I go out in public. I think it is very natural. You are so right when you say that even just knowing a few very basic sayings in the language that is spoken locally makes a huge difference in your interaction with Filipinos. I know that is very true for me.

  7. Cheryl says

    One of my goals this year is to learn a LOT more Tagalog. Bob is right, when you learn the language here it makes things more enjoyable and your life here easier. Many would think that because many filipinos speak English fairly well that would be enough for an English speaking person.

    And it many cases it is, but to be able to speak “their” language is huge to me. One of the reasons is that I really do like to watch some of the TV shows here along with news shows. It is obviously very difficult to follow these programs and movies when you have no idea what they are saying!

    As far as the cultural thing. I have not lived in the Philippines full time nearly as long as many of you, but I have been here many times in the last four years.

    I do NOT live in fancy hotels, I live a much more modest lifestyle, and I really have adapted to the culture well. Some of my filipino friends laugh and say I am more filipino than they are. Not true of course, but I love many aspects of the filipino culture.

    When you get here you would be much better off realizing that you are not going to change things here much. But you can change how YOU respond to what goes on here. There are so many wonderful things about the Philippines, and there are things that would make most foreigners pull their hair out.

    As Bob said, learn to go with the flow. Don’t flip out over things you are NOT going to change. Try to learn why they do things the way they do and go from there. I will say this: Being kind and courteous to a filipino goes a long long ways in this country. Showing respect for this country will get you much more respect from filipinos than constantly saying negative things all the time and throwing temper tantrums.

    There is one more thing I want to comment on that is difficult for me to understand and one thing that has taken the longest for me to deal with…the garbage! I do not understand why filipinos (many of them) think it is ok to just throw trash on the ground. It seems very strange to me.

    I understand that garbage collection services are not as efficient as in America and many other foreign countries…but to literally just PURPOSELY throw trash on the streets and into rivers puzzles the heck out of me.

    Anyway, any of you that want to spend a large amount of time in the Philippines should really try to learn the culture and quickly realize that YOU are not changing much of anything here. So go with the flow and appreciate the wonderful people of the Philippines.

    • says

      Hi Cheryl – I really agree with what you say in many areas. The language thing is huge, and I will be writing more about that in a future article in the series. Learning to speak the local language is one of the best things I have ever done here. You are right also that even a small amount of kindness displayed to Filipinos is repaid ten fold. It is very important and impressive to them when a foreigner is kind, it is actually surprising to many.

      Regarding the garbage collection, I cannot speak for Manila, or other places, but here in Davao the garbage collection is every bit as efficient as it is in the USA, in fact it is better. We have garbage pickup at our house 6 days per week! The truck comes daily, and for free. So, I can’t complain a bit about that! However, I fully agree about seeing people throwing their garbage in the streets!

      • Roy says

        Hello Bob,
        Interesting discussion. But I guess what Cheryl pertains to are the lack of garbage bins in sight so people can throw their trash. I am also appalled by this. People in nice cars open their car windows to throw trash on the street. But you can bet that they insist that you remove your shoes when you go inside their house. There has to be some form of disconnect between Pinoy’s own abode vs his environment outside of the house. How else to explain it? In my gradeschool, we were taught to put candy wrappers in our pockets until we see trash bins. So I think education did it for me. Obviously, a different cultural mind set needs some fixing.

        • says

          Hi Roy – I understand what Cheryl was saying about trash, I was just commenting that Davao City is different than much of the rest of the Philippines. Davao City does have trash bins all over town so that you can throw out your garbage. About 7 or 8 years ago, the City purchased thousands of high quality trash bins for this purpose, and you can’t go anywhere in the city without seeing them. So, I was not saying that the Philippines is necessarily “easy” when it comes to garbage collection and such, just that Davao City is, so parts of the country are moving in the right direction.

  8. El Moro says

    Hi Bob,

    I agree with Ms. Cheryl’s observation regarding the attitude of us many Filipinos mindless throwing of garbage in the wrong places. In my opinion, those of us who do this thing are:

    1. Those persons who don’t have garbage bins/cans/ in their very own homes.
    2. Those children and youngsters who lack briefings and reminders from their parents; and
    3. Those persons who simply lack discipline.

    In my opinion, throwing of garbage anywhere is more of an attitude than a cultural thing. In my visits to remote areas, I observed that the houses and surrounding of local folks are quite clean. Beside the stairway leading to the door of their nipa houses, they stock a pail of water for the guest to wash their feet before entering the house. Usually, they have a pit at the back of their homes where they bury or burn their garbage.

    Again, congratulations Bob for the nice topic you have for us to read and enjoy in the coming weeks to come.

    • says

      Hi El Moro – Personally, I would say that the act of throwing trash here in the Philippines is cultural, and certainly not limited to the cities. I have been in plenty of very remote places where the ground was littered with candy wrappers and other such garbage.

      I’m glad you like the topic, El Moro, and I look forward to reading your comments on coming articles.

  9. Lenny says

    I quess it depends on what kind of man .. person.. you are .. I am a people person lived here 4 years and I just flow with everybody here no problems. I have thought at times about myself being a different person here (American) But the people here never give me a reason to to think any farther than that.. I mix good here with everybody and I just put myself into the crowd and I have a good happy life here.. The ways of life and traditions here differ some.. but I learn as I go.. and adapt to them … No Biggy

  10. dans says


    culture adaptation is very important in order to survive in a country other than yours, and i think that is one of the reason why there are 12 million filipinos scattered all over the world, the abilities of filipinos to adapt quickly makes them very successful to live in a different country.

    • says

      Hi dans – thanks, and I agree that adaptation is very important indeed. I am not sure I agree with your thoughts about Filipinos adapting quickly, though, I know that I hear from a lot of Filipinos overseas who are very homesick.

      • dans says

        hi bob,

        i think homesickness is very different from culture adaptation, one could miss their home and still enjoy the culture of the host country.

        • says

          OK, dans, now I understand. In your previous comment you said “adaptation,” which to me includes things like homesickness. So, you are really talking about acculturation. I agree with you mostly on that.

      • Ricardo Sumilang says

        I consider myself completely immersed and assimilated into the American culture, but hardly a day passes when I don’t think of the Philippines, though probably not as overwhelming as many OFW’s feel. Regarding culture adaptation, it is entirely possible to assimilate into the host culture without losing one’s native cultural identity and values, which inevitably results in a dual identity. Ethnics all over the world have been doing this for ages – conforming with the dominant culture by day, and using chopsticks instead of forks when they return home to their enclaves at night. This intermingling of sometimes contrasting values in fact is a wonderful thing, for it strengthens the individual’s understanding of, and ability to navigate, both cultures – his and his host’s.

  11. dans says

    my understanding bob is, culture adaptation is when a person adapts to a culture without losing his own culture nor modifying its own culture, while acculturation is a process of modifying ones culture with another which will result to entirely new culture, just like the american culture, there is no single american culture but many, filipinos around the world can adapt to their host’s culture but not necessarily to change the host culture.

  12. says

    Hi Bob – Well, I guess it is time for your next big step: Philippine Citizenship! Being a dual-citizen may have a couple of drawbacks, but I believe the benefits outweigh them. Think of all of the articles you could pen relating the experience of going through the process and life as a new citizen. 😉

    • says

      Hi Paul – As you know, I have been considering becoming a citizen of the Philippines for several years now. In fact, I have made a firm decision during the past 2 weeks. I am not ready to make an announcement here on LiP, but I will be doing that soon.

  13. mike cowan says

    I’m sorry to hear that Joseph won’t be leaving his mint julip on the plantation veranda to join us in the nipa hut to share a bottle of Tanduay. Believe it or not, Joe, it’s your loss. How sad to travel from Club Med to Club Med and think that I’ve seen this great and interesting world. I’ve learned plenty from the ‘common folk’. Especially with how to achieve the same results without the high-tech & fancy tools that we grew up with. Or maybe to handle a local problem without waiting for the ‘Authorities’ to arrive. (or maybe how to start a new paragraph) And Bob, I think you’ve found the webmaster for your new site:

  14. chasdv says

    Hi Bob,
    Interesting new venture.
    Filipino culture can be as difficult to get to grips with as understanding women,lol. I will follow with interest.

    Good luck in all your new ventures,

  15. Dale says

    I just found your blog and I must say that I enjoy it very much. I have lived here in the Philippines for quite a few years as well, and I am pretty adapted to the culture, and even speak quite a bit of Tagalog and even a little Visayan. I absolutely love it here, and have recently taken to traveling to experience more of the culture. Living here the first year, maybe even two, was a bit tough but once I gave up trying to live like an American and embraced the local culture, I have found that I am so happy. I think I am a bit younger then most of your readers, and a lot of my friends asked me why I came here in the first place. I told them the love of a Philippine citizen can be the truest and most honest love one can find, and that is what brought me here, and that love has grown into a love for the country, the culture, and life in general here. Thanks for all the wonderful stories and information you share Mr. Bob. I will actually be working on my Dual Citizenship soon through my marriage, and was curious if you had thought about this as well. I have read all the laws, and I am pretty sure I can handle this on my own, as I have done all my previous Visa conversions and such alone, the right way, by the letter of the law, but I just wondered if you had any additional advice you may like to offer. Thanks so much po, I appreciate your blog, and look forward to your response.

    • says

      Hi Dale – I’m glad you found my site, and thank you for sharing your story. Much of what you say mirrors my experience as well, and I am happy that you are enjoying your time in the Philippines.

      Not sure if you are aware, but the Philippine Dual Citizenship law applies only to former Filipinos. Foreigners like you and I do not qualify for Dual Citizenship. One of the requirements of becoming a naturalized Philippine Citizen is that you must renounce your previous Citizenship. There are ways around it where you can keep both, but strictly speaking, that is not within the letter of the Naturalization law of the Philippines.

      Good luck to you, my friend.

  16. Katherine says

    Hi Bob

    I just found your blog today and I’m enjoying it very much. I plan to stick around because I have lots of questions and much to contribute. My partner and I are planning to move to The Philippines this fall. Your blog is useful. It is makkng me think what I have to do to get ready. I have been to The Philippines before so it won’t be a complete shock. But now that we’re planning to stay I need to think about makkng money and setting up house.

    • says

      Hi Katherine – Thanks for visiting my site, and please keep coming back! I’ll be looking forward to reading your comments int he future.

      Remember, visiting the Philippines and living here are two very different things. When you come to live, you will experience a fair amount of culture shock no matter how many times you have visited. 😆

  17. Katherine says

    I’m typing on a Nook and it is wonky and cumbersome. Anyway I look forward to more thought provoking discussion as we get ready to go. I have soooooo much to say about culture because, in our 12 years together we clash on occasion. But plan to sprinkle those comments throughout the blog over time.

  18. Bruce Michels says

    Can’t wait to here your stories. I’ve always said When in the Philippines do as the Filipno. When in America do as an American. Besides the more you learn your asawa’s culture the better the bond between you become no matter where your at. And a happy wife is a happy man.

    • says

      Hi Bruce – Really, even though Feyma grew up in the Philippines, I would not say it is her culture. She became very American in the 10 years that she lived there, and actually forgot much about Philippine Culture. She is relearning the culture alongside me, as I learn about it.

  19. Erik Pedersen says

    Hello Bob, your thoughts remind my of a good piece of advice I received when I moved to India many years ago: Remember you are not here to change India, but for India to change you. I think this can apply to the Philippines as well. Of course, there is no comparison of the culture shock one experiences when moving to those two countries (I lived in Davao 2005-7 and fell totally in love, – can’t wait to move back).

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