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

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

How to Move to the Philippines Manual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Martin

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur. Bob is an American who lived in Mindanao from 2000 until 2019. Bob has now relocated back to the USA.

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Ed Griffin
Ed Griffin
11 years ago

Thanks Bob! I will be sure to keep this in mind the next time I am there.

Henry
Henry
11 years ago

Hi Bob, Oh now this rings true to my last visit to Davao. My girlfriend took me into town to visit her neice. Now since they knew I (the foreigner) was coming, a full meal spread was prepared. Was this their typical meal or a meal made in my honor? I lean toward the latter on that question, but I may be wrong. Their home was a simple, modest place, but very comfortable. The meal that was laid out was awesome! I hadn't eaten that well in a long time! After I had my fill, I started thinking of this… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago

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

Ron LaFleur
Ron LaFleur
11 years ago

Bob this happens here in our house. When someone is coming over Marlou has the oven working. She will offer everything and anything that she can to be hospitable. We have a very prolific social life here with some Filipina having a party just about every week. What I always find interesting is the baggie platoon. At the end as everyone leaves the host is filling large baggies and passing them out to take home. I got introduced to this on Marlou's first party. I wanted her to be happy so I catered in BBQ brisquit,ham, and burned ends. I… Read more »

tonka
tonka
11 years ago

when i was in davao visiting my wife sister the samething happen to we walked introduced her family and let eat no way i 3 plates of food early and was still full no, no, you eat i said full you big man you need food ( i'm 6'5" ) my wife say you must eat i got a plate a big plate shook my head i cant eat this tooooo full i took my plate outside to eat a few minutes later a little girl walked the on her face i knew she was hungry i gave my plate… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago

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

MindanaoBob
11 years ago

Hi tonka – You have no worries… they offered enough times that they were certainly sincere!

Evelyn
Evelyn
11 years ago

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

Jon
Jon
11 years ago

Bob this is one of your articles that is indispensable reading. The only exception I would give is if they know you are coming and clearly have a meal planned for your arrival. It still may put a big dent in the budget (it almost certainly is) but if they obviously went all out for your arrival then you have to eat…or they really did waste a huge portion of family budget. An observant eye at the simplicity of the house, furnishings, etc. reveals what level of sacrifice was made for you and perhaps others to have that meal. So… Read more »

Bruce
11 years ago

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

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