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Philippine Society can be very formal

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In many ways, the society of the Philippines is quite formal, and if you want to blend in and really be accepted by Filipinos, it is best for you to pick up on some of the more formal habits of Filipinos. Don’t take me wrong, Filipinos don’t expect you, as a foreigner, to totally become Filipino in the way you think and act, but the more you can adopt cultural norms here, the more accepted you will be. Filipinos know that the ways of foreigners are different than Filipino ways, and they understand that. Sometimes, I have no doubt that they look at our ways and think we are a little strange, but heck, we do the same, so it’s only fair!

The thing I was thinking about today, which I think we should talk about a bit is names, and how you should address people. You know, where I come from, back in the USA, the norms of society have become very relaxed and casual. In most cases, we address each other by first name. In most of the places where I worked while still living in the USA, we even addressed our bosses by their first name. Our boss, “Jim Smith” would just be “Jim” if we were talking. I remember the day when you would always call your boss “Mr. Smith,” but I feel that those days are gone, for the most part. If you are addressing a very high ranking executive you may use the term “Mr.” but even that is not always necessary.

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Here in the Philippines it is different. People on different levels of the hierarchy rarely (if ever) call each other by first name. Even “Mr.” would be considered casual at times. Your superior would usually be called “Sir.” For instance, most of my employees call me “Sir Bob.” Even people whom I consider to be good friends call me “Sir Bob” in many instances, especially if they are younger than I am. Feyma is regularly addressed as “Ma’am” or “Madam” by employees and younger people.

For almost any kind of professional type job, the job title is usually affixed to the name. For instance, if Jorge is a lawyer, you would address him at “Attorney Jorje.” I have even seen friends address each other with titles like this. Even if they are out playing golf or something casual like that, the title will be affixed to the name. It’s a sign of respect for the education that they had to achieve in order to enter the profession that they work in.

School teachers are called “Teacher Susan,” of course, you should insert whatever the name is, but put “Teacher” in front of it. If a guy is a graduate of Engineering, he is “Engineer Roel” or whatever his first name is. To just call him “Roel” would be considered somewhat insulting!

For me, this is all too formal, and often makes me feel uncomfortable. Since I’ve been living here for so long, I have become used to it, although I still prefer a little less formality. As I said earlier, I have people that are not business associates, but rather personal friends who call me “Sir Bob,” and that makes me somewhat uncomfortable. It used to make me very uncomfortable. Honestly, though, I think I’d now be a little uncomfortable if they didn’t add the “Sir.” I guess I am somewhere in the middle of accepting it and still fighting it a bit, so I am a little uncomfortable either way! I guess that for those who start out calling me “Bob” when they first meet me, I am very comfortable with that, it would be uncomfortable if they changed and started adding the Sir. And the opposite is also true.

What do you think? Do western countries need to get a little more formal? Does the Philippines need to get a little more casual? I’d like to hear your opinion.

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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Bob
Bob
14 years ago

Hi Sophia – Thanks for your input. I agree with most all of what you said, except one thing. When I go into a fast food place and every employee in the place stops and shouts out "Hello Sir, thank you for coming" or something along those lines, I feel that it isn't very genuine. It's just what they were told to say by the boss. Not really a gripe, just an observation. Hi Wayne – Indeed they have! And… indeed they are! Hi Tina – Hmm… could be! Hi Jul – Ha ha… I got a laugh about the… Read more »

Pete
14 years ago

Hi everyone I love it in Phils when Gina's freinds call me Manong Peter, and ladies in the airlines or travel lounges, or restaraunts, call me sir, the reason why I love it so much, because it seems to be something we have lost, when i visit my customers, they are normally older than me, but I love to be formal with them, I would call my male customers sir at all times, and female Madam at all times, it keeps the situation professional and polite, I love it when young ladies in short mini skirts call me sir, and… Read more »

jul
jul
14 years ago

Honestly, I love it when my nephews and nieces call me Tita, more so when they say it so sweetly in order to get a favor from me. Dong and Day, Ne, Neng are terms of endearment even for strangers. I can't imagine the Fil folks' reaction if a young child will call them "Hey!" or worst, addressing aunts and uncles by first name basis. In my time, perhaps we'd get a pinch on the thigh for this or a chili on our lips! ( In Bisaya, masilihan ang wa-it!) We're not knight-ing anyone when addressing them Sir/Maam. We're just… Read more »

Tina
Tina
14 years ago

Hi Bob,

That's interesting! I wonder how that happened? I would be very interested to find out… Any ideas out there???

Bob
Bob
14 years ago

Hi Tina – Wow, this is indeed interesting. I still do think that my former employee will change in the long run and just call me "Bob." Feyma, after 10 years in the USA, when she returned here had a hard time reverting to using titles for people. She called many people by first name, and had to switch back. When we lived in the States (and here too), our kids would call our friends as "Uncle" and "Aunt." The change of kids in the USA calling people by their first name has happened within my lifetime. I remember when… Read more »

Tina
Tina
14 years ago

Hi Bob, I have to correct myself. Mr. is "Ginoo" and Mrs. is "Ginang" in Tagalog – more formal than "Mang" and "Aling". I was trying to think of the equivalent in Bisaya but could not come up with any. "Manong" and "Manang" would be more like "Kuya" and "Ate" which are used to address older siblings. In usage, though, you are right – "Mang" would be equivalent to "Manong" and "Aling" to "Manang". Wow! We could start a language class on this! That's another thing, peer pressure is strong. Filipinos usually go with how others address the person. I… Read more »

Bob
Bob
14 years ago

Hi Tina – you mean about the changes happening within my lifetime? I am not really sure why it happened. But, I have been very aware of it for years. Wayne brings up that it's related to Feminism. I can't really say I agree, but it's something I have never considered before and would need to think about for a while before I could make my own judgment. I do find it interesting and would be quite interested in hearing theories from anybody who wants to share. Hi Wayne – you do have an interesting theory there. As I told… Read more »

Sophia
Sophia
14 years ago

Hello! I think our use of tiltles and respectful "names" to address another is great. I always call my superiors ma'am or sir. I even call people on the mall or streets the same way when im talking them. Many Filipinos put premium on the title bestowed on them or the "name you address them. Havent you noticed that when you call them Sir or ma'am they suddenly become more attentive and look more authoritative. Most times they will entertain your queriesa and address yor concern immediately when you call them by their tittles or address them ma'am or sir.… Read more »

Bob
Bob
14 years ago

Hi Wayne – I agree with most of what you are saying, and I understand it. My only argument with you on this would be when you say "understand your expected roles in life…" For me, it makes it feel like a caste system. If you are poor, you are expected to remain poor. If you are lower on the totem pole than "Attorney Richard" then you can never surpass him. I guess it's part of American culture to be able to break the caste, move on, re-create your role in life and improve your caste. I don't think that… Read more »

zois
zois
14 years ago

Hi Bob you can write one artickle for new foreigners coming and
stay in philippines how to communicate with philippino relatives (relativ) of our wife witout problem for relatives. Last years
many relatives of my call me to visit them because have
birth day in their houses im careful because i don't know
the custom of them.

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