Cultural do’s and don’ts in The Philippines

Philippine culture is a mixture of different local cultures with American and Chinese influences. Chinese or Chinese descendants own many businesses in the Philippines, whereby business related protocols tend to be based on Chinese traditions including Chinese style handshakes, bows and using two hands when handing out your business cards. In the southern provinces of Mindanao and Tawi Tawi the population is predominantly Muslim and local customs need to be adjusted accordingly. Businessmen and women typically greet each other with a handshake and sometimes a small bow. It is not problem to shake hands with someone of the opposite sex, except in the southern Muslim provinces. Business cards are handed out using both hands and often a small bow. When doing business it is advisable to wear appropriate formal clothing and it is advised that women clothing covers the upper legs and arms, especially in the countryside and southern provinces. At first sight it looks easy do to business in the Philippines as in most places businessmen speak English and as most companies will receive you enthusiastically and will answer affirmative to all your questions. However it is important to know that it is impolite to answer ‘no’ to important questions, especially when building up new business relationships Filipinos tend to avoid the ‘no-word’. Expect to receive plenty of positive responses to your business inquires but realize that this does not mean that any actual business will take place. Also be aware that businesses in the Philippines do not tend to appreciate friendly competition and can engage in unconventional strategies to hamper your business that would be deemed unlawful in most western nations. Late night drinking sessions in a videoke bar (karaoke) are a popular way to do business and get to know each other better. Often these bars employ scarcely dressed ladies who are there to entertain customers by singing songs with them and by ordering their drinks and foods. Don’t worry too much and enjoy the night! And yes you have to sing! In general take the following customs into consideration:
  • Do stand-up when an older (senior) person enters a room
  • Do bring a (small, formal) gift at your business meeting
  • Do be on time for your business meeting but expect very flexible schedules from your counterparts
  • In the countryside it is common to take off your shoes when entering a room
  • Do not be too direct when pointing out your emotions or opinions
  • Use the word “po” to be polite and to show your respect, for example “thank you po” or “you’re welcome po”
  • When visiting a karaoke bar make sure to take the singing seriously and do not laugh at others who are singing (even if they are doing a bad job)
  • Avoid briberies at all times
  • Avoid doing business with politicians