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Cultural Differences and Contradictions

There are many differences in culture here from what we are used to as a foreigner from America or Europe. One of the hard parts for us is the understanding and accepting them. It is after all, their country. Since most of us Expats are older and in many ways set in our ways, we tend to feel we are right and they are wrong in thinking.

One item which has been discussed on this site and on others is respect. For Americans, respect is something that is earned, nit just given. Sure you will show respect when you first meet someone, but over time, that respect can be lost. Here, no matter what, there is the showing of respect for someone older.

Mostly in a family setting, but can at times be used for anyone older is the term Kuya for a male and Ate for a female. No matter how that person is in life, a younger family member will call an older member by that term. It at times will be used to friends and even people in daily life. A person might go into a store and if the clerk is older and the shopper wants their attention, they make call out Kuya to get their attention.

Another thing that was difficult for me to get used to when I was working at the Engineering and Architectural office. The owner who was a Civil Engineer should be addressed as Engineer Rey, even though he was much younger than me and the architect as Architect Neal. Eventually I took the easier path and just added Sir before their name. Even with me, I was hired as an entry lever draftsman, but because everyone in the office was much younger, I was always called Sir or Sir Bruce. Eventually I asked them to just call me Bruce since I wanted to feel more as a co-worker instead as an old man.

Another thing that bothers me and is hard to get used to is the fact that everything is cooked well done. When meals are cooked in our house, Elena cooks mine separately and leaves some moisture in meat, fish and poultry.

With beef, they feel if the meat still is pink inside, it has bacteria. I explained that bacteria is on the outside and is killed during cooking. Last week my nephew brought home for me 3 nice steaks. I was asked to cook them to the way I wanted and I just season them a little and cooked them in a lightly oiled pan. They were cooked to a medium rare condition with a nice pink interior. They tasted so good, but when I offered everyone at the table to taste, they all looked at me in shock and would not attempt to taste it.

Something that I would guess is more hygiene than I am used to, but the thought of the treatment is difficult to even try is using water instead of toilet paper. I know of some Filipinos who will use toilet paper first and then water. There are times you will notice the back of a person’s jeans a wet spot. This is that there was water available but no paper to dry with.

Another item is the use of rubbing alcohol. This is in many cases used instead of deodorant and also for any rash or skin problem.

Care of Possessions

When I was growing up, my family was on a tight budget, we were taught to take care of our clothes and everything in the house. Here, I would think, with the poorer mentality, there would be extra care giving to the items in their home. This is not the case from my observations. To me it looks like the attitude, we did without for many years, if it breaks, we can do without again.

Motorcycle Drivers and Passengers
I have written many times about the crazy driving and lack of courtesy with motorcycle drivers. They weave in and out of traffic, will pass on any side and will even drive over the median line on incoming traffic lanes. A law was passed that requires the drivers and passengers on motorcycles to wear an approved helmet. Many times you will see a driver wearing a helmet without the chin strap closed, on backwards or tilted back, barely on the head. To me, since the helmet has to be worn and is a safety item to protect the most important part of the body, why not wear it correctly and protect themselves. They own it, it is on their head, but at the time of need, it will just fall off.

The longer I live here, I try to understand the differences in culture, and even when I disagree, to accept the Filipinos life and culture since it is their country and I am allowed to live here with them but sometimes, some things are just too difficult to understand and accept. At these times, I just try to keep my mouth shut and let them live the way they want as long as it does not concern me or my family’s life.

6 Responses to “Cultural Differences and Contradictions”

  1. maria says:


    after twenty years, im planning a trip back there next year. my life is so here in florida and really most of my adult life that im not around filipinos much and i really dont have and never felt the need to “congregate” with fellow filipinos since i grew up here in the states. im nervous how i will deal with things or be able to relate with my countrymen. thanks for sharing your observations.


    • Bruce says:


      Where in Florida? I lived there for 10 years near West Palm Beach.
      I am wondering how you will acclimate when you visit.First, do you still speak tagalong or bisaya? My thoughts vary:
      You might be treated as the Rich Filipina from America and everyone expecting you to bring gifts and support them.
      Another is will you be shunned for being gone so long.
      It will be interesting. I hope you will write me some guest articles about your return.

  2. Evelyn says:

    good luck ,maria,on your adventure…
    i’m sure you will have a wonderful time there…

    maayong buntag,bruce….
    bisaya for good morning

  3. don m. says:

    well Bruce I just got back from spending two hours at a Lea Salonga concert. If that is not like being in the Philippines I dont know what is. We were in the second row back and center and it was great. I got an autographed photo of her in my little hand. I was the only one there wearing a barone (sp)–boy did I stand out. I still cant belive she came to Medford, oregon.

    • Bruce says:

      Well there are more there that can afford a ticket. hahaha
      I have a barong that I have worn to the two weddings I was sponsor. Since we were married in the courthouse I did not wear it to mine.

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