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English Usage in the Philippines and other Cultural Differences of Respect

As an English-speaking person from America, at times, I have been confused or smile how Filipinos use, misuse or shorten words of the English language. In addition, you will hear things that sounds like English but is a local word that sounds like something else.

In the beginning, I would get upset or try to correct my wife, but over time, you just get used to it and eventually use it as Filipinos do.

Some examples are or usage:
Motor = Motorcycle
Traffic = A lot of traffic i.e. Wow, there is traffic!
Jeep = Jeepney (a large public transportation vehicle)
O O = yes (not oh oh, when you break something)

There is also shortening of names.
Elena is often called Len
Maracheu is called Chu
Mercy is called Mer

Then there are nicknames, and I have no idea where they come from. I worked with a man who when we meet told me, “My name is Constancio, but you can call me Pongs.”

I have three nieces, Meriliza, Monaliza and Rizilina. Their nicknames are Inday, Nene and Enen respectively. There are many common nicknames here, Bing, Bong, to name a few. Then there are nicknames with double words, such as Bibi, Joy Joy, Mer Mer, Dodo, Dondon.

There are names I think are different from what we know as names such as Love, Shalom, Beauty, Lady. I met a man whose name was Jocelyn.

If you calling out to someone you do not know their name, such as a clerk, for a guy you call him Dong. If a man wants to call attention to a female clerk, he will call out Dai, a lady will call out Darling.

Another thing with names is respect for a licensed profession, their title and name will be used. If your close to the person you might use first name and if not their last name. Examples are Architect Neal, Doctor Richard, Engineer Ray, and Attorney Mecado.

As a foreigner and senior in age to many I meet, I am usually called Sir Bruce. When I tell them they can just call me Bruce I am usually told “Oh no, you are to be respected”, or when I worked in an office here “you have a higher position.”

Here in the Philippines, a younger sibling, family member or even meeting a small child, the younger person is to show respect by “Blessing”. They will take the back of your right hand and touch it to their forehead. My nieces and nephews do that to me when I enter either the house, or when they enter. One of my nieces gives “Blessing” when I leave or meet her when out.

This morning at the Wet Market, while waiting for my wife, I was chatting to the grandparents with a little girl, as they were to walk away, the grandfather said to the little girl “Give Blessing”. She took my right hand and touched her forehead. I thanked her and thought how nice they were teaching her respect. I had never met these people before.

Another sign of respect is when I am outside the mall having a cigarette and start a conversation, if the person needs to leave; they wait until you have finished what you are saying and then apologize that they need to go.

These are some of the things that at first feel strange, but over time, you get used to as part of your life. As I always say, the culture here is different, but it is their country and it is us that have to learn to live and respect their ways of life.

22 Responses to “English Usage in the Philippines and other Cultural Differences of Respect”

  1. passerby says:

    This things are just how filipino’s are to be one you should act like one, it’s all good nothing harmful these are distinct and unique practices. But if we talk of some other practices that are not that good I think we need to knock some sense to the Filipino.

    One good example are the Fiesta’s. In my opinion why the heck would we have almost a unique fiesta for each town, barangay, city, municipality and even puroks(a unit of a barangay) why dont we have just two to three celebrations in a year about our faith, culture and achievements in a city or entire province showcasing it all. I have just noticed that families that are hard up can pass muster to feed 30 to 50 guests? I mean the money spent for that feast could have been better spent on necessities.

    There are just customs and practices in the Philippines that lack the use of practicality but anyways we dont mind if we were invited in any of these fiesta would you bruce? 😛

    Keep the Observations Bruce

    • Bruce says:

      I have spent sometime thinking about the parties, fiestas and even the bright bold signage and houses here. I think with the poverty, many Filipinos need things to help forget the difficulties of their lives.

  2. Randy says:

    I enjoyed reading this one. The blessing part was strange for me at first as I would bless my wifes mama and papa and then my wifes neices and nephews would bless me. Caught in the crossfire on this one but its all good. Part of the culture.
    I like all their sayings I get called a forenger. Not a typo. Forenger.
    I also found that most woman friends of my wife include sisters are general refered to as ate, at first I thought they were always calling each other aunty since it almost sounds the same.
    I also found that male friends and family are refered to as kuya.
    Trike = motorcycle with side cart (tricycle cab)
    Pedo = Pedal bike with side cart (bicycle cab)
    knock knock boys = street vendors knocking on car windows selling water, cigarettes or candy
    When walking through the malls you can usually hear the clerks saying Sir/Mam as you walk buy. I always found that most stores have plenty of staff and generally always pleasant and smiling and courteous.
    Can’t wait to go back. I really miss being there.
    Unfortunately it will be about 1 year from now.

    • Bruce says:

      Thanks for the additions. It is hard to think of everything. When I was in the states and a filipina friend of Elena and mine would be chating with me, and would say “Say hi to ate ELena” I would think, who ate (eaten) Elena?

  3. Rich says:

    its funny our 3 year old hasnt grasped the concept of the blessing yet but instead gives out kisses to all hehe, so when all the cousins are blessing the elders he’s off giving kisses 🙂

  4. Steve in Davao says:

    Bruce, I have had a lot of similar experiences. My daughter is five and loves to “bless” her Lolo, Lola and Teta’s and Teto’s.
    She is learning quickly and enjoys school and new friends here. She was doing so well in the states with her pre-school, but here she is actually a little behind, so her Teacher is providing extra tutoring to get her caught up. The pre-schools teach the kids to read before they make it to first grade. The schools here are excellent and I am really pleased with her progress.
    Maybe an article about the schools one day?
    I’m enjoying retirement and having fun learning the culture and customs.
    Thanks for another great post. Steve

    • Bruce says:

      Since I have no young children in the house, I have no knowledge about the schools here. Maybe you could write an article for me about the public and private schools. I am sure the readers would enjoy knowing more about this subject.

  5. Steve in Davao says:

    will do, do I submitt it here or to an email address.

  6. evelyn says:

    not only that,bruce, there we call the sons/daughters of our cousins as nephews n they are called first cousins once removed

    • Bruce says:

      It took me years to understand first, second and removed. It also bothered me, a child of a cousin is a cousin, so it does not show age or family tree connections. Here also for respect, friend, children of friends call you Antie or Uncle. Our house helper calls me Uncle.

  7. evelyn says:

    yez,bruce,it is for respect.
    because if you don’t call the elderly there some titles of respect,they are upset and sometimes get mad at you for not being respectful..hahaha
    we got those customary acts from the spanish you know,spaniards have ruled the phil for more than 300 years..

  8. Evelyn says:

    yez,bruce, blame them for that..LOL

  9. Hi Bruce,
    Its one of the main reasons im in the Philippines is that the family unit and respecting elders hasnt been abandoned.

    Regarding the English language its also shortened words even in Cebuano from phrases to single words or like the eyebrow or lip gestures. Suppose its the laid back nature of the

  10. Erika says:

    I enjoyed reading this. it seems like you got really confused at first. but it’s good that somehow you managed to get used to it. I’m glad that you like the Philippines.

    anyway, about the “dai” and “dong”, maybe it’s in the provinces of Cebu? because here in Manila, we usually call the street vendors or strangers “manang”, “manong”, “kuya”, “ate”… it depends on the age and gender…

    we call the younger looking female vendor as “ate” and the older one “manang” and the same goes with the male… the younger one “kuya” and the older would be “manong”.

    anyway, thanks for this article, I enjoyed this alot.

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