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“It’s Over There” Communication Differences in the Philippines

Communication is very different here, especially when it comes to time and directions. Here in the Philippines it is not right to point. I am not just meaning pointing to a person, it is pointing at anything.

If you’re talking to someone or even driving somewhere and you ask, where is place this, you will get a response, “It is over there.” Over there can be across the street or on the other side of town.

In America, if you ask directions or location you will hear a distance, any turns and how many blocks or how many businesses you need to pass. Such as “Go 2 miles, pass xxx street, turn right, go 3 blocks and it is the second store on the left.”

Here when your close, and ask where is the location, you will hear again, “Over there” but then you get an index finger doing a motion as I can explain as one finger hitting a keyboard key.

While you’re driving and getting close, you will not hear something to let you know you’re getting close and will turn, instead, as you’re driving and usually in the wrong lane and passing a street, you get a “turn here.” Most times there are cars and motorcycles passing you on both sides and they expect you to cut everyone off and screech your tires and you make the turn. Now you need to find a place to make a “U” turn and head back.

With pointing, instead of fingers pointing, here they use lips. When I first moved here I thought there was a lot of people wanting a kiss, then I found out they are pointing.

If someone wants you to wedge a door stop for a door, you will get lips pointing at the door and a finger wiggle. You will not hear “Please open the door” or “please open the door and wedge it.” Another instance is if someone wants you to sit, they will turn their head towards the chair or bench and pout their lips pointing to the place.

Also for many, there is not the courtesy of would like, are you ready, please come, or other nice things. Instead it is a command. If dinner is ready, you will be told “Eat na. (Na is equivalent to now)” If you do not jump up and rush to the table everyone else will repeat the command.

Another non verbal form of communication is the raising of the eyebrows. If you’re talking to someone, and you ask a question that would have a yes or no answer, many will raise their eyebrows. Or as your talking, instead of the “uh-ha” sound, you will see eyebrows raised for a moment. Unfortunately some Filipinos will do that without seeing if you’re looking at them.

If you’re out and you hear a loud “sssssssssssss” sound like a snake, or loud and long kissing sound, that is how someone is calling for someone’s attention. I hear it the most in front of the mall where Jeepney hawkers are calling for passengers. Or it can me someone on a raised walkway behind you calling to a friend they have been waiting for.

I will be out at the mall having a cigarette and from behind me I hear these sounds, many will look up. One in the crowd then sees their friend.

If you know of other instances of nonverbal communication or sounds used, I would like to know what you think.

24 Responses to ““It’s Over There” Communication Differences in the Philippines”

  1. jan says:

    What a good post. It is exactly as you described it. Non-verbal communication is very common here. A tourist might get confused by these signs.
    I also like the way they want you to come near them: they wave their hand downwards. (just like traffic enforcers who wants to say: drive now) In my country the same sign means : go away, or leave it.

    • Bruce says:

      Thanks for your agreement. It is hard at times describing sounds and hand movements. As you say about traffic enforcers. The first time I saw one with his palm facing down and moving his fingers I waved back. I think I got him angry. 🙂

  2. Evelyn says:

    hi bruce…i was laughing while reading your post here…sign language here…anyway, what i understand is that when someone asks for directions and when the answer is pointing with one’s lips?, then the distance is very far yet but when one points at one’s finger pointing towards the direction then you’re near to wherever you want to be..
    over there using one’s lips is very very far yet..
    over there using one’s finger, then you are near to your destination…..
    sorry ,bruce, but the main reason for all of this is we lack the vocabulary to speak english…..
    bye for now and my hello to elena

    • Bruce says:

      I am sorry I missed replying to you. As I see here, lips are to point directly at something and fingers is for an action or general location. With lips, index finger and eyebrows, words are much less confusing.

      • Evelyn says:

        yah i know words are much less confusing but there’s a saying that says “actions or gestures speak louder than words” there you go…
        i am glad you are learning so many things there now..that is what we call immersion….immersing yourself to a new culture..
        just hang in there and just enjoy every moment you are having there..hi to elena for me

        • Bruce says:

          Actions and gestures might speak louder but can be misunderstood. As you know and have read, with our cultures beeing so different, I am trying to learn and understand. That is why I enjoy Filipinos reading my site and letting me know if my observations are correct from my view or if I am wrong with my understanding.

  3. don m. says:

    Bruce my wife still talks that way and she knows english about as well as I do now. I call it one of the endearing traits of the philippines. There are many but pointing with the lips is one of best. We have had some heavy weather the last few days so I havent been on the coputer much. Didnt want to bow a fuse!!! Lots of lightning and some good rains. Good for the garden. It may be a mixed day for GM but it was a good day in the stock market. Your dinner is getting closer!! I better not promise too much!!!!

    • Bruce says:

      I guess we will always use our expressions and they will use theirs. Elena does not understand sarcasm and “Pain in the A__” is just an expression.
      With the market, keep the faith, if worse comes to worse a chili dog at Jollibee will be ok.

  4. don m. says:

    I have taught my wife a lot of sarcasm as I can be the most sarcatic person around.

    • don m. says:

      I dont care for those hot dogs in the pi too much red color but I did like the spegetti at jolibee. Oh and the beef steak!! It has been about three years since Ive been there so I will probly be heading that way again soon. Robinsons is opening up in Tacloban this 11th so I will have to go there and check out the grocery store. Old habits die hard. My main downfall is real maple surup.

      • Bruce says:

        One of the best investments I brought with me was a pressure cooker. It makes the vulcanized beef and pork easier to eat.
        We need to get Omaha Steaks to deliver to the Philippines, if we can afford the shipping.

    • Bruce says:


      A sarcastic Filipina, oh no, what else you teaching her? hahaha

  5. wildcat75 says:

    ‘EAT NA’ is a taglish word means “KAIN NA”for us pinoy, i can say that even filipinos are not fluent in speaking our own language coz we normally used taglish ( MIX words of tagalog and english)in conversing w/ each other, it’s easy for us to communicate well using taglish words since some of our friends comes from different parts of the islands w/ diffeent languages so to use a taglish words are easier for us to communicate w/ each other. even in our province (BATANGAS ), i speak pure tagalog but we have also a very deep tagalog words that other villages doesn’t know the meaning.So pls. don’t be offended if someone ask you like “EAT NA or eat now” (unless if he/she use it in a higher tone this person is definitely angry or mad) that sounds like a command, actually the problem here is maybe lack of english vocabulary since we don’t normally converse in english in our daily lives, anyway some of us can say, like for eg.. TITO BRUCE,( BTW, TITO MEANS UNCLE AND TITA MEANS AUNTIE) dinner is ready or tito bruce lunch is ready. i think this is more appropriate and will not be mistaken as a command or being sarcastic.

    • Bruce says:

      I have gotten used to it now, even if I feel your last 2 sayings are more easily understood. It is interesting you mentioning “deep Tagalog.” There is a “bad” word I learned many years ago and most do not know it. The few that do say “Oh that is bad.” I will not put it here to offend anyone but if interested I will email it to you.

  6. wildcat75 says:

    Bruce, you can email me if you want me to translate some tagalog words for you, i’m happy to be of any help for anyone, As ive’d mentioned i think BATANGUENOS are the only tagalog language in the provinces who had a very deep tagalog words that even manilenyos (from Manila) and nearby ‘CALABARZON AREAS’doesn’t know the meaning. Btw, calabarson areas stands for ‘CAVITE , LAGUNA , BATANGAS RIZAL and QUEZON provinces where tagalog language was commonly use……

  7. banot says:

    Hubby thinks the eyebrows is still the winner when it comes to non verbal communication. He actually knows each meaning when he sees my face accordingly lol. I’m doing really good with American humor mix with a little bit of filipino. He calls it monkey jokes haaha. Does make him laugh from time to time.. I remember getting offended with american humor/jokes, after 2yrs i see it as a tool to get back at him. We can pick each others nose now with no problem. Even insulst doesn’t bother me anymore as i do the same to him lol.

    • Bruce says:

      Yes American humor and Philippine humor is so different. Also Filipinos, even if fluent in English do not think of double meanings.
      Picking each others nose???? Now that is a close marriage. hahaha

  8. *lynne* says:

    In Malaysia, definitely among the Malays, it is considered rude to point with the index/pointer finger. So many point with the thumb (this came up in conversation with my husband recently, and I was surprised to find out he considered thumb-pointing rude! Or at least, jarring), and yes, with pursed lips.

    • Bruce says:

      This is reminding me of an old college drinking game, you had to point with your elbow. If you used your finger you would have to take a drink.

  9. pinaywife says:

    great post, Bruce! I was rolling with laughter and I do agree we Pinoys have unique ways of non-verbal communication. Here in Cambodia, there are lots of Filipino teachers, I have one friend (a teacher) who said students in her school knows now that if you make the “psssssst!” sound and somebody turns around or responds, 99.9% sure that person is Filipino 🙂

    i also agree with wildcat, I consider myself moderately fluent in Tagalog as I’ve lived in Manila for more than 10 years but there are really “deep Tagalog” words that I don’t understand myself. I was raised in Bicol and our language is a mixture of Bicol, Bisaya with a lot of Spanish phrases..

    • Bruce says:

      I am glad I made you laugh, if you lived here and knew me, you would hear me joke very often.
      The word I eluded to to wildcat is an old tagalog word for F___ You. I will not print it here.

  10. Rey Pinyoko says:

    Bruce, we filipinos also find it difficult to understand each other hahaha. you will be more amused when you find out that the colloquial tagalog we are using now and what it meant when transalated into it’s direct tagalog meanings..yeah there’s a direct tagalog hehehe.
    example: “pahiram mo ng sipon ang kapatid mo” translation in english is “wipe your brother/sister’s (face) with snot”. what we really meant is “pawiin/punasan mo ang sipon ng kapatid mo” ,”wipe your brother/sister’s snot”

    • Bruce says:

      Even in English there are sayings if taken literally It would mean something different. That is why, even when you learn a language from a book or a good teacher, you will need to adjust it for local usages.

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