Mindanao, Travel & Traits.
Each and every culture has its own set of unwritten rules regarding social interaction and values, the culture of the Philippines has a very rich and diverse mix of unique backgrounds.
It is in fact a reflection of all the various cultures put together. One of the greatest ways to understand the Philippine basic customs, traditions and traits is to travel through the island of Mindanao, get in touch and look at the way of life of the different communities. If you do not want to experience a culture shock, start your trip across Mindanao with a gentle heart, open eyes and an open mind, be prepared to meet a great challenge and be willing to expose yourself to many unfamiliar sensations, new sounds, smells and sights.
Coming from and being used to a different culture some behaviours and customs may surprise, confuse or even offend you. At first glance you may find it difficult to fit in, it is best to be patient and allow yourself plenty of time to adjust to your new environment. Mindanaoans are very open and friendly toward strangers, they can easily accept foreigners, both from the East and the West as their companion and brothers. Making friends in the Philippines is sheer easy, the country is the third largest English-speaking nation in the world. The peace-loving people are very approachable and easy to please, always wear a smile, when greeting somebody, it will be accepted as a friendly hello without words. An amicable pat on the back or just a lift of the eyebrow will be regarded as a token of understanding and friendship. It will really help a great deal if you approach people with kindness and respect.
The Philippine hospitality is legendary and uncomplicated, you will always be greeted and treated with a spontaneous smile that comes straight from the heart. Mindanaoans will go out of their own way to ensure their guest feels comfortable, there is always something to eat and drink, even if your host is facing hardship at that time. Remember not to refer to your host's wife as the hostess, this has a different meaning in Mindanao. The "open arm" hospitality welcoming guests like long-lost relatives is one of a kind. However, the typical Southern hospitality works both ways, Mindanaoans are indeed famous for the graciousness with which they show their generosity, they also know how to accept it. Be sure to invite your guest at least three times, to them, insistence is a clear proof that your invitation is a heartfelt one.
Being a Westerner you may be direct in you approach and straight forward in giving your personal opinion, keep in mind that your assumption is not the only right one, even it is the normal conception or way you are used to it back home. Filipinos have a hundred-and-one ways of doing things. To avoid any confrontation, a Mindanaoan find it difficult to say no, in the same way, their yes may merely mean perhaps. For Mindanaoans your directness and frankness will be considered rude and brutal. Be wise and refrain from being demonstrative outdoors, don't go straight to the point, be as diplomatic as possible and avoid showing your negative emotions like anger or dismay in public. If you lose your temper or raise your voice, you will lose face. Be aware of your facial expression, do not speak in a harsh tone and do not curse, your company will surely feel embarrassed. Be modest in speech and not act boastful in your behaviour, humility, politeness and passiveness are much more appreciated in a person.
Mindanaoans are passionate and emotional, to express themselves, they prefer to use body language rather than words, making eye contact is a signal of recognition and crucial when you are interacting with others, they will appreciate and feel your genuine interest in them. When you are in a conversation or discussion your arms should be to the side of your body or behind your back, keeping your arms across your chest suggests a defensive, closed attitude and is considered as challenging and arrogant. Beckoning people using your index finger upward or crooking your finger is believed to be degrading and dominating. It is better to go to the person you want to talk to or just use a downward waiving like gesture with your hand, to get someones attention you might even consider to call people the Filipino way by making a Pssst-sst sound with your tongue, a unique tone that only Filipinos can understand and hear, even in noisy surroundings.
The climate of Mindanao is well known for its relatively high temperature and oppressive humidity, if you are not used to this type of climate, even the slightest activity can make you sweat a lot. Observing good personal hygiene and sanitary practices is essential to prevent you from having a bad smell, wash your self at least two or three times a day and do not get the idea that using a lot of perfume will mask your odor, if you have it, everyone knows except you. Filipinos are very strict and sensitive when it comes to personal hygiene, they have a very delicate smell and a perceptive nose, they can smell foul body odor or bad breath miles away. Showing respect for your privacy, not a single word would be said about it, but they will surely turn away from somebody with a nasty smell.
If you have to go, you have to go, that is one thing all human beings have in common, no matter where you are in the world. When nature calls you may be surprised finding out there is not a square of toilet paper in sight in most public and private bathrooms in Mindanao, toilet paper is replaced with a bucket of water and a ladle. In remote areas, a wooden shack with a hole in the ground serves the purpose, be prepared, you are required to squat over the opening. Most Filipinos use water to clean themselves instead of toilet paper, it is more hygienic and part of the culture, so for safety sake, arm yourself with a pack of tissues when going out, it is a not a bad idea to carry some personal supply in case of an emergency. Perhaps, after some time, you may find it more appropriate to use water instead of toilet paper.
In some parts of Mindanao, specially in the countryside, Westerners are rare and unusual visitors, some people may have never seen a foreigner before in their life, understand that locals might have a tendency to keep on staring really long and curiously at you or talk about your presence. Not only will you notice the gaze, you may also hear the word Kano (Americano) many times. It is normal if you feel uncomfortable at first, but don't let it bother you, do not get annoyed or frustrated, it is not a sign of unfriendliness. They stare without meaning anything offensive, this is done out of honest curiosity, admiration and respect. All you have to do is to be cordial and smile at them. Even a simple hello should be enough to break the ice, you could nod upwards to greet, ask if you may join them and start a conversation, there is no reason to feel different or strange in any way.
If you are able to integrate with the local communities and adapt the tolerance of this hodgepodge of different cultures, if you respect the traits, habits and customs of Mindanao, it will make your stay memorable, pleasurable and a hassle free experience.
Published on 9/24/10