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The Philippines - Through the Eyes of a Foreigner

Updated on January 1, 2016

The Philippines

The Philippines is a country located in Southeast Asia with a population around 92 million with an additional 11 million offshore workers (known as Offshore Filipino Workers or OFWs). The nation contains over 7,000 islands put into 3 regions (Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao). The main economic zone lies within Metro Manila which has a population of 20 million people, and Filipino (a variation of Tagalog) and English are the two main languages spoken.

I've been staying in the Philippines since January 2011 and have begun to understand the many cultural aspects of the country as well as other differences between the Philippines and the United States, my home country.

Kumusta po?
Kumusta po?

Filipinos Speak English

But not all

One of the many reasons the Philippines has become a massive tourist destination (other than its beautiful scenery) is because of how popular English has become. Nonetheless, not everyone speaks English, and, at least in my experience, English is mostly a business only language. You'll encounter English by workers at the mall, police officers, and most restaurants.

In the sense that English is a business language, Tagalog or one of the other dialects are spoken in most day-to-day activities. Many older generations, rural provincial residents, and public transportation drivers do not speak English, at least, not very well. If you plan on travelling to any non-tourist destination or outside of Metro Manila, be sure to learn some basic Tagalog words.

Manila Pedicab
Manila Pedicab

Transportation

Many choices

The Philippines isn't known for their train service, because it is almost non-existent, but they do have many other choices. There are pedicabs (rickshaws), tricycles (motorbikes with sidecars), jeepnies (these are US military jeeps transformed into something like a bus and generally travel from city to city), buses (in which there are at least 3 different types of which I know--the everyday bus, a bus which goes to a different city, and a bus which travels a long distance), taxicabs, and of course, you can always hire a driver for roughly 300 pesos for a few hours if you are lucky enough to find one.

If you are a man of average height in the United States, chances are that you will have problems with some of the public transportation. I'm close to 5'8, but have my knees crammed against the seat in front of me on the bus and hit my head on most tricycles and sidecars. However, this isn't always the case. Tricycles and sidecars come in all different shapes and sizes, so some are more comfortable than others.

Image source: Wikipedia Commons

The Attention

Staring, questions, and other attention

If you come to the Philippines as a non-Filipino, chances are you will get more attention than you deserve. There are some areas with a large foreigner population, but many areas are still Filipino-only or, at most, Filipino-Chinese only.

You will likely receive attention by being stared at, asked questions, and of course, being talked about. This isn't because Filipinos are necessarily racist, but they are curious.

Questions I've been asked:

  1. Where are you from?
  2. What job do you have?
  3. Have you tried our food?
  4. What food is your favorite?

Philippine Peso Coins
Philippine Peso Coins

Pay More for Services

Get friends to help when shopping

In the Philippines, like many other Eastern countries, small businesses and shops tend to charge extra for their goods and services to foreigners. Luckily, this has only happened to me a few times. Being educated about where to shop and who to trust is a big help in this department; however, the best help to be had is from a local Filipino. The locals know the costs of general services and at least have an idea of what the costs should be when it comes to products.

If you don't know a local, there are still ways around this Kano tax--Kano is short for Americano. However, anyone white is generally referred to as Kano, no matter where they are from.

  1. Shop at the SM mall for your products and groceries. Pretty much everything can be found at SM. Groceries, department store, restaurants, toy shops, game shops, and other stores are found in SM nation-wide.
  2. If you can't get what you need at SM, shop somewhere with written prices. In the Philippines, there are small businesses on every corner. However, many of them don't always have the prices written, at least not all the products. Nonetheless, even if you do find a place with written prices, chances are that you are still being overcharged. Haggling is a common practice in the Philippines, but as a foreigner it is frowned upon to attempt. Still, the written prices will likely be cheaper than a non-written price somewhere else.
  3. Look online! You can always find a rough price estimate by searching "sulit" or one of the other websites. For example, if you are looking for a wedding photographer in Bacolod, you might want to check out that website.

Halo-Halo
Halo-Halo

Food in the Philippines

Sarap!

As stated above, one of the questions I've been asked most by Filipinos is "Have you tried our food?" And the answer is, "YES! I love it."

Filipinos have every right to ask this question, because 1) Their food is delicious. And 2) Their food is delicious. And oh, did I mention that it is delicious?

Here's what you absolutely have to try:

  • Sisig (Don't ask what it is until after you eat it)
  • Sio Pao (Steamed dough with chicken or pork inside)
  • Sio Mai (Steamed wrapper with pork inside in a spicy soy sauce)
  • Halo-Halo (Means mix-mix. Milk, ice, lots of fruit, sweet beans, and sometimes served with Ube ice cream)
  • Kare-Kare (Oxtail, banana heart, and other meat and veggies served in a peanut sauce)

One Filipino food which you'll be asked to try by Filipinos is balut. I haven't tried it, and probably won't, but it is a boiled duck egg in which the duck isn't a yolk any longer.

Image source: Wikipedia Commons

What is Your Favorite Thing About the Philippines?

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American Products and Goods

My experience with American products and goods in the Philippines is an interesting one. There are American products sold in the Philippines which aren't especially popular in the United States. These products are generally cheap and sold as "American made", supposedly making it sound of quality. They aren't. My advice to you, fellow Americans, is if you see a product sold as "American made" and you haven't heard of it, do not buy it!

As for American food sold in the Philippines, it is also different. McDonald's is different, Wendy's is different, KFC is even different. McDonald's serves spaghetti and their burgers don't have the pickle taste you have grown to love (or hate). Wendy's hamburgers taste nothing like the Wendy's burgers in the US and more like a burger you'd find in a local cafe, and KFC serves rice instead of mashed potatoes and their biscuits I have yet to find.

Pizza Hut's pizza tastes exactly the same, but the menu is slightly different. They offer different pasta and different toppings than in the USA.

Lechon
Lechon

Celebrations

Celebrations in the Philippines are nothing short of magnificent. Singing and dancing (both a large part of Filipino culture) play a role in many celebrations. Food is also an important part with fried chicken and either spaghetti or pancit canton offered for children's birthdays, and for adults, lechon.

Lechon is a pig roasted over fire. It is then taken and sliced into various portions and offered to the guests or made into several different dishes.

Television

Filipino television is much like American television--there are free channels, cable channels, dramas, comedies, movies, sports, and anything else your heart desires. Many Filipino stations also show American programs, both popular and of niche variety. Korean and Japanese series are also shown at a high frequency.

Why I Love It

The Philippines is an amazing country. The food is terrific, the celebrations amazing, the people friendly, and the ease of shopping admirable. There is something for everyone. Even if you dislike the hot air, you can head up to Baguio and enjoy a nice 24 Celsius (75 Farenheit) day.

Anything you want to ask about the Philippines?

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    • profile image

      aweresort 6 years ago

      a friend just got back from manila and loved it!

    • mattseefood lm profile image

      mattseefood lm 6 years ago

      Hi there! If you want cheap and affordable travel packages in the Philippines, I have a lens explaining how :) Go check it out! You might discover new vacation spots in the country. Thanks for loving our country :)

    • profile image

      jinkiriwang 6 years ago

      Love the Philippines!!! I used to live there, but where is a nice vacation spot there now?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I am from the Philippines and I am proud of the tourist spots here in our country. I live in Iloilo and there are also great vacation spots out there www.ouriloilo.com

    • jregins2 lm profile image

      jregins2 lm 4 years ago

      Very nice lens..I love travelling there and enjoying the people,culture & food. My wife is from Cebu.

    • ae dc profile image

      ae dc 4 years ago

      I'm glad you like the Philippines :) But I think you forgot to mention about Jollibee :) Cinemas too are also found inside the malls! :-D

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thank you for this I am featuring this in my face book page, hopefully this will also help you increase your viewers!

    • profile image

      homedesigns2013 4 years ago

      hello nice lens i myself is in the Philippines too i blog about my long distance relationship if anyone would like too read it is welcome too http://anneandtravis2535.blogspot.com/

    • kcsantos profile image

      kcsantos 4 years ago

      So glad to know that you like the Philippines. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • profile image

      BrendanTaylor 4 years ago

      I would like to ask a about a city of Manila in country Philippines that what if i travel into the second largest city of Philippines. I also wanted to know about the free source travel guide of Manila city which can explore the information over well known gorgeous town.

    • liesl5858 profile image

      Linda Bryen 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      What a nice hub about my country. I am a Filipino too and I am very proud of my country too. The Philippines is not a bad country, like other countries, it has good points and bad points. I am glad you like the food. One thing the Filipinos do, they won't let their guest go home hungry. We are very generous when it comes to food and you don't have to make appointments for lunch or dinner. Thank you for this hub about my country. I enjoyed reading it too.

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