Monday, May 19, 2008


Article 1 in a series, See Label “Philippine culture” at right

Although many Expats feel comfortable talking and relating to Filipinos on a casual basis, eventually most will suffer culture shock due to fundemental differences in the way people think here. To increase ones understanding, it is necessary, ( if you want to fit in) to learn the foundations of the Philippine value system: Pakikisama, Hiya , Amor propio, and Utang na loob and the importance of the extended family.

This first piece will be on the topic of Pakikisama. In future articles I hope to discuss many other traditions, ways of thinking and relating to others unique to Asian cultures in general and specifically the Philippines.

In Japan it is called “Uchi-Soto” or similarly, "Nemawashi", a process of relating to others by consensus building. It is a non confrontational way of doing life, business, and interpersonal group relationships. In the Philippines Pakikisama is the ability of a person to get along with others to maintain good and harmonious relationships. It implies camaraderie and togetherness in a group and the cause of one’s being socially accepted. Pakikisama requires someone yielding to group opinion, pressuring him to do what he can for the advancement of his group, sacrificing individual welfare for the general welfare. Consensus takes precedent over individual needs or opinion.

Pakikisama implies smooth social interaction. Relationships no matter with whom and on what level should be without open conflict. To keep pakikisama, Filipinos in general will avoid verbal confrontations, rude words or gestures, the direct decline of a request, and will try to act polity and calmly although perhaps they are not inside. You will seldom hear no to a request or question. To an Expat this will be confusing and sometimes lead one to think Filipinos are insincere or otherwise misleading with their answers. It is not so. Maybe is a standard reply which often means no, or sometimes yes, and other times maybe. If you are now totally confused, it is understandable. It takes exposure and time to understand the difference.

Often critical matters are negotiated through third parties to avoid direct conflict. Sometimes a quarrel between two individuals escalates to an unsolvable row between two clans or families. The only way to resolve the conflict peaceably (very desirable), is to go to the local Barangay captain and use him as a mediator. The skillful Barangay chief will explain to both parties in private why he is doing them a favor by entertaining their side of the argument. In the end all go home satisfied that they have been heard and perhaps nothing was gained or lost in the process. Everyone maintained Amor Propio, or saves face.

Pakikisama is most important at work places and is considered as the key factor getting a job best done. The Western way of arguing, disagreeing and being very straightforward or frank, is considered by many Filipinos as a breach of etiquette.

Pakikisama has many manifestations in Philippine society, one of which is extending support or offering help to neighbors who are in need. This comes from the still relevant necessity to bind together to survive as a group. When food is scarce and rice is expensive, all eat, for the good of the group. Pakikisama reflects the bayanihan spirit, which involves cooperation among fellow men to come up with a certain idea or accomplish a certain task. While bayanihan refers to a community-support action, pakikisama has a more individualized sense.

I will talk more about these and other cultural traits in future writings. As you can already surmise all these ways of thinking and behaving are inter-related.

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