Understanding Filipino Gestures

Never stand with arms akimbo and stare at Filipino machos…they could quickly turn from “mabait” to “galit”…

Although body language is a cross-cultural way to communicate, Filipinos have their unique gestures and facial expressions.

Many books, articles and blogs talk about the peculiar way Filipinos communicate through body language.

If you are married to a Filipina and, therefore, you have constant dealings with your wife’s extended family and Pinoy friends, understanding Filipino gestures will greatly enhance your ability to communicate with them and build rapport. Understanding Filipino gestures and communication through body language will also help you avoid unnecessary problems and misunderstandings.

I have been married to a Filipina for almost 17 years and I have experienced living with the extended family for over ten years and therefore understanding Filipino gestures, in addition to Tagalog, is not just an intellectual exercise for me, it is an indispensable rapport builder.

I have seen my family members use plenty of interesting gestures and facial expressions day in and day out for years in a row and I eventually managed to pick up on their meaning without going through a thorough study of the subject through books or blogs. Understanding Filipino gestures is the result of a prolonged and very close family interaction and I have learned quite a lot.

Here are some interesting things that I have learned about Filipino gestures:

When my wife doesn’t get what I say, she kind of opens her mouth wide and whispers some kind of “ha” sound.

When I ask her where someone or something is, instead of saying it or pointing her finger toward what I am looking for, she turns her head toward it and kind of joins her lips and stretches them outward to show me where to find what I am looking for.

To nod in agreement she kind of jerks her head upward.

As I have mentioned, understanding Filipino gestures can be an interesting intellectual exercise (especially if you are also trying to learn your Filipina’s native language), but there are certain ways of using one’s body that a Westerner must absolutely understand to avoid triggering a Filipino’s latent anger, as Filipinos are extremely emotional people.

Understanding how certain gestures could become a source of conflict is necessary if you move to the Philippines or live with your wife’s extended family for extended periods of time.

What you must carefully avoid, for example, is either stare at someone (even if you do it unintentionally) or stand with your hands on your hips, as those gestures are interpreted as a provocation.

I have found myself in a couple of situations in which I was unintentionally staring at someone and it took me a while to explain and justify that I was neither challenging nor provoking anyone and I almost experienced suntukan.

Because, as I’ve said, Filipinos are highly emotional, it is much better to avoid certain gestures in the first place, than having to explain later when the atmosphere is already intense and elicit awayan, suntukan or even patayan.

Like most Pinays my wife doesn’t like too close proximity in public (as P.D.A. (Public Displays of Affection) are frowned upon in traditional Filipino culture) nor does she like when I talk to another Filipina and I draw too close to her. If you are careless about keeping a certain degree of safety distance with the opposite sex in a public setting, this might get her to develop resistance toward you.

So, if you are in a relationship with a Filipina and you have regular dealings with her kin-group, keep your eyes wide open, read their facial expressions and their reactions to how you use your body and adjust your body language accordingly.

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