Truly, the Filipino people are the most “take their shirt off their back for you” kind of people I have ever met. I have known lots of cultures and this really stands out to me about Filipinos.
When I married my wife, I married into a Filipino family. But I didn’t realize then that it would not just be my wife’s immediate family of five, but also her two-dozen aunts and uncles, and more than 50 first cousins. Actually, the more I think about it now, when I married my wife, I married into the large Filipino family of more than 100 million people. Filipino hospitality goes beyond the friendly treatment of guests or a warm welcome into their home. It is Filipinos welcoming you to their family; in other words, Filipino hospitality means becoming a part of the Filipino family. And what a large family that is!
My wife told me that in the Philippines, when a guest visits (even long ago when there were no cell phones to alert hosts that a guest was coming), the hosts would immediately cater to the guests when they show up unannounced on their doorstep regardless of who they are, and spend money they can’t afford to buy these guests food and drinks (and more generous than necessary). To Filipinos, being hospitable is giving more than your best to make any guest feel at home as much as possible. “Mi casa es su casa” is taken literally, and they want to make the guests feel as comfortable as possible. And in a Filipino’s mind, comfort has a lot to do with food, and lots of food at that. A guest leaving hungry is a sign of poor hospitality, and, conversely, guests are expected to eat when offered food by the family or indirectly risk sending a mixed message to those who put the extended effort into hosting them.
Although we live in the U.S., the Filipinos we meet here share the same hospitable nature. I mean, it’s like they never left the Philippines. Filipino hospitality has no borders or boundaries. The heck with the saying, “When in ______, make like the natives.” Filipinos take their country with them everywhere they go. Guests are made to feel like kings and queens, with hosts always making sure that the guests are comfortable and well fed. “Kain na” (Let’s eat) and “Kumain ka na ba” (Did you eat yet) are phrases I often hear when visiting a Filipino friend’s house. All too familiar phrases that make guests like me know I’m in, and part of, a Filipino household.
Coming from an immigrant Italian family, I know that one main way we Italians show our love and affection is through food and general hospitality. And it is very much the same way with Filipinos. Parties at someone’s house, even if it’s just 15-20 people coming, can be composed of 15-20 different dishes in large trays. Food is not something Filipinos skimp out on. Filipino hospitality is not without food. One could even go as far as saying, Filipino hospitality without food is no hospitality at all. As a matter of fact, they are even more overkill than Italians, making enough food to feed guests for several days. Guests are expected to be full after parties; bloating bellies from food and beer are signs that the hosts have done their job right. But it doesn’t stop there. When guests are about to leave a party, they are encouraged (or at other times forced) to take food home.
What makes Filipinos different from many other nationalities is that they openly welcome you to become a part of them. Filipino hospitality is hospitality not only to Filipinos, but to everyone, including non-Filipinos. Perhaps it’s because they have been colonized by Spain and subsequently the United States, so they are used to having foreigners around. However, what’s amazing is that Filipinos are excited and proud to show you what it means to be Filipino and welcome you to partake in the Filipino culture as if it were your own. Unlike other cultures where foreigners have a difficult time integrating, many foreigners who visit the Philippines “feel at home.” Certainly, that was my experience when I vacationed there for a whole month and got to explore many different parts of the country. Upon my very first meeting with my wife’s relatives, they made me feel like I was one of them as I ate, drank, and sang karaoke with them on the street, as if we had always known each other. It’s also how I feel when I visit our Filipino friends’ homes here in the United States or hang out with their relatives. I don’t feel like a guest, but rather, like close family. In fact, Filipinos are so good at integrating others into their culture and lives that it can sometimes feel overwhelming.
I often feel that I am so immersed in all this Filipino-ness that I need a break from it to regain my American independence and my Sicilian ferality ‒ just enough to further appreciate Filipino hospitality and warmth. In such a gregarious culture, it can be amazingly difficult to find moments of peace when there are unannounced celebrations to attend every week, and when the family is much larger than I’m used to (so privacy ceases to exist). In those times when a little breather is called for (even if it’s just for a few hours), when I immerse myself again in all this Filipino-ness, time and time again, I appreciate that Filipinos are accepting of who you are. No one will take your head off for being different. Even if you like to be alone, are OCD about getting to places on time, wear your emotions on your sleeve, or simply don’t like to eat that much rice, just treat people with the same tenderness they treat you, and you will make them feel like a part of your cultural family as well. Filipino hospitality is about belonging: they will always make you feel like you belong. It’s a lesson to many of us that belonging is not limited to the families that raise us and grew up with, or the friends we’ve had since kindergarten; it can be in many places wherever Filipinos are, as they provide us the recipe for a Filipino hospitality that makes sure we belong: hosts who treat us like family, accept our tummies regardless of size and color, and feed us delicious food.
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