Filipino Body Language

Non-verbal communication is an essential part in a society, as well as understanding the values the community believe in. This reflects a good overview of how communication and tradition have evolved through time. These expressions are never constant, such that meaning changes from time to time, and is greatly affected by the events or the kind of environment one belongs in. Filipinos, being a society with mixed Asian and Western influences have unique facial and body expressions. These are the focus of this blogpost.

1. Silent stare

Stares could mean evil look for Filipinos. It may indicate sarcasm or manipulation. It is considered rude to this, especially when in a conversation because it may also indicate disinterest or disrespect.

2. Lip/Eye pointing

This is quiet funny gesture common not just in the rural areas, but also in urban communities. It is quiet hard to explain the direction in verbal language, so it is better to point them vaguely, interestingly with the use of lips, head and even eyes.

3. Wrinkled eyebrows

Most probably this means confusion, rather than being angry. Filipinos are not inclined to express directly anger because it is not good to do so in public. So if a Filipino wrinkles his or her  eyebrows, just explain more what you just have said, and everything will be okay.

4. Pointing fingers

This considered rude among Filipinos. It may mean blaming others or transferring accountability to another. This can be a source of quarrel or tension both in formal or informal discussions.

5. Scratching the head

This is a sign of being confused or not well-oriented to the topic on hand. This could also indicate the level of difficulty when taking an examination. Interestingly, Filipinos do not just scratch the head, it could be a pencil or pen as well.

6. Sticking out tongue

This expression is considered childish as this indicates unseriousness, jokes or just plain fun. It is a no-no to do this in formal conversations because it shows disrespect and excessive familiarity.

7. Catcall/Whistle

Whistling is considered informal and vulgar but this aims to get one's attention. It is usually directed to a less-threatening individual. If whistling is directed to a woman, it has negative connotations, but could also indicate appreciation. Currently, catcalling or whistling directed to a woman could be considered sexual harassment.

8. Nodding

It is quite difficult to say no, so it is quite normal that there are several ways to express yes or affirmation. It could be an approve thumb sign, nodding or raising the eyes several times. However nodding without verbal statement could come automatic, just to show interest without even understanding what is said. It is recommended to ask confirmatory questions afterwards.

9. Raising eyebrows

Aside from indicating eyebrows to express affirmation, raising eyebrows could show excitement and interest, or any vague emotion. Eyebrows for Filipinos are equally important with the eyes.

10. Chin resting on one hand

There are actually many meanings with this. Generally, this indicates exhaustion, disinterest or even interest. Look for other non-verbal cues to confirm what it really means. However, recently this indicates money if proceeded or preceeded with arm extension, seemingly begging for something big amount. This is because the 500 peso-bill shows a man with his chin resting on one hand.

11. Crossed arms

In many culture, crossed arms reflects concealment and authority. This is quite the same among Filipinos, but it could also indicate physical strength and intelligence one should trust or appreciate. So roam around the streets of Manila, one will see many billboards showing product endorsers exhibiting this expression.

12. Arm extended

If both arms are extended, it indicates openness. If only one, it means one is asking or offering another. In public transportation, one arm extended means one wants a vehicle to stop, waiting for available vehicles, to catch attention or give a signal to pay for public fare.

13. Handshakes

Handshakes are seldom used in Filipino society, although thr society is touch-based. There are several alternatives to handshakes like patting the shoulder, putting one's arms on another shoulder or just simply affirmative facial and hand gestures. Handshakes are usually used in formal gatherings to greet or congratulate someone.

14. Handwaves

This is a common farewell gesture. However, recently many bid farewell by just saying thank you (Salamat), rather than Good Bye. Farewells with handwaves are often dramatic, emotional and very meaningful for an expected long time for not seeing each other.

15. Arms around shoulders

This shows positive confirmation, and even camaraderie. This quite common, but sometimes intrusive and informal. This is not intended to invade one's personal space, but a way to show willingness to open up and friendliness.

16. Shrugging shoulders

Shrugging shoulders has also a lot of meanings. It could mean saying yes, depending on how the question is asked. But generally, it could signify the person does not know about something, especially when something requires responsibility. In the Filipino society, the shoulder symbolizes accountability and even authority.

17. Hands on hips

This is an imposing, imperative and dominating gesture. Parents usually do this to command something to their children. It could also signify irritation or anger. The hips in Filipino society is a sensitive part that needs to be avoided, both to express something to another, or exhibit personal emotions.

18. Bowing

Bowing is simply different from its Asian counterparts. Bows are generally simple bows without any arm or hand gestures. It reflecgs respect though. When passing between two people, who are talking, one is expected to bow and extend at least an arm, indicating respect and non-intention to interrupt the ongoing conversation.

19. Spitting

Spitting is unfortunately common anywhere, but this is rude and unhygienic. Although there are more and more consciously not practicing this, but it is still prevalent. In Muslim areas, chewing betel nuts make them spit, and this gesture is quite normal.

20. Drawing in air

The Filipino language is quite not to keen on describing or directly mentioning what they want. When one is about to order food or pay the bill, one draws rectangle in the air, wanting the menu or the bill. Interestingly, drawing Coca Cola bottle in air indicates appreciation towards a woman's body. This is however considered rude and disrespectful.

21. Coughing intentionally

This is not a sign of a serious disease. This indicates wanting to get attention from another in a subtle way. However, ironically since everybody knows what it means, the expression ceases to be subtle and interpreted in another way.

22. Wink

Winks are considered gestures to express attraction, especially only with one eye. It is considered cool by some, but rude for the older generation. It could mean disrespect and over familiarity. When one winks, make sure the risk of doing so could be reciprocity or outright rejection.

23. Kiss cheeks

Kissing is not usual as greetings in major regions in the Philippines. It is considered excessive even among family relatives. However, there are also some doing cheek to cheek as a sign of familial connection, but it is advisable not to do this during the first meeting, even with relatives, unless told to do so.

24. Yawning

Yawning is generally permitted in any setting, but rude. One could cover one's mouth while yawning to make it less disrespectful. However, it all depends on the tolerance of a person seeing another yawning. It could be fine for some, because it is natural, while others dislike it.

25. Burping

Burping is fine among Filipinos, just not too loud. If it becomes too loud, then just say excuse me and everything is fine. It generally connotes one is satisfied with the food, or even full. Interestingly, many drink carbonated softdrinks just to burp after eating, signaling they are full regardless of what they ate.

26. Teeth biting

This has many meanings, but generally negative. It could signal one is talking at one'a back, disgust or dislike. It could also mean temporary irritation. This expression is often accompanied with a stare towards the person being disliked, while talking to another.

27. Mano

This is a popular gesture of respect. Mano means hand. One gets the hand of another elderly person, and placed it on one's forehead. This actually signifies the wisdom of the person being respected. This is usually accompanied with a blessing or good words to express endearment. Never do this to person who is not over 60 years old, or a person who does not want this. It could also be a sign of disrespect to one's age.

28. Laughter

When Filipinos laugh, there are no limitations. One could just burst his or her lung out. It is although an expected to be sensitive to the place where the conversation inducing laughter is done. The larger the room, the lesser the volume and intensity a laugh could be, unless almost everyone in the place knows each other. Laughter signifies familiarity and close friendship.

29. Embracing

Embracing is considered relative in the Philippines. Some families encourage this, but a signiicant proportion never practice this as well. Although Filipinos are emotional, embrace ia considered one of the highest form of expression of appreciation, care and love. It is quite common not to do this with acquaintances or strangers.

30. Smile

Smile is considered the most powerful gesture of a Filipino. It usually means everything positive, happiness, contentment, excitement, fun and appreciation. Filipino smiles even during moments of sadness and even stragedies, reflecting good coping, optimism and resilience. It is very common to smile to anyone anywhere at anytime even to strangers. If in doubt, just smile.

Generally speaking, Filipinos are respectful, courteous, hospitable and optimistic. All of these characteristics are reflected on the ways Filipinos express themselves directly and indirectly. Although sometimes, it is easy to misunderstand the way Filipinos go around the bush to make a point but this way has been practiced for generations. It would take decades to even change this practice. However, this list is not everything. Ofcourse, there are things that are not listed. It is better to know a Filipino personally, rather than just describe them in this blogpost.


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