Business Etiquette for Philippine Travelers

Your business etiquette when traveling to the Philippines should adapt to the culture at hand. Here are some tips for making a good impression on your Pilipino business counterparts:

Getting a business contact in the Philippines can prove a little difficult. It’s likely that you’ll have to have a go-between to introduce you to the proper people. Without the introduction it’s nearly impossible to just start business with an established Philippine company. Letters of introduction from friends or business partners may pave the way if the associates have worked together in the past.

It’s usually not necessary to have business cards or paperwork translated. English is the customary language for businesses in the Philippines. Present and receive business cards with both hands. Make a show of studying the card, even asking questions, before putting it aside. Be on time for all appointments and wait patiently if your party is late. Business hours are similar to those in the U.S.

Dress in suits and ties for men and conservative styles for women. Low necklines and high-rise hems are not acceptable. Bright colors are okay – not so in some countries. You’ll get a better idea of how casual you can go after you see what everyone else is wearing. As an outsider it’s better to be overdressed than to appear to casual.

Make eye contact during introductions but break eye contact throughout conversations. Holding eye contact for long periods of time is rude. As with other countries of the region it’s important not to cause a counterpart to “lose face” by embarrassing him in any way. Causing another person or yourself to lose face can spell the end of your business relationship.

Names can be tricky in the Philippines. Many people take their father’s and mother’s last names, with the father’s name being listed first. Use “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or “Miss” and the father’s name when addressing someone. Use professional titles when known, until the day comes when you are asked to be more casual.

“Have you eaten?” is a way of asking how you are. It does not require a response explaining when and what you ate. Instead, just say “yes, thank you”. Shake hands when introduced but do not offer to make physical contact with a Filipino woman. If she is willing she will hold out her hand to shake.

It’s important that your associates in the Philippines like you as a person. In this culture business matters will not go forward until they feel as though they know you personally. Don’t be surprised if they ask you about your marital status, salary, age and other personal questions. Side step anything that makes you uncomfortable. It’s the norm to spend much time getting to know each other before proceeding with business matters. Some of this can be done on the phone.

Being tactful is very important for your business. Filipinos find it difficult to be negative so you’ll rarely hear the words “no” or “not”. Follow suit and avoid these words as well. Be subtle when declining an offer and learn to read between the lines of your associates. “Maybe” will often replace the word “no”. And sometimes you’ll be told “yes”, but with little enthusiasm which actually means “probably not”.

Keep your tone of voice low yet audible. Do not gesture wildly during conversation. Never lose your temper in public and always manage to stay constrained and calm. These are important attributes in a country where public displays of anger or irritation cause the other person to lose face. If a confrontation must take place, do it in private, and in low tones.

Should you find it necessary to walk in between two people lower your head and clasp your hands together which is the same as saying “excuse me”. Never point the index or middle finger at someone. Both of these motions are extremely obscene.

In some cultures gifts are considered bribes but in the Philippines, a business deal often isn’t complete until gift exchanges are done. Upon signing of any contracts, if gift exchanges have yet to take place, offer the associates something nice but not too expensive and extravagant. In other countries only certain colors are used for gift wrapping but in the Philippines any color of wrapping paper is acceptable. It’s customary at Christmas to give gifts to all associates, no matter how far down on the totem pole. Make sure the gifts are small for those under you in business and larger or more expensive to associates in higher positions. Gifts are not opened in front of the giver.

Invites to a Filipino’s home is a real treat. Do not arrive on time, though, as you’ll look too anxious. Be fifteen or twenty minutes late to appear more casual. Offering a small gift of wine, candy or flowers upon arrival is in good taste. Do not refer to the hostess as “the hostess”, which has the same meaning as “prostitute”. Decline to sit down the first couple of times you are asked. Sitting down upon being asked once or twice will make you seem greedy and anxious. Do not be the first to take a bite but rather, wait until the host has sampled the food before joining him.

Hold the fork in the left hand and spoon in the right. The fork is used to push the food onto the spoon then eaten. Leave some food on the plate to show that the host and hostess have provided plenty. Summon a waiter, or anyone, by holding palm downward and curling fingers toward you. Never use the index finger alone. Making a hissing noise is also an acceptable way of summoning a waiter.

Social events often include singing and dancing which you must not decline. Participate even if you feel embarrassed. You will often be asked to take some of the leftover food home with you – do not decline this offer.

Restaurant dining often has a percentage of the tab already allotted for tip but it’s a good idea to still leave a small tip on the table. Tips should also go to hotel concierges, taxi drivers and doormen.

Expect business dealings to take quite awhile and forget trying to use hard-sell tactics or get pushy. In this culture it takes many months for the participants to get to know each other and until then, business will not proceed. Take advantage of all social invitations to allow counterparts to know you even better. Be polite to elders or even a beggar on the street and you’ll be seen as a nice person which is great for business.

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