Filipinos are a chaotic mix of peoples, ideas and cultures. Centuries of Spanish colonialism left the usual catholic guilt trips, fear of God and a slightly uptight concern for respectable appearances.
American colonialism for half a century and heavy ongoing military presence has firmly instilled the disease of consumerism on the Philippines. Nearly everyone seems to see the USA as the Promised Land. People play basketball, eat pizza and more people have cell phones than bank accounts. It’s surreal to see a dirt-poor farmer in a rice field pull out a cell phone to text his buddy across the field, and pay a few pennies for the privilege.
Nonetheless, the Philippines has some of the most warm-hearted and hospitable people in the world and their kindness will blow you away. Traveling through the islands you’re likely to be invited into a family’s house as an honored guest and given the best of everything. You’ll be the local celebrity, introduced to everyone and escorted around by a family member at all times.
In fact, the Filipino hospitality can get downright overbearing for many travelers, especially those who are used to spending time on their own. Filipinos have a hard time understanding drifter types who might just want to spend all day hanging out, doing nothing in particular. A good way to get some space is to pull out a big bag of weed and they’ll be too embarrassed to introduce you to their grandparents.
Filipinos tend to speak great English and as they’re mostly big fans of American culture, anything and anyone from the West has a certain status automatically. Hey, it’s probably the only place in the world where American travelers are popular, except for Mindanao Island.
Treasuring one’s virginity is still important to many Filipinos and sometimes the culture can seem absurdly puritan and parochial. Drug and alcohol use are looked down upon by most middle-class people and if you don’t believe in God, it’s better just to avoid the subject as atheism is almost unheard of in the Philippines. You’ll just be making your friend worry about your soul.
As usual the tribal people of the Philippines are considered but distant cousins to the human race. It’s only the Western anthropologists who show any interest in learning about the rich diversity of ethnic culture that still survives throughout the islands. are still studying and exploring some of the more far-flung tribes. Travelers with the motivation, creativity and guts have a rare opportunity to learn about stone-age ways of life.
You’re advised to move fast, however, as deforestation, urbanization and the suicidal march of Progress threaten to wipe out traditional ways of life forever.