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Unspoken Rules: Filipino Taboos That You Should Know About

People walking in a historical village in the Philippines while being wary of Filipino taboos.
Be respectful wherever you are in the Philippines. Learn about the different Filipino taboos to avoid misunderstanding their culture.

There are so many things in life that are unspoken.

This can refer to acts of kindness that one chooses to keep to themselves, feelings that someone chooses to hide out of consideration for a friendship, and secrets that others don’t want to share out of fear of rejection.

But in Philippine society, some unspoken rules are there to guide them in their everyday life.

Some rules, when violated by those unaware, are met with consideration, correction, and guidance.

However, other rules, especially those that are considered taboos, like those that merit illicit judgmental looks and disapproving comments, can be culturally and religiously offensive.

Even foreigners are encouraged to comply, as it is a basic courtesy to show respect for the country’s culture and beliefs.

Although you may find some of their ideals and practices peculiar, you must keep an open mind as to why they are being followed.

With that, here are some Filipino taboos that you should know about.

Religious Filipino Taboos

The Philippines is a religious country, with most citizens being devoted Catholics. It therefore comes as no surprise that there are certain taboos in relation to religion.

Here are some of them.

Cheating

You can observe that in Philippine television, there are plenty of movies and shows that revolve around the wife seeking revenge because her husband had an affair.

Although quite common, they never fail to entertain Filipinos.

As a result, some foreigners assume that cheating is acceptable in the Philippines, only to realize how great of a mistake it is when their sweet Filipina girlfriend suddenly turns vicious.

Remember, Filipinos value the religious teaching that cheating is a sin.

Moreover, these shows about a kabit (affair partner) reflect the plight of most Filipinos. This means that if they experience this in reality or if it is done to their family member or friend, they would not hesitate to get aggressive.

In their eyes, shows about cheating may be enjoyable. But a cheater is a criminal that needs to be punished both by God and themselves.

Getting Divorced or Living Separately

Divorce is illegal in the Philippines due to opposition from religious groups.

As an alternative, couples in failed marriages choose to live in separate households or get divorced abroad. Afterwards, they move on with their daily life and begin to form new romantic relationships.

Although the separation is in pursuit of their own happiness, the couple, especially the woman, is often met with disapproving looks and critical lectures from relatives and friends.

Such an act is considered a Filipino taboo, as it breaks the religious teaching of staying committed in a marriage.

Moreover, aside from direct confrontation, those who are separated from their partner are also pointed out to the younger generation in the family as a negative example.

Cohabitation

While other cultures see living together before marriage as testing the waters and getting to know their partner better, Filipinos see such an act as disrespectful and in violation of the sanctity of marriage.

Most Filipinos who cohabitate before tying the knot earn a bad reputation in their community, and in some cases, get disowned by their family.

In other households, living together is okay as long as the couple has the family’s approval.

A couple getting married and promising to stay committed in the relationship to avoid the Filipino taboo of getting divorced
Getting divorced may be the norm in some countries, but in the Philippines, it's considered a Filipino taboo.

Filipino Food Taboos

In the Philippines, sharing food is a communal act between family, friends, and even strangers.

Because of the group set-up, rules are placed so that there’s respect between each person at the dinner table.

Other than respect, there are Filipino food taboos that people avoid as a means of protecting one another from bad luck.

Clearing the Table While People Are Still Eating

When eating as a group, it’s basic decency to wait for others to finish eating before you start clearing the table.

Filipinos do this because they don’t want those who are still eating to live a lonely, unmarried life.

In case you forget this taboo and clear the plates out of instinct or in a rush to clean up, a Filipino, usually an elder, will slap your hand away to correct your behavior.

Placing Money on the Table

Although money is a symbol of prosperity, carelessly putting it anywhere, especially on the table during meals, can attract bad luck.

For Filipinos, this means that your money will be spent entirely on food rather than being equally divided to cater to your needs and wants.

This is why when a family member, especially the father or the main provider of the house, places their wallet on the table as everyone’s eating, they are quickly reminded to pick it up and put it back in their pocket.

Refusing a Meal at Someone’s House

Filipinos are a hospitable bunch. This means that if you visit a Filipino household, know that you will be well taken care of.

Even when they have none, they will find a way to offer you at least a small portion of food. This is why refusing a meal when invited is one of the many Filipino taboos.

It’s disrespectful to the host who went to great lengths to prepare something out of nothing.

Moreover, if the food you’re being offered is a traditional meal, refusing it is akin to rejecting their culture.

Be polite and at least sample the food offered and comment positively on the taste.

A Filipino meal prepared for a guest that when refused is one of the many Filipino food taboos
Sharing food is a Filipino’s way of showing hospitality and love. Avoid refusing a meal when offered as it is one of the many Filipino food taboos.

Taboo Filipino Health Practices

In the Philippines, there are those who are called albularyos or faith healers.

As most rural areas in the country have limited access to free healthcare, these faith healers serve as “doctors.”

However, rather than using modern medical practices, they use folk remedies.

Their health-related advice became the basis of several taboo Filipino health practices.

Sleeping with Wet Hair

The Philippines, as a tropical country, has hot and humid weather. Because of this, you can’t help but shower during the day or before sleeping at night.

However, Filipinos advise you to avoid doing the latter, as you may end up going to sleep with wet hair.

According to them, this, unfortunately, causes you to experience severe headaches and possibly wake up blind.

Taking a Shower after an Intense Physical Workout

In folk medicine, there’s a condition called pasmo, which manifests in hand tremors or numbness.

This is attributed to being exposed to cold water after intense physical exertion.

This is why showering after a workout, doing chores, or coming home from school or work is frowned upon by Filipinos. Instead, they encourage a few minutes of rest and a warm shower after.

Forgetting to Say “Tabi tabi po”

Tabi tabi po means “excuse me.” However, instead of addressing it to their fellows, Filipinos address this to the elementals that are said to live in a certain area.

Filipinos believe in the existence of the supernatural and acknowledge that some places on earth are their domain.

Saying the phrase is a sign of respect before going into someone’s home and serves to inform the unknown that you are not a trespasser who will bring them harm.

If you forget to say “tabi tabi po” when exploring a new place, Filipinos believe that you’ll eventually get sick or be cursed by supernatural beings out of anger.

Folk medicine practice, a source of taboo Filipino health practices
Do you believe in the supernatural? Filipinos do! This is why most of their taboo Filipino health practices stem from folk tradition.

Examples of Filipino Taboos in Romantic Relationships

Love is a complex emotion, and it can sway you to do things you don’t usually do. It can also disappear with just one fault.

To address this, Filipinos have set strict, unspoken rules to protect a person and their relationship.

Engaging in Physical Relations Before Marriage

As mentioned, Filipinos are religious. This means that they believe in staying pure until marriage.

Aside from religious reasons, Filipinos believe that abstaining from physical relations protects you from going down an uncertain future brought about by unplanned childbirth, sudden diseases, and more.

Although the act is one of the many Filipino taboos put in place out of concern for one’s life, when one gets discovered violating it, all sorts of rumors about them spread. This includes being referred to as dirty, easy, and unfit for marriage.

Getting Married in the Same Year as a Family Member or the Death of a Loved One

Filipinos believe in sukob, a wedding curse wherein bad luck falls upon those who will get married in the same year as a family member or are wedded in the same year as the death of a loved one.

As a means of avoiding this Filipino taboo, engaged Filipino couples hold a discussion with their family members before setting a wedding date.

Gifting Shoes

Filipinos believe that gifting shoes to your lover pushes them to walk away from your relationship.

However, because it’s a nice gift, Filipinos are open to violating this taboo given that they do the right countermeasure, which involves the receiver of the gift offering a coin in return, symbolizing that they have “purchased” it.

A pair of shoes given as a gift, one of the many examples of Filipino taboos that people are open to violating
Don’t let your lover walk away from you! Avoid giving them shoes as a gift, as it is one of the many examples of Filipino taboos that can ruin your relationship.

Taboo Words in Filipino Culture

Filipinos will usually greet you with a smile and [act sweet](/dating/expressions-filipino-women-use.html. However, when met with rudeness, they are not afraid to stand their ground.

If you’re not from the Philippines, you may not know what’s offensive and what’s not. To help you out, here are some taboo words in Filipino culture.

Hoy!

“Hoy” is an expression that you can use when calling a close friend.

However, if you direct it towards a stranger, you can come off as rude. They’ll see you as disrespectful and will opt not to acknowledge your presence.

Instead of saying this taboo word, it’s better to call a Filipino’s attention by saying “Excuse me po.”

Psst!

Just because you see Filipinos saying “psst” when calling out to someone doesn’t mean you should do the same.

Regardless of whether you’re close friends or not, using this expression is considered disrespectful.

For the person on the receiving end, this means that you see them as an object rather than a human being who has worth.

Lovers talking politely to each other, refraining from using taboo words in Filipino culture
Approach with politeness. Know which taboo words in Filipino culture to avoid saying.

Observe What's Being Unsaid in Filipino Taboos

In a country like the Philippines wherein religion and culture are central to the people’s societal beliefs and practices, it’s essential to know which Filipino taboos are related to their religion, relationships, food, health, and more.

Although some taboos, when violated, are excusable, there are some that require strict compliance, as they can be disrespectful to the ones involved.

These taboo Filipino practices are often unspoken, making it hard for you to define what is alright for you to do and what’s not.

However, observe their way of life and don’t hesitate to ask questions when you feel uncertain. Filipinos are always willing to teach someone who wants to learn about their culture.

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