Cultural Differences and Similarities

A Master or officer in dealing with people of other cultures must know two important points regarding culture: first, it is important that he accepts that there are no intrinsically “right” or a “wrong” solutions, no objectively “better” or “worse” ways of meeting basic needs; secondly, every culture is and has always been ethnocentric, that is, it thinks its own solutions are superior and would be recognized as superior by any “right-thinking”, intelligent, logical human being.

For the Westerner, for example, to eat with bare hands is “dirty”; for the Filipino, it is the usual thing to do.

The Filipino, compared with Westerners, prefers a “structured” way of life rather than one in which he can be assertive of his own individuality.

Filipinos compared with Westerners, are more sensitive and easily humiliated. One must never ridicule a Filipino seaman. He considers with a great deal of resentment, a ridicule coming from a foreigner or stranger, though not so much form a fellow Filipino or town mate. He is sensitive to hard words and aggressive behavior. One must avoid showing signs of conflict when relating to a Filipino seaman. As much as possible never show a sour look, nor utter harsh words to him.

For the Filipino, smooth interpersonal relationship (SIR) is the rule for any relationship. A smile, a friendly lift of the eyebrow, a pat on the back, a squeeze of the arm, a word of praise or a friendly concern can easily win the friendship of a Filipino.

The Filipino tends to be a poor loser. He is unable to take defeat gracefully. If he wins, he is exceedingly jubilant; if he loses, he is exceedingly bitter. In athletics, he is deeply sportsminded but tends to be unsportsmanlike. To him, to be defeated is to be humiliated. Thus, the Filipino, when he loses is apt to put up an excuse or alibi.

Westerners tend to regulate their contact with people of other culture by failing to observe the gap; the Filipino tends to regulate his contact with people of other cultures by a clear recognition that differences exist and a shallow and incurious notion of what these consist of. The Filipino limits his contact with people of other culture in their midst partly by shifting to the Tagalog dialect, and by a variety of other defensive measures whereby he tries, understandably, to evade the experience of difference.

A Filipino may interpret the frankness of the Westerner as rudeness, and in the way Westerners view the Filipino’s reticence at saying a direct “No” as indecisiveness. To the Filipino, “I’ll try” could either mean “No” or that he’ll really try.

Westerners conceive of time in linear-spatial terms: the past, present and future. The Filipino has two concepts of time: first is the linear where time is a succession of moments with a fixed starting point and a fixed ending point; the second is the cyclical concept of time where time is a succession of moments without a fixed starting point nor a fixed ending point. Thus the “manana habit.” The Filipino considers time flexible and unlimited. What cannot be done today can always be accomplished tomorrow. Among friends, meetings are not held promptly.



Historically, the Filipinos have embraced two of the great religions of the world -- Islam and Christianity. Islam was introduced during the 14th century, shortly after the expansion of Arab commercial ventures in Southeast Asia. Catholic Christianity was introduced as early as the 16th century with the coming of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. However, it did not become firmly established until the 17th century when the Spaniards decided to make the Philippines one of their colonies. Catholic Christianity is the predominant religion.

Protestantism was introduced to the country in 1999 when the first Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries arrived with the American soldiers during the Spanish-American War. Following closely were the Baptists (1900), the Episcopalians, the Disciples of Christ, the Evangelical United Brethren (1901) and the Congregationists who came in 1902. Since then, many other Protestant denominations have come.

Locally, two Filipino independent churches were organized at the turn of the 20th century and are prominent today. These are the Aglipay (Philippine Independent Church) and the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) founded in 1902 and 1914, respectively.

A Filipino is very religious but at the same time very superstitious. Some superstitions and beliefs that can influence the behavior of the Filipino seaman are the following:

1) One must not organize teams of 3 or 13, otherwise one member will die. 2) If someone smells the odor of a candle when there is no candle burning, one of his relatives will die. 3) When a group of three has their picture taken, the one in the middle will die first.

4) If one meets a black cat while crossing the road, a misfortune will occur. 5) When a duck flies it is a sign of bad luck. 6) When a cat washes himself, storm is coming.

7) Sweeping the floor at night one to lose all his wealth. 8) If one breaks a glass, a plate or a cup during a banquet, something bad will happen. 9) One will have bad luck if he breaks a mirror. 10) Whistling in the evening is bad. Common among Filipinos is the belief that sickness is the work of some evil spirits.

The Filipino world-view is personalistic and he explains the physical reality in a religious and metaphysical manner. He looks at the world and nature as controlled by other beings different from himself and governed by forces above him. His fatalism leads him to believe that one’s life is shaped and directed by superior forces beyond control. He interprets success or failure, health or sickness, life or death, a good or bad harvest on the basis of the supernatural and trust and reliance on a divine providence. Thus Filipinos believe in lucky and unlucky dated and numbers.

The Filipino articulates the presence of God though symbols. He is fond of rituals and external manifestations of piety. Candles, incense, processions, statues, medals, ritual dancing, ritual devotion to the invisible dead, etc. are the more common visible articulations of the Filipino’s contemplative sense of the invisible. This the Westerner and other people of other cultures may never understand but must respect.

Fiestas may be held any time of the year but the most celebrated are Christmas (December 25), New Year (January 1), the Feast of the Black Nazarene (January 9), Holy Week (March-April), Santacruzans (May), and All-Saint’s Day (November 1). For the Filipino, the fiesta is the ultimate gesture of respect and esteem. He who does not celebrate it is taken to be rude, for the fiesta is a time for showing appreciation to the saints for favors received, for favors done. The fiesta is an occasion for a party. Officers may be invited to participate in the celebrations by way of being offered a drink and a little food. Have the drink and the food offered it is in good taste to inquire as to the reasons for the celebration but it is not advisable to enter into a discussion as to the relevance of such celebrations in a modern world. What may seem out of date and superstitious to a Westerner may be very important and sacred to some Filipinos.

Religion plays an important role in the lives of Filipino seamen. Worship is essentially a communitarian affair and Filipinos go to church every Sunday and Holidays to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Freedom may be given to Filipino seamen to go to Mass or their churches whenever possible. Representatives of the crew ashore may by allowed to find a priest or a pastor to administer the Sacraments of the Word of God to Filipino seaman.


The customary Filipino food consists mainly of rice (plenty of it) meat and/or fish, vegetables and desserts and/or fruits in season. The above specially holds true for lunches and dinners.

Lunches and dinners normally include at least two dish meals with vegetables a preferred part of it.

Breakfast may be in the form of bread (breakfast roll), cheese or butter, slices of ham/bacon and coffee/milk. Another variation could be fried rice and dried fish or preserved meat products (sausages, processed meat). As a general rule, Filipinos take heavy breakfasts in-between meals snacks.

They don’t go for table wines but would prefer carbonated soft drinks or a bottle of cold beer.

Filipino seamen can be very sensitive regarding food being given to them. They can feel and intuit whether they are being cheated with regard to their food allowances or given what is due to them. Where a complaint is made regarding the victualling allowance or the quality of the food supplied, immediate attention should be given to such complaint and proper action should be taken.