A Piece of Advice
How To Impress Your Filipino Partner’s Family
Put your best foot forward (after leaving your shoes at the door).
Meeting your partner’s family is always a bit of a tricky task, and it’s particularly tricky for couples from different cultures. There’s the possible language barrier, of course, but it’s not just words that can get lost in translation. There may be differences in mannerisms, politics, and religion that can be difficult to navigate. You also want them to like you, but you don’t necessarily want to come up with a whole new personality just for that to happen.
Filipino families can be a strange mix of hospitable and conservative. That means they’ll gladly open their doors and prepare a seat at the table for you, but how comfortable you make everyone on that table, yourself included, depends on how well you’re able to appreciate the culture, communicate with your partner’s parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, godparents, nieces and nephews, neighbors, etc., and mediate any possible misunderstandings.
Here are some ways foreign partners can put their best foot forward when meeting Filipino families (after leaving their shoes at the door, of course).
Try all the food
Filling your plate with a little bit of everything is one of the best ways to show a family that you’re not just happy to be there right now, but that you potentially have what it takes to stick around. Some dishes might look or even smell strange, but try them anyway. At the very least, it will give the family something to talk to you about (Have you tried this before? Do you like it?). Keep the conversation going by asking how something is made, what gives something its flavor, and whose specialty it is. If you do like something, wait ‘til the end of the gathering and ask to take some home.
Try all the drinks, too, but make sure to not get too drunk.
Join the karaoke
…or the card games, or whatever activity is going on at the party. One of the best ways to show your partner’s family that you’re serious about your relationship is by also showing them that you’re down to get a little silly. Still, nobody likes listening to anybody scream mindlessly into a microphone—so come with an easy but entertaining fallback song in your back pocket. Have some humor about the whole thing, and hopefully, you’ll find that people are laughing with you.
Learn a few Filipino words
This tip is a classic for a reason. It’s always charming for someone from another culture to speak at least a few words from the local language. In Filipino, that could be as simple as adding “po,” which is a sign of respect to elders, at the end of your sentences (as in saying “It’s nice to meet you po” to your partner’s parents). Learn a few other words, like masarap (delicious), salamat (thank you), and kamusta (how are you). If your partner comes from a city or province with its own language, make sure to learn words from that language. You might mispronounce words or use them incorrectly, but what matters is you tried.
Do a “mano po”
“Mano po” translates to “hand, please,” and gives way to the tradition of greeting elders by tapping the back of their hand on your forehead. It’s an easy way to show your partner’s family that you’ve been preparing to meet them, and that meeting them is important to you. Just make sure they’re comfortable with this nowadays, given COVID and all.
Brush up on politics and religion
If you’re meeting your partner’s family for the first time, it’s probably best to keep things fun and lighthearted, which means not talking about potentially complicated things like politics and religion. But if they do come up, you’ll want to be somewhat prepared.
Talk to your partner about their family’s views on politics and religion, and how open they are to conversations about those topics. Some families may hold onto their beliefs but can appreciate a good discussion, while others might take offense at different ideas forwarded suddenly. In the Philippines, the topics also come with unique social and historical contexts, like social inequality and a history of corrupt governance, that affect the way people talk and feel about them. Nobody’s saying you shouldn’t talk about these things with your partner’s family, just that you’d do well getting 101 on how they play out in the Philippines, so you can understand and communicate more effectively.
Bring something to share
Filipino families are close-knit groups. When you meet your partner’s family, you’ll likely meet an extended family, with kids and adults of all ages. You may not hit it off right away with everyone, but bringing a bag of chocolates, a few bottles of interesting sauces, or anything else from your own country that everyone can try is a good way to show you might be around for a while.
Source: Romano Santos, VICE.
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