There are a number of taboos in the Filipino culture that are best avoided at all costs. Most Filipinos are very friendly, loving and hospitable people but there are some actions exhibited by both expats and Filipinos alike that can put you on the wrong side of a gun in a heartbeat! I have found that most Filipinos are more tolerable toward expats than they are toward their kabayan and they just chalk it up as being ignorant of the culture. I know very well due to personal experiences that anyone is capable of having a bad day and most anyone can, in the heat of the moment, go off on you! Everyone has limits and it just depends on how hard those limits are pushed as to their reaction.
Avoiding Conflict and Saving Face
Among the expats in the Philippines, I have personally witnessed Americans being the culprits more often than not regarding insulting and degrading Filipinos in public. Scolding and confronting any Filipino in public is a big taboo! More than one person has lost their life because of such behavior. I have witnessed expats dressing down Filipinos in stores, in restaurants and in government offices. Most often, the Filipino smiles and even apologizes for no reason. This calming effect works on some expats but not all of them. Some decide to escalate even more! There have been a few times when I told the expat to calm down and I have been cursed out and threatened but I felt another expat should speak up and try defusing the situation.
Pointing at others, staring and curling your finger in a gesture of calling someone over are to be avoided at all times in the Philippines, no matter which island you are on. I even avoid the accepted gesture in the Philippines for calling someone over, which is palm of hand facing down and a downward motion. I just don't feel comfortable using it, being a foreigner in the Philippines, as it does not seem respectful to others in my opinion.
If you are involved in a personal conflict with a Filipino, it is best to say as little as possible and leave them a graceful way out. Even a usually mild mannered person can strike if you back them into a corner! Allow them to save face. It is much better often times to just back down and let things slide, especially over conflicts involving Western Culture vs Filipino Culture. This is the Philippines and remember, Filipino culture prevails! So, be willing to take a back seat concerning using Western logic.
When you visit a Filipino home, it is proper to stop at the door and start the action of taking your shoes off. The host will either let you finish or else they will tell you to keep your shoes on! If the host says it is fine to keep your shoes on, it is fine. It is considered rude to walk into someone's home wearing shoes without at least asking if it is acceptable. It is very much appreciated when visiting a Filipino home to take a small gift, even if it is only special fruit or pastries. This shows respect for the host and their family. They will do the same for you and your family when they visit your home!
Putting your feet on furniture in someone's home is considered very rude. You should wait until the host indicates your seat rather than walking straight into someone's home and flopping down on the sofa or in a chair.
Most Filipinos realize that foreigners do not use a term of endearment or a title before speaking someone's name but Filipinos do when addressing one another. Words such as ate, kuya, manang and manong are used when addressing someone who is older. I have thousands of nieces and nephews it seems! I am Tito Gary, even to those younger who are not actually my relatives.
I could write a book about the Filipino culture, as it has many aspects, it is diverse and it can be very complicated to the Western mind! I have shared a few common mistakes that foreigners make during their interactions with Filipinos. Much of the cultural etiquette is plain common sense but that is somewhat lacking with some expats and some expats just don't give a damn! They see themselves as superior to Filipinos and they do what they do because they think they can. Some brag that they have acted the same way in the Philippines for years and no one has called them out or harmed them. However, all it takes is being in the wrong place at the wrong time and pissing the wrong person off to have your very life snuffed out in the blink of an eye. Breaking some cultural taboos in any country can get you killed faster than a bullet!
Enjoy your life in the Philippines and the number one piece of advice I can give is to respect the local people at all times. Avoid a pissing contest because you will lose every time.