What is a home? Probably a few would say it is a structure where a group of people, whether related by blood or not, live together. However, for a Filipino, it is more than just that. The home is an amalgamation of culture, familial pride, and local ethics. In this article, I’d like to give the audience a virtual and verbal tour of a typical Filipino home, and share the common practices and ethics when visiting one.
When a visitor arrives, it is customary to remove one’s footwear only to wait for a resident to tell him to wear it again. It would usually turn into a 5-minute negotiation with the visitor removing his footwear and the homeowner insisting that he puts it back on. However, despite full knowledge of such scenario, the visitor would still remove his footwear as a sign of respect to the homeowners.
Visitors, though not related by blood with the homeowners, would commonly address residents like their own family. For instance, older men would be called “tito” (uncle) while older women would be called “tita” (aunt). These are actually names used to address one’s own relatives. Such scenario demonstrates the connection Filipinos try to foster even with non-relatives.
Moving towards the living room, one would inevitably notice a wall (or sometimes a table) full of “collectibles.” These usually include children’s school medals, sports trophies, academic diplomas, parents’ wedding photo nicely framed, and religious symbols.
These things, arguably, aren’t placed in such part of the home unintentionally nor randomly. These objects are what Filipinos hold dear – marriage, family, religion, and personal achievements which become a symbol of familial pride. Everything is placed in the living room for visitors to easily view and access.
Dining tables are usually adorned with more chairs than the number of residents. While for other cultures, home is a very private and sacred place, it is common for Filipinos to invite visitors over for lunch or dinner, sometimes for leisure or business meetings. Filipinos are accustomed to offering food to visitors as it is odd for a Filipino to eat while the visitors do not. In fact, it is very uncomfortable for a Filipino to eat while some people around him/her do not. Additionally, it may sometimes be seen as rude to refuse food offering.
Typically placed nearby the dining room is the refrigerator. Again, this simple appliance has turned into an embodiment of Filipino practices. Refrigerators are ornamented with magnet decors bought from places residents have been to, or sometimes with medicine prescriptions to remind oneself of what supplements to take, or sometimes with class schedules of family members, or sometimes with a list of groceries to be bought, or sometimes a letter addressed to another family member who wasn’t around at the time it was written.
In other words, the refrigerator has become the homeowners’ bulletin board—placing souvenirs to retain a good memory in the past, and putting notice letters to remind important things to loved ones. The refrigerator has indeed become an essential symbol in a Filipino home.
Bedrooms are usually equivalent to the number of home residents. However, as one would notice, other rooms would be empty because, despite having good space to rest and sleep, family members prefer sleeping together in one room. This has indeed baffled foreigners, particularly Westerners, who seriously value other’s privacy of individual space. On the contrary, for Filipinos, it does not appear as rude but rather depicts a sense of affection and of community.
Another important part of the home is the bathroom where a “tabo” (water dipper) surely exists. Tabo, known as “gayung” in Indonesia and “Khan Tak Nam” (ขันตักน้ำ) in Thailand, is used to scoop water when taking a bath or doing “personal business.” For a Filipino, a home is not a home without the “tabo.”
As demonstrated, the home, more than a living quarter, is an embodiment of the Filipino culture. It houses the residents’ practices, sentiments, and cultural sense. If one gets to visit a foreign country, the local home definitely deserves a visit.
By Loren Daryl R. Sarenas, ASEAN Correspondent from Philippines