Precy enjoys helping others learn to speak and appreciate the Filipino language. She also speaks Ilocano.
Why Is Body Language Important?
Learning a new language certainly helps you understand the culture that speaks that language. However, there is also subtler body language specific to any given culture that is crucial to understand. Body language, hand gestures and facial expressions are used on a daily basis and are nearly as important to learn as spoken language. Without an understanding of non-verbal language, such gestures can cause confusion and misinterpretation.
In the case of Filipino culture, a non-native speaker might interpret the "O" shape formed with the index finger and thumb as meaning "Okay," although it often means something much more specific for Filipinos. A non-native speaker might also be confused by a Filipino person pointing with their lips.
The Filipino gestures discussed in this article are so common that you will certainly see a number of them if you ever visit the Philippines. Not only will you want to familiarize yourself with these to decode and understand the gestures your Filipino peers use, but they're worth knowing just so you can surprise your friends with interesting knowledge.
These are the instances of Filipino body language covered in this article:
- The index finger
- Lip pointing
- Open mouth
- Bill please
- Good looking
- Peace sign
- Thumbs up
- "I don't know" expression
1. The Index Finger
Wagging and pointing the index finger is a Filipino hand gesture that sends the non-verbal message of 'Lagot ka,' which is similar to the expressions 'You're in trouble,' or 'You're dead meat. This is done with the index finger of either hand as you move your finger back and forth. Whether you say 'Lagot' / 'Lagot ka' or not while doing this hand signal, it sends out the same meaning: 'You're in trouble.'
Chances are you'll see this gesture among kids when one does something that could get her/him in trouble and another kid witnesses it.
2. Lip Pointing
This is a gesture that can easily be mistaken for a kiss, but it's not that at all. At some point, Filipinos got in the habit of pointing with the lips instead of fingers. For example, if you ask someone where an item is or someone is, pointing with the lips is the answer you will often receive, rather than someone verbally saying, 'It's right there on the table' or 'She's there in the kitchen.' Also, the farther the lips are stretched out, the farther the item or someone is.
Lip pointing isn't only done in response to a question being asked. It is also used to get someone's attention about something after making eye contact. As an example, imagine you are sitting in a lobby with your spouse and you see a man doing some tricks with his dog outside in the parking lot. Wanting to share it with your wife, you make eye contact with her and then lip point in the direction of the dog and his owner.
3. Open Mouth
An open mouth doesn't always mean a person is surprised, shocked or wants her mouth to be checked. This Filipino gesture actually means the person didn't quite understand or didn't hear what was said. An open mouth is a non-verbal way of asking 'What did you say?'
4. Bill Please
This is one Filipino hand gesture to put up yor sleeve next time you eat out with friends and ready to pay your bill. Raise your hand and make an eye contact with a waiter when he or she's looking your way and make this rectagular sign in the air with both hands. This will let the staff know you're asking for the bill without you saying a word disturbing the other diners.
5. Good Looking
The non-verbal Filipino way of saying 'handsome,' or 'good looking' is the hand gesture shown above. The index finger and thumb are extended in an L-shape and are brought beneath the chin. Ladies can use this too, of course! It simply means 'I am beautiful' or 'good looking.'
6. Peace Sign
The popular peace sign. This V-shaped sign, made by the index and the middle finger as a sign of 'peace,' is one hand gesture that you're most likely familiar with. It's been used in famous photos and television shows, by US President Richard Nixon, and by the Hippies!
Filipinos use this hand gesture a bit differently. They generally use it in case they want to apologize for unintentionally getting someone in trouble or tattling on someone.
This hand gesture, made by creating a zero with the thumb and index finger, is often interpreted as meaning 'okay,' as this is how this hand sign is used in a number of countries. While it's true that some Filipinos use this gesture to mean 'okay,' Filipinos more commonly use it to mean 'money,' or 'pera,' 'kwarta,' 'datung,' 'anda' (slang words for 'money').
8. Thumbs Up
Another common Filipino hand gesture is the 'thumbs up.' Thumbs up is pretty much used just the same as most places in the world. A thumbs-up gesture is used to mean 'good,' 'alright,' 'okay,' or to indicate acknowledgment or approval.
That employee who did a great job, the kid who behaved himself and your wife who cooked the perfect Filipino dish — you can let them know they did well by giving them this hand gesture.
9. Mano Po
'Pagmamano' or 'mano po' is a unique Filipino gesture of respect. You take the back of the hand of an elderly or an older relative such as an uncle or an aunt and place it on your forehead. You can initiate this, but the older relative can also just touch your forehead with the back of their hand and say 'bless you.'
10. 'I Don't Know' Expression
This Filipino facial expression makes it on the list, thanks to my mom who used this a lot! It may look like I was about to cry or sob in the photo above, but don't worry, the expression means something else. Using this facial expression, accompanied by a swift bow and a furrowed forehead, means 'I don't know.' It can sometimes also show disapproval.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.