All Things Asian Event Post: 04.11.2012 – Filipino Propriety

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

All Things Asian: April 2-16

Zara’s All Things Asian Event Post:

Filipino Propriety

The blogs: That Hapa Chick; Live, Laugh, I Love Books; and My Words Ate Me are hosting the All Things Asian Event featuring guest posts about anything and everything about the Asian culture!

My guest post blogging interview will be featured on one of the host blogs on April 13.

But, until then, each and every day, a guest post will be featured until April 16, 2012, so be sure to drop by and visit the hosting blogs! Just click on the All Things Asian button above that links to the host blog.


As for me, I couldn’t pass up the chance to post a few articles as part of the All Things Asian Event on my own blog, alongside this important event because quite simply put: I’m Asian! And I’m especially honoured and driven to share the beauty of Asia with my readers to foster awareness, community, and inclusivity—all things that are especially important to me.


One of the most endearing traits of the Filipino culture is found in its subservience and hospitality. Where the west intrinsically abhors subservience and sees it as a trait of weakness, the Filipino finds subservience an honour and a respected act of discipline.

This subservience is also evident in the Filipino’s practiced propriety and special honour towards its elders and those in the hierarchal ranks of a family.

This is a picture of my Lola (grandmother), Arsenia N.Dueñas, and me on the veranda of my family's compound in Tarlac, Philippines.

“Mano Po”

For instance, the language itself has words specific to showing respect to elders as seen in the addition of the word, po. To say thank you in Tagalog in a general sense or to a friend of equal stature or peer, you would simply say, salamat. But, to say thank you to someone who is older than you, it is socially appropriate and preferable to say, salamat po, as a sign of respect. To not do so would simply show indignation, ignorance, and a lack of manners.

Growing up as a foreigner, every time I returned home to the Philippines, I was taught by my mother to ask for my grandfather’s hand in greeting or farewell. It was only right to say, Mano po, which literally means, Hand please. In fact, I was asking for my grandfather’s blessing in greeting him hello or goodbye. If he were to respond by giving his hand to me, palm down, I would then raise it to touch my forehead in acceptance of his blessing toward me.

“Mano po” (pronounced mah-noh poh) refers to a physical gesture of taking the hand of an elder and bringing it towards your forehead. This is a sign of respect for the elder and is usually done at the point of greeting or farewell. Children are expected to perform this gesture towards adult relatives & adult family friends. Failure to perform “mano po” would be considered as disrespectful.

This is done as a sign of respect and honour of our elders—and of acceptance of their blessing given to us as elders in our family who have bore a lifetime of wisdom and power to do so.

It is a wonderful gift to honour our elders this way and to receive their blessings by the touch of their hand to our foreheads in an act of humble subservience, obedience, and respect.

“Kuya” or “Ate”

The term kuya (pronounced koo-yah) refers to an older male person and means older brother. Its usage indicates that you respect the older male and recognize the difference in age. My two-year-old daughter is being raised to call her older brother, Kuya, rather than by his first name. My father who is the eldest son in the family is still referred to as Kuya by my aunts today.

The feminine form is ate (pronounced ah-teh), which is directed towards an older female person and means older sister. Children are encouraged to use these terms with their older siblings. As the eldest in my family, both my younger sister and brother still refer to me as Ate, which I appreciate as a sign of their respect to me as the eldest sibling in the family and as their elder sister.

My younger sister standing, me in the blue dress, and our little brother standing in the front.

Adults can use these terms to address friends or co-workers regardless of whether or not they are truly related. It is the same when Filipino strangers refer to another woman as Tita, which means Aunt or a man as Tito, which means Uncle whether or not they are related. It simply demonstrates a form of respect for the older individual and is practiced throughout the Filipino community at home in the Philippines and abroad.


Even courtship between a man and a woman has its propriety. Even before a Filipino man approaches a Filipina woman to ask for a date, it is only appropriate for him to pay a visit to the family and ask her father for permission and blessing. Even with the father’s approval, the daughter must also agree to the courtship before the man can take her out on a date!

This act is not one that says in the North American’s misinterpretation that she is “not independent.” This act is done in respect and honour to her family, her father, and to her. As well as an indication of the man’s ability to show respect, honour within Filipino tradition, and propriety and humility in himself. A proud man, unworthy of a Filipina’s reciprocal love is one who would rather conceal his affection and his actions in courtship from a Filipina woman’s family.

As a native-born Canadian and North American, I do miss this traditional sense of courtship growing up. North American men are unaware of this Filipino tradition and therefore don’t understand its importance. And because this is so, it is not practiced and the “Canadian Filipina’s” honour and her family’s honour is minimalized into non-existence in lieu of North American beliefs, thought process, and culture.


Even before marriage, it is deemed appropriate for a man to meet with the parents of the woman to ask for “her hand in marriage” even before a proposal is made! A union of this importance (which is an integral understanding of the Filipino culture) should not be sought without the blessing of the woman’s family. This is called Pamanhikan.

For myself, as part of an interracial marriage, this custom was pronounced to my “boyfriend” as an integral process in order for our proposed marriage to go through. If he were a Filipino man an explanation would be unnecessary and a proposal would have been a surprise if and after my father provided permission and his blessing. Regardless of the acknowledgement that my boyfriend is not a Filipino man, does not, however, lessen the degree of importance of this practiced custom in our culture or in my family. I believe all the men who have proposed to women in my family have first practiced Pamanhikan.

My husband and me on our wedding day.


In what ways does your culture show signs of respect and propriety?


For previously posted features by The Bibliotaphe’s Closet for the All Things Asian Event, visit the Event Page here.

Zara Alexis

2 thoughts on “All Things Asian Event Post: 04.11.2012 – Filipino Propriety”

  1. Beautiful pictures! I don’t really think of myself as having a culture, per se, but I really like that my husband opens the car door for me all the time as a courtesy! It’s unusual for a man of his age to do this, but it’s very nice!

    1. Hi Laurie! Thanks for dropping by. And you absolutely have culture. Everyone does. Your birth of origin, the place you live, the customs you practice, the beliefs you stand by—these are all things that make you uniquely you! And also part of a community. It’s wonderful that your husband opens the door for you. Maybe we should ask him to convince mine to do the same! *wink* Hope you come back soon.

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