Article by Gertrude A. Abarentos & Jia Delos Reyes | Edited by Jamie Rebugio |Graphics by Aimie Winter Idul Ezekhyna Naval, & Neysa Bianca Geocallo

A Researcher’s Take on the National Communication Patterns

Gertrude Abarentos
Published in
9 min readJun 28, 2021


An inquiry regarding Filipino Dialogue

Your group agreed to meet at 3:00 pm for a meeting yet most arrived at 3:15. You know that gift-giving is essential during occasions yet when someone offers you a gift, you’re likely to refuse it twice before accepting or still be surprised. You rarely say no boldly despite wanting to sometimes. Does this define many moments in your life?

These are what the British social theorist, polyglot, and worldview extraordinaire Richard D. Lewis stated when he outlined the communication pattern of the Philippines in his book When Cultures Collide (2005). His lifetime labor of love is to remind people how the mind is culturally conditioned (or ‘collectively programmed’ in Geert Hofstede’s words)[1] since birth — where your parents put you to sleep as they return home from childbirth is the first culture-based decision imposed upon you. Say, a Japanese child is often placed in the same room as his/her parents, near the mother for his/her initial years while American and British children are settled in a separate room just after little weeks or months, a foreshadower of the child’s dependence or interdependence and problem-solving abilities, according to Lewis. Additionally, he does not put his eggs on the basket of “Us and Them” or the notion of “Normal and Abnormal.” Instead, he prescribes in his works to turn our colored glasses into transparent and embrace, acknowledge, and dance with global diversity wherever we go, especially in business communication.

Lewis challenged the cross-culturalists before him who merely divided cultures into “Monochronic people” who do one thing at a time and “Polychronic people” who do several things simultaneously. With this, he noticed that one category is missing: the Asians who do not belong within these binary terms.

The Lewis Model (Linear-active, multi-active, and reactive communication pattern of cultures). The Philippines is in the yellow-orange zone. \

Thus, Lewis detailed three major brackets of the cultural spectrum. The German student Albrecht would aufwachen (wake up) at 6:30 am to do his scheduled 30-minute tägliche übung (daily exercise) and make sure to sich waschen (wash himself), and frühstück essen (eat breakfast) all before his 8:00 am class to ensure his wellness (as suggested by statistical information!). He knows efficiency comes from doing one thing at a time and within a scheduled time period — -the quality of sitzfleisch they call it.[2]

Meanwhile, his Brazilian classmate Rafael whose unspoken mantra is likely to be ‘carpe diem’ would let his body decide when to acordar (wake up) and get through the day without a fixed plan as his flighty actions are led by emotions and relationships. Hence, he savored every bite of his Pão de queijo breakfast and the conversations it kindled with his roommate and arrived at class at 8:15 am (but not without ready excuses!) While Hanh, a silent Viet, is just as punctual as Albrecht but not as fixed nor as aimless like Rafael; he rather acts and converses flexibly, harmonious to his observations and situation involved. This is a learned behavior at his home where he does things following routines and practices shared with everyone: eating at the same time as everybody, elderly comes first, and listening and considering well to elicit thoughtful reactions. The three characters belong to Linear-active, Multi-active, and Reactive cultures respectively. See common traits according to culture:

Following these descriptions, The Philippines can be located along multi-actives shrouded in the Asian region’s reactivity. Considering this body of work is from 2005 and from an etic perspective, it hankers for an investigation from critical Filipino scholarship: does it really — -and if it does, still depict Filipino culture in the current global dialogue?

Filipinos — The Alleged Asian Anomaly

Meme by Cora J on Pinterest:

“Among East and Southeast Asians, Filipinos are an anomaly” Lewis expressed in his book. With the nation’s long colonial past, the making of a Filipino is a concoction of a plethora of influences: ½ taza de Espanol, ¼ cup American, and a dash of cosmopolitanism according to taste (see figure).

To describe Filipinos through observation of practices, it is a no-brainer for Lewis to say that Filipinos like talking above other activities and exhibit warmth and emotion openly all the while, resembling Spanish culture. Filipinos tend to rarely interrupt but can respond rather too readily. Their penchant for modesty (pakikisama) inclines them of the following: to steer clear of heated discussions and making opinionated statements, shy away from saying no openly, and avoidance of public criticism that consequently can make confrontations about important topics like corruption, religion, foreign aid, and poverty a taboo.

This is congruent to Filipino’s culture of hiya, which American scholars translate as “shame” or the “uncomfortable feeling that accompanies awareness of being in a socially unacceptable position or performing a socially unacceptable action.” More harshly, Andres (1994) defined the term as ‘‘an ingredient in why Filipinos overspend during fiestas in order to please their visitors, even to the extent of going into debt’’ (p. 64). But scholars of Sikolohiyang Filpino, founded by Virgilio Enriquez, argues that these interpretations of hiya do not fully account the affixations in Philippine language; Bonifacio (1976) emphasized that the meaning of hiya depends on the form: — “nakakahiya (embarrassing), napahiya (placed in an awkward position), ikinahiya (be embarrassed with someone), etc. With some affixes, it becomes negative, e.g., napahiya; with others, positive, e.g., mahiyain (shy); and in still other forms, it can either be positive or negative depending on the context, e.g., kahihiyan (sense of propriety, or embarrassment)” (in Pe-Pua & Marcelino, 2000). Thus, it is more appropriate to say that Filipinos exhibit hiya as a manifestation of respect, decency, and suitability.

In languages, Tagalog dominates the country’s dialect, most Filipinos can communicate well in English [3] even at a normal speed and the language is even often used by the government (in most — -if not all cases, laws and legal documents are entirely in English). This capability is the American education system’s legacy from the early 20th century and since then, Filipino culture became easily influenced by American/Western standards and trends.

While this can be viewed as helpful in modern times, post-colonial theorists alarm Filipinos about the cost of glamorizing the ability to read and write in the English language. Seeing it as an ideal language to use is a direct result of how the United States has interiorized Filipinos during the colonization period, said David in his seminal work Brown Skin White Minds (2013). Filipinos were viewed as ‘uncivilized,’ thus, their ‘little brown brothers’ must be educated to become ‘civilized.’ So, through Manifest [4], Benevolent Assimilation [5], and the Pacification Campaign [6] Filipinos were slowly programmed to abandon their well-established, highly developed and richly cultured indigenous societies, especially their own language.

Additionally, there are also determinants on who is worthy of respect, admiration, and esteem in Filipino society, according to Lewis: family name and/or connections (how established), age (young people listen to older people’s or anyone with senior rank advice), education (people are commonly assessed by educational attainment, English ability, and other qualifications), gender (Filipinos values machismo or pagiging macho, an exaggerated pride to masculinity that is forceful and demands subservience and respect from others deemed inferior), and skin color (pale skin is associated as ‘high class,’ ‘beauty,’ or ‘wealth.’

GlutaMAX advertisement on a billboard. Retrieved from:

In terms of politics and governance, Filipinos are said to have a strong commitment to democracy, condemn authoritarianism, and involve the military. Lewis tied 3 historical administrations: after the easy-going Filipinos experienced hardship under Marcos’s dictatorship, Aquino who succeeded him made political reforms that manifest freedom. Afterward, Ramos realized that Filipinos could not be governed in an authoritarian manner as an effect of learned interest in democracy from Americans.

This 2005 presumption of Lewis about Filipino’s political preference is now challenged with the series of high approval and trust ratings of the current authoritarian President Rodrigo Duterte. Regardless of issues about his war on drugs that enfeebled democratic institutions, the coercive acts of police and military in different planes of governance, aggressive charges and threats directed to those who oppose him as well as limiting media capacity, the president still holds an approval rating from Filipinos who were described as committed to democracy of 65% according to the first-quarter poll of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc.

A need to update?

Filipinos were defined as peculiar among neighboring countries. Given western influences and Asian ancestry, they love to talk but not too much in case of conflict. They are also proudly bilingual; hence, they can communicate beyond borders. They know how to resist in the name of their deserved rights and to be ready to listen when they perceive the sender as worthy. However, theorist Geert Hofstede warns about “ecological fallacy” or making the mistake to apply these country-level generalizations to individuals. Meaning, it all still varies from person to person. Additionally, years have gone by and drivers of national change such as global exposure, socioeconomic development, and new institutions have happened; thus, cultural change. It is our job as communication researchers to dig deeper and better understand, and as storytellers to encourage the mass to understand.

Ultimately, this is a useful reminder as much as a resource of how our actions can just be ‘culturally programmed,’ therefore, we must consider how our cultural glasses affect our values and attitudes and evaluate what works and what does not to go towards what is better thereafter.


[1] Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist that pioneered research on cross-cultural organizations defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one category of people from another.”

[2] Just as Germans have expressions for things like look-alike (doppelgänger) or desire to travel (wanderlust) that the English language can’t, they also have a word for their customary work ethic auf Deutsch (in German): sitzfleisch. Literally translates to ‘sitting meat’ but denotes the ability to sit still for long periods of time or having the endurance to go through the toughness of work and strain towards a project’s end. Read more: Sitzfleisch: The German concept to get more work done

[3] Filipinos are one of the top English-speaking countries around the world. The Philippines placed 27th out of 100 in Education First’s English Proficiency Index (EPI) 2020.

[4] a phrase during the 19th century about the assumed inevitability of US expansion to the pacific and further on; a belief in American cultural and racial superiority.

[5] President McKinley’s “motivation” for colonizing the Philippines that is, instilling the American culture as an act of “benevolence”

[6] This event includes a massacre of about one and a half million Filipino civilians, women, and children by American soldiers and the establishment of a nationwide public school system to “win the confidence, respect, and affection of the inhabitants of the Philippines” Blount, 1913, in David, 2013


Lewis, R. D. (2005). When cultures collide: Managing successfully across cultures (3rd ed.). London: N. Brealey Pub.



Gertrude Abarentos

WRITER for UNDERSCORE | Creating something means imagining it and not imagining the world without it. We’re all telling a story, what’s your medium?