Friday, March 21, 2008

GESTURES: Only a Touch of Filipino Culture

Laura B. Corpuz, 8-14-1996,

Hosting international students from Bradley University provided my family very rewarding experiences and opportunities to understand various cultures. Recognizing and understanding the uniqueness of other people’s cultures are equally vital for better communication. It is amazing how often we hear people say "actions speak louder than words." Awareness and understanding of these gestures is a big step toward a better global communication.

People in any ethnic background sometimes express their love, joy, disappointments, anger, friendship, success, failure, as well as their emotions, through gestures. This is also known as "body language." Gestures do add beauty to any type of communication. They help or supplement what we try to say but some gestures have ethnical values. Some gestures are exhibited in place of words. These gestures are instinctively demonstrated due to the force of habit. Our faith and beliefs play some important roles in the expressions of these ethnical gestures. What is important is that we understand what people try to convey.

Notice the gesture that to Filipinos means "no" but to some nationalities, it means "yes." What I felt was a rude, belittling and animal beckoning gesture is a perfectly acceptable gesture expressed by other people. "Gestures are only a touch of Filipino cultures.” Let's look at some of these gestures and their after effects.

RUBBING FOREHEAD: Rubbing the forehead of an infant making the sign of the cross so the child won't be "ma‑usog." Coming on too strong frightens an infant/child causing it to run a temperature. (Just what the old folks say.)

HEAD SHAKING: Shaking head (horizontal) left to right means "no” a bit confused or "I don't know" gesture.

MOVING HEAD down once is a beckoning gesture. Sometimes this means "I don't know.”

HEAD NODDING: Nodding head up and down (vertical) or at times tango only, means
"yes" or consent.

However, there are times when Filipinos make this gesture to someone insistently in asking for something. If this is the case "yes" means "no" or "fed up."

FLASHING EYEBROW AND EYE WINKING: These are demonstrated together or at
different times. They both mean "I have a crush on you; “I like you;” or "masama ang tama," (flirting).

“ Winking eye” also means an understanding that two individuals have a secret to keep.

Depending on the situation, this may look so rude to someone of status. This can also be an aggravating gesture.

HEAD SCRATCHING: An angry, aggravated and irritated adults makes this gesture. You don't want to be a victim of someone who is angry.

For students taking exam, this may mean "I don't know the answer(s). Sometimes it is accompanied by teeth biting*. Or, student might know the answer but couldn't think of it. It is a frustrating gesture.

TEETH BITING “NANGGIGIGIL”: A gesture of both anger and admiration. At this point of anger, it's better to remain silent to avoid conflict. An admiration of a cute baby/infant makes you feel like squeezing it. Just imagine a darling, huggable with beautiful eyes baby/infant. You cannot resist pinching the baby’s cheek. Not to hard though.

FOREFINGER IN CIRCULAR MOTION: A sign that someone is "kulang‑kulang,”
"maluwag ang turnilyo" "medyo‑medyo" (crazy, lose screws).

DIRTY LOOK "IRAP": What a nasty and hatred gesture! Another interpretation of this gesture is jealousy/envious look.

DILATED EYES/PUPIL means "discontinue" whatever it is a child is doing. We call this "makuha ka sa tingin."

Others may interpret this as being curious and cannot believe what is in front of their eyes. Shocking and jaw dropping as well.

In some cases, children who are accustomed to these gestures, either dilated eyes or a mere look or a little stare are praised by the elderly and commended for their politeness and obedience to their parents/adults. (Nakukuha sa tingin)

STARING AT SOMEBODY: This is rude and very impolite. However, this can also mean someone is so fascinated or attracted to someone’s beauty.

EYE POINTING/LOOKING IN THE CORNER OF ONE'S EYE: While a look in the corner of one's eyes with a funny face means, “I really don't care; "Who cares.” or "So what." This is also used to point at an object or to secretly say "the one I look at is ...".

STARING AT NOTHING (TULALA): Amazing look! May also be interpreted as confused, thinking hard/deeply, day‑dreaming, hallucinating, or losing one’s mind.

ROLLING EYES: This means confused. "I don't know what he/she is talking about." "It must be so funny, I forgot to laugh," attitude. Also, this is what others may say, a very sarcastic gesture.

WRINKLED EYEBROWS: In some gatherings, someone might be confused about something and would wrinkle his/her eyebrows. Sometimes it is followed by a slight head shake and a funny face.

HEAD TILTING: Another gesture used to point at an object. "Come this way" (head tilted to a certain direction/point).

LIP POINTING: Watch Filipinos use their lips to point at an object, or a person. It’s hilarious.

OBJECT TOUCHING/POINTING: At times we touch the object we prefer to buy or to get.
"The one I touch is what I like." "Buy it for me dad."

CHIN RESTING ON ONE HAND: A gesture expressing "loss in business" (nalugi).

STICKING OUT TONGUE: "Belat" "Good for you." (Irony). A negative gesture very common among children who are glad somebody got in trouble instead of him/her. It is worse when children hold the corners of their mouth while sticking out their tongues at someone in trouble.

POUTING WITH A SAD FACE: An angry gesture demonstrating disagreement or just being "moody. (Usually shown by young children who don't want to obey.) If demonstrated by an adult, observers would make a comment like, “Mukhang Biyernes Santo" (Good Friday Face). Watch Out! You could get in trouble for no reason.

PICKING FOOD OFF BETWEEN TEETH (With a toothpick or by twirling tongue in the mouth): Usually covering the mouth with the other hand may give either a polite or impolite connotation depending upon who interprets such gesture.

RAISED FOREHEAD ("Taas ang Nuo"): Either a symbol of pride or plain "proud" (palalo, mayabang).

SPITTING ON THE GROUND: Although this is a negative gesture showing disapproval of something or dislike of someone, spitting on the ground is not uncommon to older women who chew betel leaves, nuts and lime. (nganga)

WHISTLING "pssssst" is oftentimes used to call attention of not only children but also of anybody. Some people make a tune out of it especially if it's used to call a teenager's attention (flirting).

FINGER IN MOUTH: Asking for a cigarette.

RUBBING FINGER: Right pointer rubbing with the left pointer means he/she is asking for cigarette match/lighter.

WAVING HAND: Palm down moving the fingers back and forth means "Come Here" or "Good Bye."

ARM EXTENDED: A passenger extending an arm needs a ride usually seen in the cities and along the roads. In the provinces, passenger may even yell "para" (stop) along with this gesture.

ELBOWING: This is another attention getting gesture.

KISSING HANDS: Kissing the hand of an elderly is the most popular Filipino gesture to show respect for older people.

especially dogs and regarded as rude and belittling if used to beckon a person.

SMILING: A simple smile shown by a timid or shy Filipina means "Thank you" not only
for a gift but also for simple acceptance of gratitude and praise. A "smile begets a smile", if demonstrated by a young teen means so much to a young guy or a “heavenly” gesture to others.

MOUTH‑COVERED SMILE: Not only does this mean shyness, but it can also mean a sarcastic smile, depending upon the situation. Filipinos might even describe it as "ngiting‑aso" (dog smile) which is really very rude.

SIGN OF THE CROSS: This gesture is given to anybody who kissed the hand of an elderly.
It is also made by people leaving the house or passing by a church as well as before and after eating in giving thanks to God for grace. Depending upon usage of this gesture a left‑handed priest uses his right hand when blessing the people. *Note: See FOREHEAD RUBBING.

SILENCE: Being speechless and remaining silent mean "Yes," a sign that a lover would interpret as a mutual understanding of love. "Silent water runs deep." On the contrary, an impatient lover might think, “it’s a hopeless case.” Life must go on; it’s time to look for another one.

SHRUGGING SHOULDERS: This means "I don't know;” "I could care less."

TAPPING SHOULDER: A surprised greeting! Attention getting.

HANDSHAKING: A very friendly gesture commonly used by businessmen. "I'm glad to meet you." "How are you?" "Kumusta ka?" (Casual)

RUBBING THE SAINTS’ HANDS AND FEET: Rubbing the hands and feet of saints people
venerate and then rubbing them on the parts of their bodies for strong belief of its healing power.

FOOT TOUCHING/PUSHING: A very quiet gesture to let someone know that "enough was said or it basically means stop." (Usually done by a parent and child; or husband and wife, to avoid embarrassment.

FOOT STAMPING (DABOG, DAMBA): Children in disagreement or anger with (usually) their parents would release this bad feeling by stamping their feet. The harder they stamp their feet, the better they feel. This gesture is almost always coupled with pouting.

LEANING OVER: It basically indicates “I have something to whisper in your ears.” “Come a little closer.”

BENDING OVER (SLIGHTLY) WITH ONE ARM EXTENDED DOWNWARD: In passing between two people who are in the middle of a discussion, this gesture demonstrates politeness and respect for those people, with or without saying “Pardon me” or “Excuse me.”

CLICKING PLATE/GLASSWARE: A spoon is used to click the plate calling other family members for dinner if family does not want to call everybody's name. (Or used instead of saying "kakain na tayo," or the table is ready.)

PULLING AWAY FROM/HESITATING GESTURE: This means “with reservations.” "Hele‑Hele, bago quierre” attitude is demonstrated by a guest who is invited to dine this very moment, but doesn’t want to show how hungry he/she is. Doesn’t want the host to think that he/she is "patay‑gutom" either. In the guest’s subconscious mind is the saying "Ang tunay na anyaya, may kasamang hila” (An invitation that is truthful is coupled with a pull).

In love affair, "hele‑hele, bago quierre" is a pretense gesture, not necessarily being a hypocrite but just flirting to see how far the lover can go. They want to be sure it’s the right one. Serious lovers are extra careful about this matter.

NOT SENDING "THANK YOU" CARDS: This is traditionally and socially acceptable practiced by the Filipinos due to the unavailability of stationery in some parts of the country. They understand the gratefulness of their friends, however.

WIPING/SHAKING OFF SHOES/FEET: A beautiful gesture in respect for the homeowner.
(Not practiced during parties or “Fiestas”)

EXTRA EFFORT gestures are exhibited by children who are expecting a “Yes” or approval from their parents for a request. Children will do any house chores, run errands, etc. for a reward. They can even be in their best behavior and maintain good grades if they really want to. A trip to Manila, town, new clothes, shoes, and vacation to anywhere are rewards really worth working hard for.


And last but not the least
On this body gestures list
Look at drivers of busses and jeeps
Pedestrians too on Manila streets.

Watch the police direct city traffic
Look closely at his arms move so quick
His "paswit" (whistle) and actions so artistic
On the pedals push your feet quick!

(NOTE: Enjoy the artistic gestures of Manila police while you can. Color-coding of some vehicles improves the traffic and decreases pollution, and might possibly affect the police traffic‑directing, which has fascinated me since childhood.)

Other interpretation of these gestures depend upon the usage and perceptions of those concerned. However, these are only “as observed” and clarified with my former teacher/ principal in Hagonoy, Bulacan, Philippines, Mr. Vicente D. Santos (LA, California).
Copyright @ 1996 All Rights Reserved

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