How to be a Manila local: 10 tips on faking it

How to be a Manila local: 10 tips on faking it

Point with your lips. Act like a shark in theaters. Follow these tips and no one will mistake you for a noob

Manila can be an intimidating city for a newcomer.

It doesn't have to be.

Follow these 10 tips on how to look like a local and pretty soon people will be calling you "Chip" or "Te."

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1. How to talk to strangers

If you run into Manny Pacquiao, show off your Tagalog skills by calling him "Pogi." In Manila, it’s all about balancing familiarity and respect.

Address men as “Boss," “Chip” (chief), “Kuya” (Tagalog for older brother), “Pogi” (handsome) or “Pare.”

When speaking to ladies, call them “Miss.” But replace the short “i” with a long one, so that it sounds like “Meees."

Or just call them “Te,” which is the abbreviated word for ate (Tagalog for older sister).

Makes no sense? You're fitting in already. 


2. How to ask for the bill at restaurants

First, raise your hand to get the attention of the server.

When you’ve finally made eye contact, raise your other hand and draw a rectangle in the air by forming triangles with the tips of your index fingers and thumbs touching.

Draw them out apart, snapping shut a rectangle as you shut the index fingers and thumbs of the same hand together.

As you do this, say “chit” loudly enough for the server to hear you.

Pronunciation is key here. You don't want to insult the chef.  


3. How to ride a jeepney

One bus -- well, jeepney -- that you want to be on the back of.Though you can hail the Philippines' most popular form of city transportation from just about any point on the road, hopping on at proper jeepney stops has advantages. You have a better chance of grabbing the jeep’s prime real estate: the seat farthest from the driver, right next to the entry in the back.

Sit yourself there and wait until the jeep starts to fill up with riders. Then pay. Never mind that people will have to practically crawl over you to get to their seats. 

From this seat, you not only get to exit quicker, you get to experience the thrill of having passengers in middle seats pass your fare to the driver for you. 

Hold your money out to the passenger beside you and say “Bayad.” Don't worry, your fare will get to the driver, who watches the whole process from his panoramic rearview mirror. 

Should you be seated somewhere in the middle and money is passed to you, take it and pass it on to the next passenger. 

To really fit in with locals, pretend to be asleep (hold the handrail hanging from the ceiling and then rest your head, facedown) or look out your side window and pretend to be lost in thought.

Feel free to stare at people, just don’t get caught doing it.

When there’s room beside you, always shift yourself nearer the entrance. There's no such thing as personal space in a jeepney. 

When you’re near your destination, shout “Para!” and quickly head for the opening. 


4. How to speak

"Such a hot day. I'm so 'Pawis Hilton.'" Ask for things by using brand names instead of their actual names. Like Coke for soda, Colgate for toothpaste and Xerox for photocopy.

Should you forget a word mid-sentence, say “ano” or “kwan” in its place. Pinoys will understand you.

If you need to get someone's attention, just shout “Psst!” If unsuccessful, use the more urgent “Psst-huy!” 

You might also want to learn a bit of Bekinese. Bekinese is traditionally used by homosexuals, but everybody -- men, women, gay, straight -- can speak a word or two of Bekinese.

Because Bekinese incorporates global pop culture into Tagalog, it makes conversations more fun, lively and entertaining.

For instance: "Pawis Hilton" means sweaty; "Pawis" is sweat in Tagalog and sounds close to Paris.

Or you can say "Antokyo" when you’re sleepy. "Antok" is Tagalog for sleepy and its last syllable is the same as the first of Japan’s capital. 

Learn more about Bekinese here: www.spot.ph

5. How to find your seat inside the cinema

Act like a shark in deep water. Put your hands flat against each other in front of you, like a stealthy fin moving through the sea.

This action will inform the ocean of people that you're coming through. Be sure to scrunch your shoulders up a bit and your neck down a little, decreasing your size and thus causing less disturbance.

Don't forget to whisper "Excuse me" and "Sorry," alternately and in succession.

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6. How to point at things

Use your mouth. Pucker it toward the direction of the referred item.

7. How to eat

In Manila, grab the last piece of chicken at your own risk. Meals are a celebration in the Philippines. Very few eat alone and dining is almost always done family-style, with all dishes shared.

Should it happen that you want your own meal and it arrives first (Selfish brute!) offer some to your companions.

More often than not, they’ll say no, and encourage you to go ahead and start. So go ahead and start. 

Utensils are always spoon and fork, not knife and fork. Hold down the food with your fork, use your spoon to cut it. Put the piece of food on top of rice, then scoop it up.

Always be ready for a midday snack.

And don't grab the last piece. Pinoys shy away from picking up the last piece of anything. Wait until you’re sure no one is taking it before expressing polite interest in that last piece of fried chicken. 


8. How to take self-portraits

The Filipina art of self-portraiture.Though the photo would be far nicer if you got someone else to take it, things aren't always done that way here. Blurry close-up shots are often preferred.  

To achieve the perfect Pinoy angle, extend your camera arm in front of you, a little toward the outer side of the arm’s shoulder. Raise arm to a 45-degree angle so that the camera is pointing downward.

This is done particularly well by couples on dates. 

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9. How to pose for photos

If you must let someone else take your photo, a simple smile won't do.

Instead, make an “L” sign using the index finger and thumb of one hand. With palm facing in, place your chin in the space between the thumb and index finger so that the latter goes up to the cheekbone and the thumb supports the jawline.

Slap on your goofiest grin. 


10. How to text

In the Philippines, phones aren't used for making phone calls. The Philippines is a nation of texters. So text at every opportunity: waiting in line, on the bus or walking. Always text, never call.

And be sure to use Jejenese, the prevailing SMS language.

Practitioners of Jejenese are called Jejemon. They use "z" in place of "s," add "h" where they can, make minimal use of vowels and disregard rules of capitalization and punctuation.

For instance: “mztah na” is Jejenese for “kamusta na,” which is “how are you” in Tagalog.

You can blame defective keyboards, or the need to be unique.

More on CNNGo: 36 hours on a Philippine bus

Learn more about Jejenese and Jejemon here: www.fhm.com.ph.

Did we miss something? Share your tips on how to act like a local in Manila in the comments box below.

Lou E. Albano is a writer based in Manila and the managing editor of Fhm.com.ph

Read more about Lou E. Albano
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