Food stretches as far as the eye can see.
Shoes are lined up at the front door in numbers that would make Emelda Marcos blush.
Children are running everywhere.
A group of aunties and uncles are playing cards.
Impressively good singing is coming from the karaoke corner.
A Lola (grandmother) is asking you when you are going to get married to your Filipina girlfriend.
You are new and not Filipino. You are sweating.
What’s the occasion? Well, it could be any actually – Easter, this auntie’s birthday, that uncle’s house warming, a family member could be visiting from the Philippines or someone may even have died. Regardless of the occasion, everyone is watching you. Follow these instructions so you don’t screw up:
Let’s start with an obvious one that nevertheless gets ignored. When at a Filipino gathering, don’t just stick to the Filipino friend that invited you or play it safe and talk to the other obvious outsiders. There is nothing more lame than the 2-3 non-Filipinos at a Filipino party just talking to each other. People will really appreciate it if you get out there and mingle, if you get to know the crowd. Filipinos are very social and appreciate some social boldness.
Which brings me to the next point. As opposed to some cultures where the emphasis is placed on being understated and reserved, the Filipino culture is best lived with the volume turned up. People get loud when they are having a good time. Don’t be afraid to laugh out loud and raise your voice. Greet someone from across the room. It is more than OK. It is encouraged.
Encourage Children to Sing Loudly in front of everyone
Children are a major source of entertainment at Filipino get-togethers. At my Filipino family’s Christmas parties, all the kids compete against each other in a talent show where each kid sings, dances or recites something in front of those gathered in return from dollar bills from the adults. I saw some pretty impressive performances and nothing goes down better than cheering loudly for each child. If you have a kid, have them perform too.
Eat a little too much
Show some appreciation for the food by going back for at least seconds. An enthusiastic eater is definitely appreciated. I typically do a test round of most of the dishes available and then go back for top-ups of my favorites. Find the creators of your favorite dishes and tell them you loved their food. They will remember… especially if the dish is particularly adventurous… oxtail anyone?
By “gossip intelligently” I don’t mean spreading malicious rumors. But you do want to be clued in to some of the social dynamics of the group. Get proud parents to talk about their kids’ scholastic achievement. Weigh in on some of the romantic matchmaking. If you have friends that would be a great match for someone in the room, float the idea.
Offer to Help
Something as simple as offering to help with dishes can help break the relational ice and make you an insider so be sure to ask if you can help with something. Even if you are turned down, do something helpful like bring some empty plates from the potluck table back to the kitchen and rinse them off. People will notice you and appreciate it.
What it all really comes down to is a willingness to show up and be friendly. So even if it may be unfamiliar territory, give it all you’ve got. There is much to enjoy.