Saturday, 10 January 2009

Faces and Gestures

A while ago, Maya and I were talking about gestures and facial expressions. Filipinos are notoriously skilled in conveying messages through facial expressions and body language. For example, if you want to pass through a group of people, you are supposed to make a small bow (a gesture of humbleness) and stretch both arms in front of you, as if carving out a virtual path in the air by which you will make your way through the group of people.

Smiles can be particularly ambiguous to foreigners, as they tend to convey a wide range of messages we do not usually associate with smiles (such as embarrassment, apology,...). You can read all about it on Lilli's blog.

If you want to survive in the Philippines, of course you have to be able to recognize and produce some of the gestures and facial expression. So, let's practice...

1. 'corrupt': the gesture below is used to indicate that someone is corrupt without actually spelling it out and saying it. The gesture evokes a coin of money. Sometimes, when you ask a Filipino if this or that politician is doing a good job, the only reply you get is this sign, accompanied with a disapproving facial expression. Most people in the West would probably understand this sign to mean 'ok' or 'excellent' (though without the face of course :)

2. 'Over there': Filipinos do not point with their hands, but with their lips. So if you ask 'where is the mall?', people will point their lips in the direction where you need to go. This is only done, of course, if it is not too far, although the further one stretches his lips outward, the further your destination will be. For unsuspecting foreigners, it looks like a kiss.

3. 'what?': a short way of saying 'what?' in Filipino languages is by using the word 'ha?'. Many Filipinos, however, do not bother to say the word, but simply open their mouth as if they are going to say it, but without producing the sound. The result is something that we would define as a look of amazement, surprise or wonder. It only works, of course, if you are face to face with the person who didn't catch you :)

4. 'Hey, how are you?': This is a facial expression used to greet people you do not intend to talk to. It is used to greet passers-by in the street.You raise your eyebrows as high as possible and accompany it with a smile. It is important to tip your head back while doing it. If you make this gesture to any stranger on the street, he will reply with exactly the same expression.

5. 'I don't like that person': If you ask someone whether they like a certain person whom they actually cannot stand, they might use this facial expression. It expresses dismay about someone's personality. It almost seems to suggest that, apart from having a undesirable personality, the person also emits a particularly discomforting odour that necessitates you to close your nostrils....

And, now that I look back at these pictures, the overall message they convey is: I should really shave...


newman said...

very good post and it will help avoid cionfusion in future travels!


Lie said...

Bangelijk artikel!
Je lijkt er wel als een vis in het water. Benieuwd wat de Belgische reacties op je nieuwe lichaamstaal zullen zijn, maar ik ben alvast een fan ;-)


Rio said...

hahaha... so did you shaved already? :P you look so funny in those pictures... a bit over acting.. but entertaining and it really made me laugh. :P

Bianca Buena said...

Just what I needed for my homework. Haha.
I'm filipino by the way and these are very very precise although, alone, I would never have thought of these. Good job. Hope you had fun in the Philippines. :P

Haeun Lee said...

that is so precise that its funny :D my filipino friends often do these. great work!