I am Filipina, and I’ve lived most of my life in the Philippines. When I married an American, I discovered that some things I do which have always been so natural to me are new and sometimes even weird to my husband. One of these is the Filipino practice of lip pointing. I don’t know when I acquired this trait. It could be I got it while I was still in my Filipino mother’s womb, and was lip pointing from the day I was born. But what I do know is all Filipinos, at least those who have grown up in the Philippines or raised by Filipino parents abroad, perform this gesture on a regular basis.
Filipino lip pointing is actually more than just a simple puckering up. First there’s eye-to-eye contact, followed by variations of lip pursing, combined with a eyebrow, head and neck action, the execution of which all depends on the intention of the pointer. Non-Filipinos who have observed this gesture find it confusing, and sometimes hilarious. Foreigners should be wary of this practice. A Filipina puckering her lips doesn’t necessarily mean she’s asking for a kiss. She could just be pointing to something on your shoulder. She might slap you in the face, if you misinterpret.
One of the most common reasons for lip pointing is to give quick directions, of which explaining verbally would take a longer time. So, if you’re at a mall, and you ask a Filipino who’s carrying grocery bags up to his arms where the rest room is, he might purse his lips then extend his neck to the direction of the restroom in one smooth action. Or he would purse his lips, lift his head up, and turn it to his left, which means: walk straight ahead, and make a left turn at the next corner. A head bobble before the head lift would mean pass two aisles down before making a left. If he over extends his neck, bends a bit, and stretches his lips outward, it means you’ve got a farther ways to walk.
Another reason why a Filipino would do this gesture is to instruct you to do something. So when a Filipino carrying large boxes looks at you and purses his lips towards a door knob, it’s a sign for you to open the door. When that’s combined that with several short and quick head bobbles, it means, “Hurry up!”
Or it could be they’re trying to be discrete, like silently informing you that your fly is open without making it known to other people around you. (This one is usually a slight but quick lip purse, a slight bob of the head, and lifting of both eyebrows.) Or it could also be that it’s too noisy (not uncommon in the Philippines), and giving verbal instructions is just futile and hand gestures disadvantageous. Like stealthily lip pointing to you the last available seat in a rock concert.
There are just so many reasons why Filipinos do this gesture. Here’s a hilarious clip from a Filipino American Christine Gambito, aka “Happy Slip”, which show some of the funnier reasons.
My American husband and I have been married for almost 9 years now, and lived in the Philippines for more than 3 years. I’ve tried teaching him how to interpret these lip pointing gestures, and how to do them correctly. He still sometimes shakes his head in confusion. It’s so entertaining to see him do it. It’s just so funny to see an American pucker up at nothing. Ay, naku!