Singapore is a unique mix of cultures and customs from around the world as more than 40% of the residents of the country are from other nations. Each ethnic group has its own distinctive style and manner of doing different things and as a visitor to the country;
It is certainly good if you know a few of them to have a pleasant experience:
- Any food being eaten or especially chewing gum on any form of public transport is subject to a strict fine of 500$. Yes, you did read it right! Buying and eating the chewing gum attracts heavy fines and can even land you in jail. So before you land in Singapore, either garbage all your chewing gum packs or eat it on the plane! But if you happen to have a prescription for having chewing gum, then go right ahead and have it!
- Ok so apparently many Singaporeans have a fear of losing anything or missing out from any experience. Let me put it this way; they have a fear which even has a name in Chinese, Kiasu which is the defined as the fear of missing any experience which another person may be enjoying. It’s called FOMO-fear of missing out in English and has made it to the dictionary as well.
- Do flush after you do your thing! Yes, forgetting to flush the toilet after using it can be a nightmare for you and can land you in jail. Doing the flushing is a civic duty and not doing it timely can be painful as it has a fine of 150$. Oh no, there is no way out from this as people are doing regular checks as well to catch the ahem, offenders.
- Moving around in your hotel room or even your own house in Singapore without having any clothes on or in the buff can land you in jail! Going around naked and watching any form or pornography on any device can land the offenders in jail for up to three months and/or a hefty fine of 3000$. Whew! So yes, George cannot roam around naked like he does in his jungle! Or whenever you are in the mood to be in the buff, just tightly shut all your home’s windows and curtains before you even think of doing that! Don’t forget to close the balcony door.
- Shoes are a no-no at the time when you are entering anyone’s house. Do remember to take it off near the door and enter bare footed or you may have to clean their carpet! Ha-ha, not really but this is a major custom in Singapore amongst locals of almost all ethnicities so take note and do remember it next time you visit anyone.
- Remember your manners everyone! Do remember to call any older man, ‘Uncle’ and an older woman ‘Aunty’ as this is politeness personified and expected of everyone. Anyone related or a complete stranger is to be treated and referred to in the same manner.
- I am going to teach you all a new word now – Chope! So chope means booked by someone, and it can be done by using a handkerchief or even a tissue paper. Let’s say you visit a food joint and are searching for any empty table or chair to sit on and have your dinner, if you spot a tissue on the tabletop, it has been chopped. This is a funny practice in Singapore but beware and absolutely do not stake claim to any place, table, a seat which has been chopped.
- Smoking my dear friends is banned in public places like malls, parks, swimming pools, community centers, and library and within 5 meters of a bus stop. Do not take chances and be caught or fined or even worse jailed for the offense. Keep on the lookout for smoking allowed signs or just don’t do it to be on the safe side of the law.
- So you are a high street artist and want to show off your talent on the roadside of a popular mall, just remember to get a permit from the public commissioner first. The country has made it mandatory for anyone requiring the use of any public space to officially apply and get the permit for it and then use the open space. This includes getting the local police permission as well. Go on, display your talent to Singapore, and just remember to get the permit my friend!
- Do not ever tip any person who has offered you any service or product! Tipping as a practice is not acceptable in Singapore and is not considered safe so refrain from tipping at all. All service places and restaurants charge their patrons with 10% service charge and the local government taxes and so do not expect any more tips for their employees or waiters. Do appreciate anyone’s exemplary service by giving a compliment to them verbally!
- Stay to the left of everything while walking or while in your car on the road. Left side signifies patience and being content with a slow speed of moving or walking. Right side mostly refers to people moving fast or cars moving fast on the road. Being on the right side when you are standing on the escalator is not considered the norm as people who are in a hurry do walk up the escalator on the right side and expect space for that. This is an unspoken rule which typically all locals follow. The rules remain the same for cars on the road my friend!
- Please queue up all my dear friends! So there is an unwritten custom in Singapore to queue up for everything that is of significance like the line for a food joint, McDonald’s or a theater show. It is considered a duty to queue for anything, and everything and people hate anyone who is willingly breaking a line. So my dear try not to be on the wrong side of the queue!
- There is a unique festival held annually for the ancestors of the Singaporean locals called the Hungry Ghost Festival. There are a few telltale signs of the festival’s existence like food offering on the road – fruits and food scattered about left for hungry ghosts to come and have. People are told not to play in the playground at night and not to sit on the empty street shows at night and not to go swimming at night as ghosts may wander about wanting to do these activities to make merry and then eat after that, so it is best to not come in their way.
- Chopsticks are to be treated properly and to be kept down in that same style only. Never ever hand over a noodle bowl to anyone with chopsticks sticking up straight at a 90-degree angle as it is said to signify being at a funeral and has an extremely negative connotation. The most ideal way to keep chopsticks is to lay them straight across the bowl and hand over the plate or bowl to the guest.
- Seats are assigned priority in public transit and are labeled as well to mark them for a few groups of people like the elderly, handicapped, pregnant women or children. It is a good and accepted Singaporean practice to offer your seat to one of the groups of people mentioned above if you are occupying one of their labeled positions. If not, still it is expected that all individuals behave cordially and helpfully by giving priority and support to them and offer their seat as needed.
Singapore is a beautiful country with many unique and strange customs followed in the country, but at the same time, it is a tolerant country as well. If you happen to visit the country and don’t know any particular custom, it is fine if you don’t know and you say sorry if you do something not acceptable. Just have a learning mindset and be willing to learn from the locals and you will have a significantly memorable stay. So my dear amigos, be a Roman when you are in Rome and be a Singaporean when you are in Singapore.