When it comes to cultural norms, the Far East is vastly different to our Western sensibilities, which is why it’s a popular choice for UK travellers curious about other ways of life. While some Asian countries are rooted in centuries of tradition, Singapore stands out as a place where not only East meets West, but tradition meets modernity.
Why so? In 2016, a massive 64 per cent of its population were foreigners, mostly those who’ve migrated to work in the Asian headquarters of global businesses. Combine this influence with its colonial past and strong Confucian ethic in the native Chinese population, and it now offers a way of living that’s unique.
To prepare both business and leisure travellers, the Flexicover team provides a few pointers on what to expect in one of the most unusual cosmopolitan cities in the world.
Brush up on your Singlish
The good news for non-linguists is that English is one of the official languages of Singapore (along with Malay, Mandarin and Tamil), meaning you’ll be understood by most residents. The bad news is that it’s often mixed in with the local dialect, leading to a hybrid that’s referred to as ‘Singlish’. The different uses of English words can often complicate matters, and the accent might be so strong you’ll have difficulty understanding it on the first go, but it’s much more manageable than learning Mandarin from scratch!
Loud groups of Brits are likely to offend Singaporean sensibilities as it’s a polite, well-mannered country that finds aggressiveness difficult to understand. To assimilate well, stay softly-spoken and calm. It also helps to stay diplomatic and do all you can to avoid saying the word ‘no’. If you make a request from a local they can’t fulfil, expect them to avoid the word too – ‘yes’ will often mean ‘understood’ rather than a confirmation, so be wary of this opening for miscommunication.
The only problems are there are a lot of rules, and what constitutes uncouth behaviour in the UK is often illegal in Singapore; minor foibles like feeding birds, not flushing a public toilet, chewing gum, smoking or spitting in the street can result in a hefty fine. Meanwhile, vandalism is often punished with caning, and major offences like drug trafficking carry the death penalty. The benefit is that the whole of Singapore is an orderly place where you can feel secure, safe in the knowledge that anti-social behaviour is unlikely to hamper your holiday.
One thing not to miss on your Singapore adventure is to pay a visit to a hawker centre, a dining experience at an outdoor food court, where vendors sell specialty food around a common seating area. As well as being a true sliver of Singaporean life, it’s much cheaper than proper sit-down restaurants and is often just as delicious. For the brave, dishes on offer include black pepper crab, BBQ stingray, frog porridge and pig intestines, but more conservative tastes can go for safer options like chicken rice, curries, naan breads and thalis. Have a browse at the many food stalls and take your pick.
Westerners have only recently discovered the idea of FOMO: the fear of missing out. In Singapore, it’s a longstanding quirk of the culture, where it’s called ‘kiasu’ and ingrained in how society operates. It means that when there’s a sale on, expect to see huge crowds keen to see if there’s a bargain for them, or when a restaurant has a queue outside it, that in itself will attract even more people. It’s an infectious trait, so you might find yourself doing the same by the end of a trip.
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