One might assume that Singapore is a country full of friendly and polite people. You can hear them apologizing the whole time. Morning till night. “Excuus”, “Scuss”, “Escuss Eh” or all of them in a volume increasing row. However adoring Singaporeans kindness and thinking about my older post on Weird Singaporean Habits, I came to question myself if an excuse in Singapore really means “Sorry”.You have ever been treated politely in Singapore? No?
“Get Out Of My Way!” – I Mean “Excuse Me”
You have probably realized quite quick that “Excuse Me” in Singapore is being used as the universal term for everything, despite.. really apologizing of course.
I was firstly confused about the hundreds of different forms and ways of pronouncing “Excuse Me” in Singapore, but soon realized, that its not really about the direct meaning of the words “Excuse Me”, no, its much more just about the tone and sound of it and what the people here have developed to imply with it when hearing that sound. (The Secret And Unique Side Of Singapore)
My general understanding of how people here use “Excuse Me” after 2 years in Singapore is not of an appologizing one, but much more of a way to demand something.
Sorry… uhm … Could you please?
I wrote earlier about how I sense and see Singaporeans very often as to be impolite till the point of being rude. And we broke it down to several reasons, one being the nature of not losing your face in the Asian culture and another being the general Singaporean “Kiasuness“.
However… I still get irritated when someone bumps into me (I repeat, bumps into me) and gives me the typical “Tsk” sound or that weird-completely-non-interpretable-look instead of an apology, but 10 minutes later in my MRT ride home someone yells “EXCUUUS ME” in my ear, 2 minutes before we have even arrived at the station. (The Most Annoying Sound Of Singapore)
And that “Excuse Me” is not to be compared to any kind form of really asking for “Sorry”, its more a camouflaged version of “Let Me through or I poke you with my wet umbrella!”
The Good And The Bad
Two examples from opposite sides very well display the twist in Singapore’s system of politeness and why the “Kindness Campaign” hasn’t really worked out yet in my opinion. (The 6 Most Weird Campaigns In Singapore)
- 1. The Bad
As usually I walk down the escalator (on the right side) until the point where someone blocks my way (as usual).
So I say “Sorry“.
- Nothing Happens.
I repeat “Sorry, may I?“.
- Nothing happens. The two ladies happily blocking my way are having a vivid and nice conversation completely ignoring me.
So I give it a last try again “Sorry, can I please pass?”
- And now… the lady on the right side turns around with a furious face shouting at me… “YOU HAVE TO SAY “EXCUSE ME“…
Oh.. uhm.. ok, I thought I did!
- NO YOU DIDNT!
- 2. The Good
I had both hands full with bags and just leaving space for a very thin person I squeezed myself into the escalator of my new HDB block. The only person with me is a small, approx 8 year old school boy.
As i prepare to put down my many bags to press the button for my floor the boy goes
“Which floor sir?”
And upon me telling him which one and saying “Thank You“, I even (and that something really special) get a “You Are Welcome“. Wow. I was so stunned I forgot to get out.
It Feels … Wrong
Despite the fact that many people here don’t even dare to say “Excuse Me” out loud anymore, but much more whisper it behind your back expecting you to jump out of their way, the way it is used by everyone without even contemplating the real meaning of it, feels wrong.
I think the government should start a new campaign about “How To Use “Excuse-Me” In The Right Way And When To Use “Sorry“.
Have a good day, excuse me, I have some work to do…
Discovering new interesting and strange things everyday, he provides guides, news and tips for how to survive Singapore and how to best prepare for it.
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