Why Private Space Is Worth Nothing In Singapore

Before arriving in the most densely inhabited country of the world (well almost, but Monaco doesn’t really count, does it? :) I wasn’t really paying attention or even being aware of the existence and definition of “Private Space”. What is “private space” and where do i find it? Can I sell it? And how does… Read more »

Before arriving in the most densely inhabited country of the world (well almost, but Monaco doesn’t really count, does it? :) I wasn’t really paying attention or even being aware of the existence and definition of “Private Space”.

What is “private space” and where do i find it? Can I sell it? And how does one violate it?

If you live in countries where the average density rate is around 200 people per square kilometer, spread in nice little neat houses, you can imagine the huge change it takes to overcome arriving in a country like Singapore with a density rate of approx 6500 people per square kilometer.

To put this into a more tangibly picture, it means, where you cue up for a coffee in Germany, having 5 people waiting with you in line, in Singapore, statistically, you will have 150 people in front of you, and i cant even say thats unrealistic.

What Is Private Space

As Private or Personal space one describes the average range in cm/m around yourself, your body, that should be not disturbed by any outsider, friend, stranger, whomever. This range is of course variable and sometimes not existing at all (cough cough) but to stay with the statistics, there are 4 different types of private space:

  • Intimate distance: Is reserved for family, pets and very close friends and is in average 45cm. The only strangers typically allowed in this pace are health care professionals
  • Personal distance: Is reserved for friends and acquaintances. It ranges between 45cm and 1.5m. Handshakes for example will place your partner an average 1.2m away which makes this the most common “personal space”
  • Social distance: Is usually applied in meetings, business interactions, interviews or any other formal matters and ranges from 1.2m to 3.7 meters
  • Public Space: Everything that extends more than 3.7 m and is not guarded. Secret Service agents for example will commonly attempt to ensure 3.7 m of open space around dignitaries and high ranking officials

The above numbers are an average, generally received as “comfortable” from the US to Europe. In Singapore however we need to adjust the numbers a bit, actually not just “a bit” but drastically.

People Crowd in SingaporePhoto by Dandeluca

What Is Private Space Worth In Singapore

There is a general misconception of private space in Singapore.
An example.Where it is totally normal outside Singapore to pack trains during rush hours with as many commuters as possible, there are some people, like the famous “Gatekeepers” who wont really want to give way or space, keeping the trains inner sections even half empty during peak hours. This is a very good example of “Defending Private Space In The Wrong Manner”.
(Read: Singapores Real Zoo – MRTs Unexplores Species (Part 2))

On the other hand it is nearly impossible to take a refreshing walk through Singapore’s business district, Raffles Place, or Orchard Road, unintentionally having to shake three different peoples hands (say hello to the yummy germs of 1000 other shaken hands), and one second later being presented your “special offer” new credit card contract.

Just today i met Steve, John and Mary, all violating my private space with some ridiculous offers, “No i don’t need a 10th Credit Card, and by the way, im wearing my suit not because i like to sweat but because I’m working for a bank myself, Idiot!

Then there are people literally placing themselves in your way, half forcing their flyer’s in your hand half redirecting you into their stupid tourist shop. Again, “No, i don’t want another Merlion Cup and no i don’t want your hands to touch me neither, while trying to throw your flyer at me“.

Call Me Sensitive

I guess the only form of “private space” violation I experienced before Singapore appeared to be my parents, storming into my room when the neighbors daughter was over.
Or in form of drunken buddies suddenly turning gay and violating all kinds of things in my “private space”…

Now having been in Singapore for two years, there is literally no “private space” left over around me, theres nothing to violate anymore since my space went missing a long time ago. Im currently trying to absorb some of the “Private Space” lying around in the empty MRT trains, but to refill my space will definitely take longer then it will take to remove those ugly stains, people with dirty fingers left on my shirt while throwing the latest mobile plan flyers at me.




It (the concept of loss of private space) got worse in recent years – was more bearable in the past.

I left SG and been abroad for the past three years, each of the three return holiday trips I made to sg during this duration made me feel agitated and claustrophobic

Compared to the past, the squeeze factor contributes towards my thinking that it’s killing the city’s livability. I’ve definitely seen better days, and it saddens me because SG is my country, my home


I realise that I didn’t articulate it very well, what with eating and typing this at the same time. But I hope you get the gist of what I’m trying to say.


JustPoppingBy, thanks for your comment, i think you made a good point with “the squeeze factor killing the cities livability”, i think its still ok compared to other cities, but…everybody knows about the governments plans to raise the population another 2 million people…


I get what you mean with this private space. In the US it’s called personal space. It’s the smallest distance between two people before one starts to feel uncomfortable. I recently returned to Singapore for a visit and was annoyed that my private space was being constantly invaded. I instantly gravitate towards areas where the density of people are the lowest. This led me to an interesting discovery. In the subways, people get in line and squeeze themselves tightly on the escalators. However, the staircase right next to the escalator is empty! I was only too glad to take advantage of the fact that Singaporeans were too lazy to walk up the stairs.


I’m born and bred Singaporean and have been in Canada and Australia for the past 9 years. Only just returned home 2 months ago. Agree the ‘squeeze’ factor is pretty high here, especially when you compare it to those in Canada and Australia but I would pick a city with a high squeeze factor over one with a low factor anytime. Why? I don’t particularly like living in ‘ghost towns’–the more people I see, the more alive I feel… totally love people-watching… especially aunties and their antics. I admit it can be challenging getting on/off MRTs what with people crowding by the entrances/exits, refusing to move inwards AND people rushing to get on without letting passengers get off first–this is not unique to SGP… happens in Sydney as well and I dare say, many other cities.

Akira – Re: Singaporeans being too lazy to walk up the stairs… yeah, think this is prob true… but perhaps people who still prefer taking packed escalators as opposed to heading up stairs coz they are green? I mean, electricity’s being used up anyway—if no one takes the escalators, electricity used would go to waste… (^_^)


I’ve unconsciously developed a natural defense mechanism for flyer harassment, diamond salesmen and restaurant touts in Boat Quay. I only realized this recently, when a friend from my country came to visit and pointed that out, but I think I have been doing it for some time and it actually works! Here’s my tip. I hope it helps you cope with the invasion of your private space and enjoy (even more) the experience of living in Singapore ;-)

When you see the annoying individual approaching towards your direction, look relaxed like you are not bothered by their presence. Without lifting your arm, raise the right hand a little bit. Then shake your head slightly saying no, and for a short moment close your eyes matter-of-factly. The hand will avoid a further invasion of your space. The nod and long blink will most times save you the “No thanks” that will naturally come to your mouth and prevent them from even asking further. It works with all except with the Israelis that sell dead sea creams, nail polishers and electric hair curlers in some malls. They are really nice people if you have time to talk to them, but so aggressive that even westerners have issues getting rid of them, and I’ve heard that some locals have complained about their techniques.


I can understand that people got uncomfortable when their personal space is being interrupt. However, this might be a culture issues as well. If you look at people in india, their personal space is so small, almost like no personal space. This is also partly becos of their population.

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