Singapore Is Really Strange – Can You Explain Please?

Most times I love this country, this most untypical island in the tropics with its unique character. But there are other times I desperately search for answers without any help in sight.
Answers to strange things and behavior that I want to understand for not having to complain about them anymore. For the Ang Moh most confusing, for the local not mentioning worse. Please help!

This Is Something Different

I know there are probably thousands of forum posts, blog entries and stories about the general “issues”, foreigners feel they have to deal with here in Singapore.

Those are namely the infamous topics of “Burping and Body sounds in most unpleasant situations”, slow AND in line walking, escalator blocking and MRT storming, unusual communication behaviors and other misunderstandings that are unavoidable if it comes to the clash of two or more so different cultures.

Well, this post is not about these things since they have been and will be discussed much enough already. People have to learn that its them visiting another country and that its them who have to adjust to the local customs…

HOWEVER… there are some little things that surprise and confuse me on a daily basis, I would simply like to get off my head…Continue reading for some strange things you (maybe) only find in Singapore.

Why Do You Queue 30 Minutes For Coffee, In The Morning?

Every morning I arrive at Raffles Place I see queues of people literally lining up at special Coffee Shops for eternity to grab a 90 Cent Kopi you would get 10 meters later in less then a minute.

How can people spend so much time in the morning (before going to the office) queuing and why do they do that? Is this especially good coffee? Is it 10 Cents cheaper?

Why Do You Request That ATM receipt Every Time, Just To Throw It Away?

I find myself wondering while waiting in the ATM queue, why people request this unnecessary receipt from the ATM machine if 80% don’t even look at it after it got printed out, just to simply throw it away in the nearby bin?
Is it because it comes for free, is it because people want to destroy the rain forest?

Why Do You Laugh About Unfunny Things In The Cinema?

Ok, this is a real brain-breaker. Whenever I watch a (supposedly) funny movie (last one was Detroit Metal City) I almost turn nuts because the people simply laugh at the “wrong” places or at scenes my six year old brother would find his joy in because its some simple, silly slapstick comedy (Someone gets smacked in the face, looks funny, stumbles over his feet and falls into a swimming pool, wow, haha).

On the other hand, when it comes to wordplays, mimic comedy or real situational comic, no one even dares to smile…WHY?

Why Don’t You Ever Say “Thank You”?

There must be a reason why the Singapore government sees the need to start an official “Kindness Movement Campaign” tomorrow in Singapore.
A huge part of my domestic education was to obtain and follow some general social and behavior rules, the curious person can find summarized in a book called “Knigge Guide”.

In Singapore you hold the door for other people, you pick up something if they drop it, you stop the elevator from closing if you see someone who wants to come with you, you safe someones life and other unimportant things… But in almost (and its sad but true) 95% of the cases, You wont get a “Thank You”, You wont get acknowledgment, hell, You wont even get a nice look of sympathy at all.

Sometimes it annoys me so much that I loudly say “You Are WELCOME, always a pleasure” after the person I just helped. The confused look that comes back gives me the satisfaction I need to obtain my positive thinking through the rest of the day. Why?

Why Are You Leaving So Early?

I attended many Dinner and Dance, events, company celebrations etc. which almost all have the obligatory “Grand Draw” for prices at the end.
(Read: 5 Best Tactics Of How To Crash Singapores VIP Events)

Very surprising I remember how I unbelievingly rubbed my eyes after the Show Master announced the final number and everyone fled the room. Sudden emptiness.

The event hadn’t finished yet, drinks were still given out, the soup was still warm and the music just started. But left on the dance floor were only Ang Mohs and some used napkins. (During later DAD’s the organizers even went so far to give out more prices for the first 20 people on the dance floor just to be able to keep the party going).

Same goes for other social gatherings, people show up for the (mostly free) food, and when it comes to the point of Smalltalk and relaxed sitting together (which is the original reason why you are there, its called “socializing”), they leave with some strange excuse… Why?

Why Are There So Few Bins In Singapore?

This is more of a general question, but I am always curious about it. You have the state Singapore on the one hand who wants to be the cleanest country of all, but then you don’t find a bin to throw away your chopsticks in a range of 2 Kilometers, huh?

Even more confusing is the fact that you wont find bins in any MRT station (and I’m not talking about “inside” the station where food, drinks etc are obviously forbidden anyway) but I’m talking about the space before entering the MRT.

How the hell can I keep the station clean if you don’t give me the option to throw away the Slurpie I just bought at 7-11 before coming in?

There’s Much More And I Really Need Your Help!

I have numerous more questions about Singaporean customs and behavior I want and need to understand but the post would get too long. I will write about them later.

In the meantime, please help me to understand the above and post your knowledge and ideas in the below comments! Your help is pretty much appreciated!

comments

44 Comments

Charles

Even though it was not advertised to so much, the bins in the MRT stations they were removed as part of anti terrorism fight (just like the letter boxes).

It was part of one of our Cross-Cultural training that Singaporean only enjoy Slapstick comedy.
And that besides Slapstick they laugh when they are uncomfortable.

In terms of leaving weddings dinner early, it is more polite: wedding dinners are social functions (not meant to be friendly): the hosting party is waiting for you to leave asap, so they can count how much they have lost/made.

I had the same problem with the bins for the last many years: I guess they expect you to throw on the floor like them, and the foreign cleaners will clean after you (it is in the mentality)

Say “thank you” and loose face: you are in debt.

Ray

You request the ATM receipt so the balance does not show on the screen.

Why leaving early? We didn’t really want to come in the first place but came to be polite. With the draw over and my duty done, diminishing returns means I’m outta here.

As for bins, they are disappearing everywhere. They are a security risk (bins disappeared from London long ago when they became home to some nasty bombs).

THANK YOU FOR YOUR QUESTIONS!

ps: If you were trained to laugh by TCS you’d laugh in the wrong places too.

admin

wow, thanks for answers, so far the bomb-thread reason for the bin question makes most sense :)

I hope no one feels offended by the questions I simply wanted to get some answers to these little bogers in my mind :)

But…why would you loose face and be in debt by saying “Thank You” if someone is polite to you? Like.. serious??

yibi

The “Thank You” question draws me to an encounter in Macau.

I was coming down in the lift one morning in the hotel. On a lower floor I held the lift for a Chinese couple, who came in a mumbled an inaudible “Thank You” (I was reading their lips”). After we came out of the lift, I told my wife, “These 2 must be Singaporeans”. True enough when I heard them talking at the lobby, it’s unmistakenly Singlish. :) We are improving, give us some time, the “Thank You” will become audible soon. :)

Ray

Maybe the government should do a “Say Thank You” campaign.

I’m going to conspicuously say thank-you at every chance today and see if it puts anyone off balance.

admin

@Ray, please lets all do that and flood Singapore with “Thank Yous”…

James

During my stay in Westeran Australia, I was amazed why everybody was always happy and smiling. At the end of 2 years, I found some reasons. There’s minimum wage levels – nobody is poor if they are willing to work. A “bricky” can earn as much as an engineer. And if you are really destitute, there’s real welfare – not $330 per month.University education is free, and scholarships, if needed, are bond free. Red Shield provides free medicals – including cover for foreign students. The free bus ride to King’s Park – after 30 years – is still free. Beer is cheaper than Coca Cola. Barbeque pits are free – BYO only, no need for permit application. Etc, etc.
Back in Singapore, it’s GST, ERP, COE, PARF, road tax, water conservation tax, tv licence, school fees, supplementary fees, and a prime minister that demands to be paid 5 times what Obama gets.
What for you say thank you?

Tom

hi there, as a fellow ang mo, I’m sort of delighted that i’m not the only one wondering about some of the issues you brought up here.
The queues, the wrong laughter in the cinema, the leaving early thing… Especially the lack of basic courtesy- keeping a door open when someone is behind you, saying thanks you etc hit me quite hard. Of course there are exceptions, but generally i have to agree with one the posters here that it is a matter of losing face, a strange twist in the singaporean culture.
Didn’t really notice the ATM receipts and the vanishing bins, but thanks for pointing it out. I always thought singapore had quite a lot of bins on the street, much more than I would find in europe..
and LOL at James, I completely understand :)

Anon

Here is what i think of a couple of the unanswered questions. Many people from the older generation are chinese educated so they might not understand the more subtle word plays.

Slabsticks comedy are probably the most universal whereas the others might be influenced by the person’s cultural background. For example, whenever i watch american talk shows, there are inevitably certain scenes where the audience are laughing uncontrollably and i have no clue what they are laughing about.

Lastly, the question regarding the coffee can be easily answered. Just try the coffee yourself and find out =)

cos they are tired?

Went back to Singapore a few years ago. Was with my then 10 year old son who had been away for almost 2 years. We were at an MRT station and he asked “Are Singaporeans unhappy?” Cos no one smiled…and I had the same experience – holding doors open , pressing on lift buttons for people to get out/come in… not a word of thanks. And I did the same as you . Said a very loud “You’re welcome”. They were surprised/embarrassed. Think things weren’t so bad before I left Singapore. I got real annoyed and I’m not even an Ang Mo; lol ! I tend to agree with James. People are just tired and fed up ….nothing to feel thankful and happy about. It’s different for expats who can leave when they want. Singaporeans feel stuck in an increasingly crowded and stressful lifestyle….

Syed

Thats quite an observation there John, but from the 10 queries you have i would do with the one about leaving early. Have you been to the Singapore Pools draw (Toto/4D) at Selegie Rd? When the masses finds that they didn’t win the 1St prize, they’ll leave all at once. Same applies to D&D functions. Most of them who attends are hoping to strike the 1st prize lucky draw. So, when the draw is over they simply left and are clearly not interested to stay for the dance. If i’m the organiser, i’ll announce the grand draw after the dance, somewhere around 1am.

KM

ATM receipt – ATMs used to dispense receipts by default. It was confirmation that the transaction was successful. So it may be a habit of the older folks to want to see a receipt.

KM

Why Don’t You Ever Say “Thank You”? – this is strange because I am always thanked for being gentlemanly – picking up things, stopping lifts, holding doors, giving up my seat, etc.

One thing I notice though is that young local women WILL NEVER thank you for the above.

KM

Why Are You Leaving So Early? – This is for practical reasons. If we leave late, the MRT is no longer running. Most locals live in far away towns. $35 for a taxi ride home isn’t exactly small change for us. For people with families, they have to sleep and wake up early next morning for some family activity.

Juana

I myself, is a well-bred Singaporean and the rudeness in this country do not even flow in my family’s blood, well, with the exception of my mum…hah, in a way that most MRT commuters behaves when people are trying to exit the train… I will make that big irraitating sound everytime some aunties/uncles just shoved their way thru the door and as a result pushing me or knocked into me and not even a word of apology escaping their mouths for that dirty deed of theirs .. and yeah, when I use the phrase “Thank You”, they just looked at me as if Im not even a Singaporean… So i guess, expats are not the only ones grumbling bout the un-courtesyness of this fine city…

admin

thanks everybody so far for the great and informative answers! Makes a lot of sense so far :)

mb

Brilliant post John

re your points

1 – they queue because everyone is queuing… and maybe for the 10 cents

2 – because the receipts are free and if they dont take one they will feel they are missing out

3 – because people falling over is funny

4 – they just have not been taught to say thanks, no manners either at home or school

5 – because everyone else does… perhaps they have to get back to their parents house to make sure they have not missed a funny show on channel 8, so the parking bill is not too high, so they avoid an ERP, so they can go and get a space in a queue somewhere – perhaps the coffee stand??

6 – tough one, i think a minister may have tripped on one one day and they had to abolish them

Couple of others you may be wondering about…

1 – “choping” of seats in a food court…

2 – texting while driving…

3 – spitting into bins – typically the older crowd

4 -clearing their throats or sniffling loudly, regularly

5 – queueing for free sht, whatever it is

6 – signing up for 20 credit cards ….

im sure there are more…..

Goose

hm well it’s months since this’s been written but as it hasn’t been mentioned, I’ll just add in a couple more cents worth.

Regarding the bit about Singaporeans not saying Thank you – this may be a residual effect of the “zi ji ren” mentality (literally meaning “own people”). The laws of familiarity dictate that you ought not to be so polite with people you feel close to. Thus politess becomes ‘unnatural’ and something that you would only employ with a stranger. As such, normalcy = not saying thanks in most situations whether at home or in an elevator.

rachel

hey john.
i -totally- understand your agony. i stayed in america for 4 months earlier this year, and i was hit by the friendliness and free-spiritedness of americans who always smiled, said “hi!”, and asked “how are you?”. although i was initially shy at first, i quickly settled in and adopted the joyous greetings. it never failed to make my day whenever i made small chat with someone.
and then, i had to come back =| when i did, i told myself that i mustn’t lose what i learnt in the u.s., but the singaporean “dead-ness” is beginning to overcome me again. help! =(
anyways, i’ve been wondering, what will the reactions of ang mos be when singaporeans smile at them and said “hello”?

Ben

Hey for the no bins at mrt stations well, we used to have a few bins at every mrt station, until a few years ago when there was a bomb scare at one of the stations where a bomb was supposedly placed inside one of the bins. After that incident, all of the bins were removed

komisch

Why Do You Laugh About Unfunny Things In The Cinema? –> typisch Deutsche! :)

Ro

In an office, you bump into the same people all the time. It really strikes me that most times, even if you have been formally introduced to someone, they will never say hi to you, smile or just acknoledge your presence in the corridor. I have tried staring at them and saying something myself but all I got was people looking at the other side. If I look at the other side like they do, then I’m considered an arrogant Ang Moh that looks upon Asians… not fair.Anyway, I can’t stop doing it, it just comes out naturally being nice to stragers, weather they like it or not.

ve

that is sooo true..why do they laugh for unfunny things??
strangeeee………….

Lesley

Joining the conversation very late, but have to open my big gob. :P Strange how many Singaporeans can be so anti-Singapore. I admit we’re flawed in many ways but come on guys. As Angry Ang Mo has pointed out before, every country has their bad hats. It only seems to be Singaporeans however who revel in pointing out how bad we really are. (And of course excluding ourselves personally from it – “Oh yeah, Singaporeans are so ill mannered and badly brought up, but not me. I’m Singaporean, but I’m different.”

And Angry Ang Mo, I believe you have the answers to most of your questions already.

Just wanted to say re. the laughing at the wrong bits at the cinema thing… Funny I read this now after having just watched The Hangover at Lido on Sunday night. Theatre was filled with ang mohs – there were only about 10 Singaporeans, and 30 ang mohs (odd, I know). And the ang mohs were giggling at EVERYTHING that was either a) not even meant to be funny, b) completely predictable sight gags. And horribly enough, I was thinking “God, I’m in a cinema filled with ang mohs – why are they acting like Singaporeans?” So I guess I’m as guilty as the rest of us.

C0rdelia

Thank god I have an ironic/neurotic sense of humour other than slapstick. But that also means being labelled as “weird” by my fellow singaporean colleagues. I can live with that! x

nicolas

i hold the lift cause i saw someone is coming, after he stepped in he said to me “12th floor please”…..
make my day….

localbred

as a guest in this country, you should learn to fit in rather than expect locals to adjust to you

angmohs – save a few who live in hdb and mingle with the masses – are typically haughty arrogant shitheads who deserve a good kick in the arse

judgmental opinionated and poke their nose where they don’t belong

you guys should learn to talk less, bloody noisy brainless lowlives

Sheh

It’s good to know a bit of context. most of Singapore’s majority Chinese population only came to Southeast Asia starting in the 1870s; many much later, i.e. in the 1920s-30s. Many came as refugees / boat people at the time. Obviously, almost none of them were educated / intellectuals; just peasant folk and petty traders trying to survive. Unlike in China with its many classes of civil servants, mandarins, officials, monks, philosophers, poets etc., the highest echelon in this immigrant Chinese society belonged to those who had, or knew how to make, money. Look around and you will still see this disposition alive and well today – the love of gain, the instinct to create and accumulate capital. It’s just a product of the very specific set of historical circumstances that these people have gone through over the past 4-5 generations.
And despite the maddening crowd, for the sake of one’s own mental well-being it’s good to keep an open mind and expect minor miracles once in a while – they do happen! Yes, there’s that apathetic, faceless office crowd at dog-eat-dog Raffles Place. But during my days in Singapore (2001-2007), I have also encountered simple people like taxi drivers who were the sweetest, most outgoing and compassionate individuals one could ever hope to meet; and with fascinating stories of old Singapore to share. Sometimes I had to pinch myself and secretly wonder: Why do they bother being nice to a white-as-a-ghost, 6’5″ angmoh?…
So keep the faith and you will encounter many pleasant, patient Singaporeans whose demeanour totally goes against the grain.

jojo

1. about the coffee.. cos we, singaporeans, appreciate good food, good beverages, so we would rather queue 30 minutes to get a perk-me-up drink in the morning :) if cost/time is an issue, i am sure they would have diverted to another stall elsewhere.
2. no thank yous… it really depends on who you meet. most people do appreciate your “good work” sometimes by a slight nod/smile.. not necessarily verbalising it. perhaps you may attempt to observe the subtle facial expressions. especially for the older generation who are not highly educated & proper mannerism was certainly not a core cirriculum decades ago (for some).. though they may not say thank you but you would be sure they would be holding the door for you if the roles were reversed subsequently. it is another form of saying thank you (through actions)

Me

The answer to all your questions, your whys….?

The government, that’s why. We’re not allowed to be who we want to be. That makes us wierd. Seriously. fucking wierd.

Thanks PAP.

s

About holding the lift for others… uhhhhh… guess you haven’t seen the people at Orchard who would close the door on others even if everyone else inside can see/hear someone running to catch the lift
And on humor… hard to disagree with that. In cinemas, the slapsticks and the usual wordplays always get that HAHAHAHAHA!!! from the crowd… even the supposedly funny ones that have been shown in movie trailers overandoverandoverandover again (it gets old, you know)… but once the show uses something like sarcasm, some sort of getback that usually only quick-witted people can come up with, some imitating action that only pros can execute well, something that makes you go “woah, this comedian’s a genius”… it’s like nothing happened.

Ram

You’re spot on about Singaporeans laughing about unfunny things in the cinema. I caught The Hurt Locker with a friend and there were 2 guys laughing throughout the movie. There was almost NO comedy in the film.

zack

Hi. i like your blog a lot. i’m a local Singaporean. for the movie “Detroit Metal City”, there are basically people who like it and people who don’t, I have a couple of friends who don’t find it amusing at all. And why there aren’t a single trashcan in MRT stations is due to the fact that, terrorists can’t put bombs in them. The mailbox has also been shifted from some stations to the outside.

Alfy

Something I would like to add on: Not switching off the computers at the end of a day’s work. Probably I’m just an environmental freak, but what is so difficult about pressing down a finger on that switch before you leave the office?

And being a fellow Singaporean who’s always taking the effort to be courteous, I’m equally disgusted by the people who thought I’m born to be their doorman. Hey! Even the doorman gets a tip from the generous Singaporean!

Bored

Having lived abroad in both the US and Australia, I’m always wondering why ang mohs like to hang around the pub so much. So.. boring and pub grub’s way too expensive to enjoy. I still enjoy eating a cheap meal, then meandering around the city at night, but it won’t happen in Aus cos the stores close at 5am. Groan. A large number of Asians don’t drink because of the Asian Flush, which probably explains why our idea of socialising differs from ang mohs.

moon

haha, s’poreans aren’t used to saying “thank you” out loud, doesn’t mean they ain’t grateful. but still, if we make them realize, maybe they’ll start to be courteous too??
newayz, any1 notice tt sporeans also dun say “excuse me”? some will make tsk tsk sounds/make grumpy faces as if u noe they’re behind you. super irritating.

SP

Regarding your movie question..it is because our fellow movie-goers are reading at the sub-title and they laugh at the “wrong” place..sometimes they react too quick..sometimes too late

this is quite common in places in Asia I think..I have experienced this phenomenon here, Hong Kong and Shanghai…

Chunze

Hi there, just dropping by and I’m glad to see that you’re actively engaging in what shouldn’t be in Singapore… Yeah, just about few weeks here I found the above is absolutely true indeed! my neighbors are simply pathetic when it comes to greeting just like ‘hi there’ instead you get a big slam of the door! what happens in Singapore anyway? that’s not much surprising though when you get a stare and shout from the uneducated Chinese Singaporean kids! (this has gotta do with their lack of parenthood teachings). Which all sums up, i believe this country need to have more socializing and please do make NS compulsory as well for the girls/woman as I do see them lack of interaction with their surrounding after marriage. Yes, I do find them quite ‘closed minded’ when it comes to socializing or what they called as too ‘Aunt’. This makes me wondering… should I be in Singapore or Malaysia for long term?

Cheers,
Typical Sino-Chinese

pity-the-foo'

did you ever get a *TSK* after you said: “You Are WELCOME, always a pleasure”

darnright

I’m a Chinese but fortunately, I’m not a Singaporean. I’ve been here for a few years and this country has never failed to “amaze” me.
I think to myself everyday “We share the same blood but why are these people so… um “Singaporean”?”

Singaporeans are the most self-centered people I’ve met in my life. Angry Ang Moh, I hope you don’t drive and share the road with them. You’ll be left speechless of their selfish driving skills. It’s amazing how these highly educated and civilized people interact with other human and appear to be the least civilized ones.

And yup, I still wonder until today, WHAT IS SO FUNNY ABOUT THAT SCENE?? And also, WHY AM I THE ONLY ONE OR TWO WHO’S LAUGHING AT THAT HILARIOUS SCENE??

I do agree at above comments about the government. Singaporeans have no personality or culture or whatsoever, because they’ve been moulded to a shape the government wants them to be since they were born!

It is indeed Uniquely Singapore.

MMM

-the “thank you” stuff is sooo true! my bf get so upset and says “you’re welcome” all the time after not getting no signs of life from them in the first place… but still i don’t see much happening after anyway… haha…
-Same for laughing at the movies… sometimes we are the only ones laughing in the whole room! i wonder if they didn’t get much exposure to pop culture when they were kids??
-About the trash bins, somebody told me its for 2 reasons, one for security, to avoid having bombs deposited at train stations and the second reason because these places are normally areas where a lot of trash can accumulate, so to avoid having to clean it they force people to carry their trash home if necessary… who knows… i wouldn’t be surprised if both are true…
Luv your blog man… i luv Singapore too but i have tons of these type of questions my self…

Alexandria

We have alot of bins in Singapore. what you talking about? is it because it is green so you cannot see and you think it’s a tree?

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