If you are thinking about living in Singapore, these are some things you can expect (or prepare yourself for) and get used to!
1. Eating when you are not hungry
People here are passionate about food. Eating is a passion. It is true that eating is THE past time here and people bond very well over food. People talk about food over food, about where to eat next (‘next’ meaning dessert) even when they are eating or about where to eat the next time they meet. If you work in an office, your colleagues will often go round the office with a box of treats – curry puffs, cakes, kueh you name it and offer you a snack. Supper is also a common affair. And when we say supper, we are not referring to dinner. Supper here takes place after 10pm. Eating is just something we excel in!
2. People talking in different languages
Hooray that almost everyone can speak English! Or at least understand English for the older folks. Other than English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil being the official languages in Singapore, there is also the unofficial national language – Singlish (Singapore + English), which is most commonly spoken. There are also many foreigners living and working in Singapore so it’s common to hear groups of people speaking in different languages.
3. People speaking really fast in a one-of-a-kind accent
Be prepared to have difficulty understanding the English spoken here when you first arrive. Our overseas friends tell us that we speak so fast that all the words in a sentence seem to be strung into one very long word. English speaking is largely influenced by Chinese (and Chinese dialects) or Malay because most people still speak their Mother Tongue half the time, although English is the medium of instruction in schools. When locals speak English, the sentence structure might not be English accurate and some words and phrases used in sentences are in Malay or Chinese. For example, “Have you eaten?” will be expressed in Singlish “You makan (to eat in Malay) already or not?”, and “Why didn’t you ask me along?” can simply be expressed “Bo jio!”
Click here to learn what the Singlish used in this video means!
4. Walking quickly
Other than speaking fast, we walk fast too. Sometimes our overseas friends ask us “Why are people here always rushing?” (hands raised) Guilty! People walk fast, talk fast, eat fast, work fast… When you walk in the train stations or in the business district during peak hours, you have to keep up with the walking crowd if not get the occasional ‘tsks’ and glares. Well somehow, this has become a way of life. Just gotta keep up!
5. The meaning of ‘Wah so far!’
Going to a place that is a 30 minute drive is considered far to people here. Oh, and it takes just 60 minutes to drive from the east to the west. Taking the train from the start to the end along the east-west line is considered far too – it takes about 70 minutes. To people here, somewhere near is a maximum 7 minute drive or walk away.
6. Chope-ing (unofficially reserving a seat)
You might see a few empty tables at crowded eating places but when you get to the table, you will find an umbrella, tissue packet or even a name card on it. This means that the seat is reserved by the owner of the item. You will also be amazed how people can leave their shopping bags at an empty table in an eating place full of people with absolute confidence that their bags will not get stolen. Point is, practice chope-ing to ensure yourself a seat in a crowded place. Picture yourself holding a tray with a bowl of noodle soup standing around waiting for an empty seat for the longest time. O man!
7. Sharing a table
If chope-ing fails and you are alone or with one or two friends out for a meal in a crowded place, it is common to share a table with strangers. Just ask “May I sit here?”
8. Taking a budget flight for a weekend getaway!
It is so easy and value-for-money to take a short trip to neighbouring countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand or Hong Kong on a budget airline! You can get a ticket to Kuala Lumpur for less than $100 and a ticket to Hong Kong for just over $200 if you get a good deal. People tend to take leave from work on Friday or Monday and jet set to a neighbouring country just to eat, shop and to get a massage. Don’t be surprised if you’re jetting off once every two months over the weekend with friends! (Budget airlines: www.jetstar.com, www.tigerairways.com, www.airasia.com)
Most people here need to get the best deal out of everything, so wherever possible, you will hear some haggling going on, for instance at the shops in housing estate areas, wet markets, night markets or electronics fairs. People will ask for a better price on that TV, a free cucumber (on top of the already free carrot), extra prawns…..We just need to stretch our dollar! As Russell Peters puts it “50-cents a lot of money!”
It really can get pretty crowded at some places during peak periods. For one, you have to queue to get into the train during rush hours. Taxi stands often have a line of people waiting for a cab. People here also gladly stand in line with 50 other people already in the queue to collect a free gift, say, an umbrella or complimentary carpark coupon for shoppers at a mall. We have also seen parents would queue overnight outside popular childcare centres before the day registration for the new year opens to ensure their child gets a place in that school. The most epic example would be camping overnight outside Mac Donald’s when it was selling the Hello Kitty stuffed toy series years ago – people actually argued over this in the queue. Lol~ You will also come across people who see a long lineup, join in and have no idea what they are queuing for. Then they get their friend to go to the front of the line to see what’s happening. If it’s something worth queuing for, they’d stay. Join in the fun! Join in the line!
Generally when meeting a friend for tea or movie, it’s normal to wait for about 10 minutes (or more). Of course this is general – there are folks who make it a point to be punctual too. Business wise, we’re punctual. Lol. So we’re guessing it’s a matter of choice. 😀 Well good thing we have mobile phones now. So take a walk around the vicinity while waiting!
12. Being open to different cultures
There are 4 official ethnic groups in Singapore – Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian. Each has their own set of ethnic practices and beliefs, and celebrate different festivals throughout the year. You will see people dressed in their ethnic clothing during occasions, holding prayer activities, walking down streets lighted up for festive occasions… Being open to cultures will serve you well here!
13. Addressing ‘Auntie’ and ‘Uncle’
People address those who are a generation older than them as ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’. Be it the storekeepers or a friend’s parents, you can call them ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’, that is, except during business settings. It’s respectful to the person. (And guess what, there’s no need to remember their names! Lol~) So don’t be surprised if your friend’s kids call you ‘Uncle’ even though you are not related by blood. But if walk down the street with a local and they point to someone and saying ‘Wah, so auntie!’ even though the person looks the same age as your friend, it means your friend is implying that their dressing or mannerisms liken that of an old lady. Well, it’s not so desirable to be called and ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’ in that context!
Our island is situated near the Equator so there’s no escaping. It’s humid all year round and rain falls on at least 30% of the days throughout the year. It’s summer everyday and the temperature range is consistent. If you come from a country with 4 seasons, you will find it strange that people walk around in a jacket on rainy days because they feel cold although the temperature is just at 25degC. Well the good news is, you don’t have lug thick coats around or shovel snow in the yard.