Because Singapore is so multicultural there are a lot of social practices that are specific to certain ethnic groups. In almost all cases, the religious and cultural customs are prioritised when interacting with other people. However, there are some customs that are typical to Singapore that most people adhere to and it would probably be a good idea to take note of them before you dive into Singaporean life.
Silence and intuition play a big part in social interactions
In Singapore a lot of communication tends to be non-verbal. Posture and facial expression play an important role in conversation and slouching or frowning while talking to someone is considered very rude. You should always smile and stand up straight to show people that you’re interested in the conversation. It is also important in verbal communication to not rush your speech or speak too loudly because it gives off the impression of being inconsiderate about the things you say. Responding to a question too quickly might lead the other person to believe that you haven’t given your answer much thought and it’s seen as being rude.
How to reserve a seat in a public place
If you’re at a food court and need to get up at any point it’s a common practice to place a packet of tissues on your seat or on the table in front of you to indicate to other patrons that your seat is taken. This saves a lot of confusion for people looking for a seat and is a pretty smart way to ensure that you don’t get your seat taken.
Expect to queue for your food
A good restaurant or hawker could have a queue that’s worth hours of waiting and that tends to be quite normal. Singaporeans love their food and if the food is especially good they don’t mind waiting for it. You could probably tell which food places are the best based on the size of the queue outside. If you do join the queue and decide to see what all the fuss is about, you should keep your complaining to a minimum – or, even better, don’t complain at all – as it’s considered impolite.
Introductions have an order to them
In Singapore a lot of attention is paid to hierarchies and respecting your superiors is a strongly held belief. The older or more elite members of a group are normally shown priority when a group of people is introduced. In a family context, the elder members of the family would normally be introduced first and the youngest last, while in a professional setting it’s normally the boss that’s first introduced and the lower subordinates last.
Use your hands wisely
Similar to English culture, pointing with your finger is considered rude in Singapore, especially when directed at a person. You should always use your whole hand to indicate to some or something and you should never use your foot. Also, if you are handing something to someone – like money, a gift or a business card – it’s customary to use both hands to do so. Using only one is seen as disrespectful because it makes you seem disinterested in the other person while using both hands highlights the significance of the gesture.
If you’re considering moving to Singapore, and you need some advice on the customs to expect to help ensure that you have less of a cultural shock when you move, contact a member of our local team today.