10 Unique things Singaporeans do that will shock foreigners


Singapore is a melting pot of cultures. Just like any country, there are things that Singaporeans do that are just uniquely Singaporean

After all, there are Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians living together here in a land-scarce island-city-state, interacting side by side, so it is no wonder that Singaporeans develop some one-of-a-kind behaviours. 

Here are 10 habits and traits peculiar to Singaporeans that foreigners may find absolutely strange and shocking. 

1. They speak a unique language – Singlish  

Singaporeans speak Singlish with each other, using a unique blend of languages from the different races here: English, Mandarin, Malay, and some Mandarin dialects. A common sentence you might hear would be, “Wah, you kena Covid-19. The sore throat is confirm jialat jialat.” What it means is “Hey, I see you’ve gotten the Covid-19 virus this time. You are sure to suffer a really painful sore throat.” Also, ending the same sentence with different phrases like lah, leh or lor – each tells a different emotion to the listener!

2. They can code switch really well 

As an extension of their globalized environment, Singaporeans can code switch when speaking really well. At work, someone could be babbling in Singlish, mixing Chinese and Malay phrases and slangs into their speech with their Singaporean peers at one moment and, at another, they can speak in Oxford English (albeit still with a Singaporean flavor) when doing a presentation to other nationalities. A little schizophrenic, but it’s what makes us unique! 

3. They queue up for things regardless the reason

It is not unusual to see long queues outside shops in malls. Shops mostly use marketing promotions like freebies to attract customers. However, what is shocking is that the item that a Singaporean is queueing up for is not always what he or she needs! Ask Singaporeans in line what they are queueing up for – you won’t be surprised to hear that they might be unsure, but just sure that they don’t want to miss out on anything! 

4. They don’t greet strangers in the lift 

If you enter a lift with a Singaporean, please take note to mind your own business and not establish eye contact, much less greet them with a “hi”! While it is normal to greet strangers in American, Australian, or some European cultures, Singaporeans stay quiet. If you try to get friendly, you will surely be met with an awkward stare back at you, or maybe a shocked and shy “hi” in reply. 

5. They mostly eat out

Food in the sunny Singapore city is relatively cheap and affordable. Even with the rising costs of living lately, Singaporeans can get a hot meal for between $4 to $7 quite easily at hawker centres or food courts. Therefore, many Singaporeans don’t cook, especially on working days. Packing lunch to work is an anomaly, and there is a strong culture to eat out with your colleagues during lunch break. This might have changed a little during the pandemic with more people working from home, but still, many Singaporeans might take away something from the hawker centres to eat at home rather than cook. 

6. They crave durians when it is in season

Ask (almost any) Singaporean what’s their favourite fruit, and they’ll be sure to mention the durian, Singapore’s national fruit. Durian season is from June to August yearly. Foreigners mostly stay as far away as they can from durians – and durians are also disallowed on public transport – because of its memorable and potent stench. However, this thorny delight is a treat for Singaporeans, and not cheap too! Durians are usually brought along to house parties where Singaporeans dig in and enjoy the creamy taste they love.

7. They eat strange animal parts 

Singaporeans love eating. While eating animal parts like foie gras is common with the French, foreigners may find it shocking that Singaporeans will eat almost anything else. The Chinese in Singapore love to eat chicken feet and pig trotters. Chicken feet is a staple item in dim sum menus, and pig trotters is served best in a dark vinegar sauce. The Malays dig into their favourite tulang merah, or the bone marrow of lamb served with a rich red-coloured soup.

8. They would pay hundreds for a staycation

Everyone loves to travel, especially more so after the Covid-19 restrictions had eased up. But surprisingly, Singaporeans love a good staycation within their own city too to get away. Many Singaporeans enjoy staying in a Singapore hotel so as to create that glamourous holiday experience. But give them a break. Anyone living in fast-paced Singapore deserves a quick getaway to relax and recharge.

9. They are extremely law abiding

Being extremely law abiding is what makes a Singaporean. The streets are litter-free, everyone keeps to the left on escalators, and masks are always kept on indoors. There seems to be an invisible force keeping Singaporeans safely obedient. It probably has to do with the regulatory authorities we can see everywhere. Safe distancing ambassadors in malls keeping watch on people’s mask-wearing, and train station staff always ensuring commuter crowds are orderly. It’s a fine city, so they say! 

10. They “chope” seats

Finding a packet of tissue papers on the tables at hawker centres or food courts? Fret not. This is a very Singaporean practice of hungry customers chope-ing, or saving a seat while they queue up to buy their meals. It is an unspoken rule among Singaporeans not to sit on these marked seats. You can save a seat for yourself too even if you did not bring a packet of tissue papers – your EZ-link card or business card works well too!

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