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Cultural Etiquettes in Singapore - Know The Basics

Cultural Etiquettes in Singapore – Know The Basics


Cultural Etiquettes in Singapore – Know The Basics

Ever since I had moved to Hong Kong back in 2003, one of my best friends was from Singapore. Without fail, every story of life, food, language, culture, fascinated me to the point that I needed to go. Go to simply experience the city – country of Singapore. It was great that my friend offered some incredible insights for cultural etiquettes in Singapore.

Buddha Image

Buddha Image

Singapore is a multi-ethnic country with 76 percent Chinese, 15 percent Malay, and 6 percent Indian inhabitants. These ethnic groups enjoy racial harmony and national unity. The younger generation of Singapore considers themselves as Singaporean first and believes in building a common national culture that is beyond individual ethnic differences. Here is a look at some common etiquettes and norms of Singapore.

Cultural Etiquettes in Singapore – Meeting

Greetings usually follow a strict protocol. If you are meeting people with Chinese ethnic background, you may offer a hand shake with a slight bow. Malay men and women do not offer a hand shake to each other due to Islamic traditions while two men and two women can shake hands. Similarly, ethnic Indians shake hands with members of same sex only. Upon meeting the person of opposite sex, nodding with a smile is usually appreciated.

Cultural Etiquettes in Singapore – Non Verbal Cues

Singaporeans pay close attention to non-verbal cues including tone of voice, posture, and facial expression. They tend to be subtle and implicit in their communication to maintain the respect of the other person. Silence is a significant part of their communication as it indicates that you are giving enough consideration before speaking.

The head is considered sacred; therefore, touching someone’s head is impolite and offensive while foot is thought to be the lowest and unclean part and showing the bottom of the feet may offend your Singaporean host.

Cultural Etiquettes in Singapore – Food and Dining

Food and dining is the most common way of interaction among people that gives the best chance to build relationship with your Singaporean host. In Singapore, food is the basis of entertainment. Food is usually served on the table in dishes to be shared by all.

Appetizers and drinks are uncommon and the dinner is usually served immediately without entrée upon arrival of the guests. You are expected to wash your hands before the meal in both Indian and Malay homes. They use the right hand to eat, and some dishes are consumed directly in hand without the involvement of a fork or a spoon. After a meal with an Indian host, you are expected to stay for an hour for conversation.

Dim Sum and Tea

Dim Sum and Tea

Cultural Etiquettes in Singapore – Gift Giving Etiquettes

Gift giving etiquettes vary across ethnic groups of Singapore. If you are giving gifts to ethnic Chinese, make sure to wrap it in colorful wrapping papers like red, pink, and yellow. Giving scissors, knives or any cutting object should be avoided as it indicates that you are severing your relation with the receiver.

Your gift may be refused three times before it is accepted. This is done to show that the receiver is not greedy. The gift of flower is not taken well as they are associated with sickness and funerals.

When you are giving gifts to ethnic Malays, avoid giving alcohol, toy dogs, or anything made of pigskin. Wrap the gift in red or green paper while white should be avoided as it is a sign of death or mourning.

If you are presenting something to ethnic Indians, offer the gift with your right hand. Avoid black and white wrapping papers; rather use bright colors as these are thought to bring good fortune.

Due to the ethnic diversity in Singapore, it is important for you to know the ethnic background of your host to follow the protocols properly. The people of Singapore are generally warm and welcoming and would show great hospitality if you respect their customs well.

However, for all cultural etiquettes in Singapore, I always make the recommendation to ask your host or friend for some advice.

Most of the time, people from Singapore are a real pleasure, very kind, and more than willing to share.



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