LOGIN or JOIN
information for global expats



Guide to Cultural Traits for Expats in Singapore

Submitted: December 2013

Singapore is made up of a multi-ethnic mix predominantly of Chinese, Malay and Indian origin. This diversity is reflected in some of the traits found in many citizens. In all of these groups, respect for the elderly is taught to children from an early age. As is the concept of group cohesion and putting the needs of the family group ahead of one’s own.

Commanding respect in the community, also known as having face, is more important than anything else to Singaporeans. Any loss of face could permanently damage the relationship an individual has with his peers and must therefore be avoided whatever it takes. It is for this reason that Singaporeans will usually be extremely polite and place great emphasis on non-verbal communication, facial expressions and general body language are relied upon to communicate opinions and feeling to other group members rather than verbalising feelings directly and perhaps causing one of the group members to lose face.

Respect for the older members of a family hierarchy and the elderly in general permeates all aspects of day to day life. Elders take first pick of any food on offer at meal times, in a social setting elders are always introduced first and always given the best seats. In fact, the need to respect and protect older family members was enshrined in a law in 1996, whereby children are required to be financially responsible for their parents if need be.

Singaporeans have a long tradition of good behaviour to adhere to. Individuals are expected to respect family hierarchy. This respect is rooted in the teaching of Confucius which describe an individuals’ position in a family or business hierarchy. The same teaching describes the necessary behaviour to be displayed by each individual towards other people on the basis of their relationship to each other.

Singaporeans are generally reluctant to answer a question with a simple yes or no, as this could lead to the enquirer being embarrassed or feeling hurt when the answer they receive is not the one they had hoped for. It is considered rude to answer a question quickly. The individual being addressed should take their time to consider an appropriate response. If the answer is given immediately it implies that the response is thoughtless and that proper consideration has not been given.

Giving gifts to a Singaporean can be complicated. It must first be established which ethnic origin the recipient belongs to in order to ensure that the gift will not offend or send the wrong message. For example: an individual of Chinese ethnicity would probably be offended if they received a gift of scissors or other cutting utensil as this would be interpreted as the giver wishing to sever the relationship with the recipient. For this ethnic group odd numbers are considered unlucky, whereas those of Indian origin deem even numbers to be unlucky.

There is no doubt that the cultural traits in Singapore are complex and this is further compounded by the ethnic mix the expat will encounter during a stay in Singapore. It is better to observe and follow the examples given by those that are experienced in these matters rather than jumping straight in and losing face. There is a useful guide to coping with the effects of culture shock on the Singapore Expats website.

 

Contribute

We value input from our readers. If you spot an error on this page or have any suggestions, please let us know.

 

Moving to Singapore

If you are considering moving to Singapore or are soon to depart, you can find helpful information and advice in the Expat Briefing dedicated Singapore section including; details of immigration and visas, Singaporean forums, Singaporean event listings and service providers in Singapore.

picture1 Read More

Living in Singapore

From your safety to shoppingliving in Singapore can yield great benefits as well as occasional drawbacks.  Find your feet and stay abreast of the latest developments affecting expats in Singapore with relevant news and up-to-date information.

picture1 Read More

Working in Singapore

Working in Singapore can be rewarding as well as stressful, if you don't plan ahead and fulfill any legal requirements. Find out about visas and passports, owning and operating a company in Singapore, and general Singaporean culture of the labour market.

picture1 Read More


 
 
 
 

Information

About | Useful Links | Global Media Partners | Media | Advertising And Sales | Banners And Widgets | Glossary | RSS | Privacy & Cookies | Terms And Conditions | Editorial Policy | Refer To A Friend | Newsletters | Contact | Site Map

Important Notice: Wolters Kluwer TAA Limited has taken reasonable care in sourcing and presenting the information contained on this site, but accepts no responsibility for any financial or other loss or damage that may result from its use. In particular, users of the site are advised to take appropriate professional advice before committing themselves to involvement in offshore jurisdictions, offshore trusts or offshore investments. © Wolters Kluwer TAA Ltd 2017. All rights reserved.

The Expat Briefing brand is owned and operated by Wolters Kluwer TAA Limited.