12 unspoken rules in Singapore only legit locals know

These are the undocumented cultural practices of the Little Red Dot.

Jonathan Lim| September 02, 04:29 PM


There is no instruction manual on how to be a Singaporean. We can learn through observations and or just by living the Singaporean life (appreciating Singaporean food or learning Singlish). But as our populace becomes more diverse, different cultural practices or habits might clash.

This can be avoided though, if newbies to Singapore can take note of the following 'rules of engagement' when out and about in the public:


1. Keeping left on escalators

Ok, there's a reason why the photograph depicts the right side of the escalator as the 'stationary' lane and the left lane as the 'fast' side. Most of the world stands on the right side of the escalator. Do a Google image search and most of the photographs show people standing on the right side.

From my knowledge only Singapore, Japan and England practise standing on the left. Learn it so you don't get unnecessary 'Tsk' or 'Scuse' while riding the escalator.


2. Singaporeans do not talk or acknowledge strangers during lift rides

Singaporeans are mostly a reserved bunch. The art of elevator small talk is lost on us. Please, do not say 'hi' or ask 'how are you'. In fact this leads to the next point:


3. As a rule of thumb, Singaporeans are not used to saying/answering 'How are you?', we ask 'Eat already?' or things like 'Waiting for bus ah?'

Some of us understand that 'How are you?' is a form of greeting in certain cultures. However, most Singaporeans will take it as a real question and try earnestly to reply.

But that's too much personal information to give out to someone we hardly know. What if I'm having a bad day? Do I share my life story with this acquaintance who just asked the question?

That's why Singaporeans have 10 painfully obvious questions Singaporeans ask and answer on a daily basis - it's just easier to answer without having to divulge too much information.


4. 'Chope-ing'/Reserving seats with packets of tissues, name cards, lanyards or umbrellas

There was a time in the not so distant past that this practice was viewed with disdain.

It was even featured several times on a certain citizen journalism portal as an ungracious practice - until Singaporeans decided that this was actually a pretty efficient and effective way of securing seats for a meal at hawker centres.


5. Seats nearest to the bus driver are usually reserved for the elderly/pregnant

The priority and reserved seats signs are not so prominent on buses as they are on the trains. But they do exist. Don't be a noob and sit there like a boss.


6. Singaporeans usually go for the stalls with the longest queues when they do not know what to eat

PM Lee chicken wing queue cover


Queues = quality most of the time. Plus most Singaporeans hate it when they waste money and calories on crappy tasting food when they could have eaten something delicious if they spent that extra 20 minutes queuing.


7. If you absolutely have no choice but to take a dump in public, it has to be somewhere with grass and you must attempt to be as stealthy as possible

Singaporeans are generally not thick-skinned enough to relief themselves openly in public. Unless they have an unfortunate medical condition.

Guy in picture is on the grass patch, good. But he is not very stealthy, that's bad.

And we all know that authorities have their way of identifying the offender from behind.


8. If you ask a stranger for directions, do it with a smile and thank them

Knowing how reserved Singaporeans are, having them stop mid-pace to point someone in the right direction takes a lot of investment on their part.

The least you could do is to be polite and thank them. Not demanding the directions and walking off without acknowledging the good Samaritan.

One day, they may just regress into pointing you in the wrong direction just for the shits and giggles.


9. You signal only when you want the cars next to you to speed up

Gracious drivers are on the roads in Singapore. It's just that you don't notice them whenever they give way to you. Ungracious drivers on the other hand, grab all the attention and as much as we want the roads to be free of bullies, they do exist.

So just know that it is important to stay safe and know that when you signal to switch lanes, chances are people will speed up. Let them do so and switch safely later.

10. Amber means speed up not slow down

Unfortunately whatever is learnt in the basic theory test is forgotten. This is one 'rule of engagement' that should change. No point endangering lives just to shave off a few minutes off your journey.


11. You can squeeze onto the train, but respect the personal invisible force field, no body contact whatsoever

As the country gets more crowded especially on public transportation, it is inevitable that real body-to-body friction to occur. Let's just minimise this. Singaporeans are not a very touchy-feely hugging crowd.


12. Singaporeans don't litter, at least not blatantly

When was the last time you've seen someone blatantly litter in Singapore?

Almost never right? That's because of the abundance of rubbish bins and years of cleanliness campaigns drilled into Singaporeans' heads.

Let's keep it that way.


Top photo from here

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