TL;DR – Why is the everyday Singaporean like that leh?
From our accent to some aspects of our uniquely Singaporean culture, Singaporeans are a quirky lot. And I say this with much affection! After all, every country’s people have their unique ways of living, and Singapore is no different. Though, there are many things that Singaporeans do that foreigners often find unusual, even confounding. “Cute,” they say. Here are just a few that come up all the time!
1. Serving coffee and tea in lil transparent bags
Coffee and tea, or kopi and teh, are ubiquitous in Singapore. Be it breakfast, lunch or dinner, Singaporeans love to accompany their meals with their own preferred concoction of kopi or teh (and there are dozens of variations).
This itself is nothing special, since many countries around the world have coffee and tea as part of their regular diet. What makes us unique, however, is the way in which they are sold as takeaways.
Many foreigners might be taken aback when the stall owner hands them — not a cup — a bag of kopi or teh with a straw. It might not make sense at first, but we do it for two reasons: one, we are on the move all the time, so we have no time to sit down for a drink; two, you can only hold on to a piping hot cup of coffee or tea before the heat burns through your epidermis.
The string, on the other hand, is the perfect insulator. Plus, you can hang the bag on your fingers and still have your hands free to type furiously on your phone. 🤪
2. Oddly prejudiced against lower prices and yet are drawn to higher-priced items items
$$$. “This increase, that increase.” Savvy as Singaporeans are, we know a good bargain when we see one.
But jokes aside, you would think that the way we complain about rising costs of living, we would be drawn to the lowest-priced items in the stores. Oddly, it appears that sometimes many of us are oddly prejudiced against lower-priced house brands for example…
I, for one, used to to think that housebrand items are of a lower quality. But not really it seems. Take for example FairPrice housebrand products. They are priced about 10 to 15 percent lower than average against comparable products from private labels!
PSA: You can get a 5% discount for 100 daily staples every Friday at all FairPrice supermarkets and hypermarkets from now till the end of the year. This is part of FairPrice Group’s Stretch Your Dollar programme to help consumers cope with the rising cost of living.
3. Most Singaporeans live with our parents until we are married
In Western countries, it is relatively common for people to move out of their parent’s home once they turn 18 years old, either to go to university or to go to work.
Here in Singapore, however, we live with our parents for a long time — very long time, by Western standards. In fact, most of us move out only after we get married.
Here’s the thing: Singaporeans are ridiculously pragmatic folks. If there isn’t a need to do something, we don’t do it — and the same applies for moving out. Due to the size of the island, our schools and workplaces are never more than an hour (or, at best, 1.5 hours) away by public transport.
This means that moving out of the house just to work or go to school somewhere just doesn’t make any sense. Plus, due to the cost of homeownership, staying with our parents is just the better, wiser financial decision — at least until you can purchase a place with your spouse-to-be.
4. The everyday Singaporean uses random items to reserve seats
Singaporeans leave random items on a table to reserve them — and anything works too, from name cards and lanyards to library cards and tissue packs. The oddity of seeing an empty table populated with random items aside, safety, too, is a concern. After all, what if someone decides to steal that nifty, spring-loaded umbrella?
Using random items to reserve — or ‘chope’ — seats is really a habit borne out of Singapore’s hawker culture. Nothing terrifies the everyday Singaporean more than to have a tray of steaming hot food at the hawker and not having a table to return to. Just the idea of the bowl of bak chor mee slowly losing its heat is enough to induce dread.
Of course, it is possible to take turns at the table, but why make a person wait? This is Singapore. No one comes between us and food.
5. Everybody is a ‘boss’, a relative or a really attractive person
This generally happens when you are interacting with older Singaporeans.
For example, when you are ordering food at a hawker centre, the stall owner is likely going to refer to you as ‘boss’. Some would even go as far as calling you ‘shuai ge‘ or ‘mei nu‘ (‘handsome man’ or ‘beautiful girl’), depending on your gender.
Do you need to be the owner of your own business? No. Do you also need to be handsome or beautiful to receive this unsolicited yet highly appreciated compliment? Also no. In truth, it’s the way older Singaporeans use to form closer ties with total strangers, the way the British or Australians use the word ‘mate’ — it’s the same thing.
Also, in reply, if this person happens to be a lot older than you, you can call him or her ‘uncle’ or ‘auntie’ — and yes, you don’t have to be related in any way. ‘Uncle’ and ‘Auntie’ are terms of endearment the everyday Singaporean uses for people older than us.
Going beyond the exchange of quirky antics
Jokes aside, a healthy exchange of knowledge — even quirky little everyday behaviours of the everyday Singaporean— is what makes globalisation such a wonderful thing.
I’m proud to be a Singaporean, quirks, accent and all. How about you?