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Life and Culture

Every country has its own culture, social mannerisms; etiquette and habits. Before you plan to start a new life in Singapore You need to know certain mannerisms and habits of Singaporeans.

Some common things that you should know about the life in Singapore are:


Greetings and Introductions
Singaporeans generally shake their hands when they are first introduced to a person. Men and women usually greet each other with a handshake. When making introductions for the first time and in formal meetings you should always use the person's title and family or personal name.

Since Singapore is a multi-culture society you need to bear some of the following points in mind.

  • The Chinese always use their family names first followed by their personal names.
  • Women often keep their own family name. Malays do not use a Family name.
  • They use their personal name followed by bin (son of) or binti (daughter of) and their father's personal name.
  • Indians use their personal name followed by S/O(son of) or D/O (daughter of) and their fathers' personal name.

As a rule of thumb never use personal names or nick names unless and until invited to do so or until a strong friendship has been established. While meeting your Singaporean contacts the higher ranked and elder's members should be addressed first.

Singaporeans show great respect for elders. Similar to most of the Asian cultures, it is very important for you to establish your credibility. If possible you can have someone in your home/office at Singapore to introduce so that your credentials could be emphasized. Never touch, hug or kiss a person of the opposite sex at a business meeting. Unlike in the West, this could be misinterpreted! Mostly the written salutations are in the western style like "Dear Mr. Robin".

Distance and Eye Contact
You should not get offended if a Singaporean does not look into your eyes in a meeting. The eyes are cast down or away as a sign of respect and politeness especially if you are a senior or have a higher status.

Making Conversations
It is common to be greeted with "Have you eaten?" or "Where are you going?" instead of "Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening" or "How are you?" Some good topics to start a conversation include food, scenery, arts, music, and tourist attractions. Subjects like religion, personal relationships, money, racism, sex, politics and criticism of bureaucracy should be avoided.

Though Singapore is a multilingual city. The Singaporean Government uses Mandarin Chinese, and English is used
is widely in use for business purposes.

Business Etiquette
These are some points to bear in mind before doing business in Singapore. These points are drawn from common observations:

  • Elderly people are treated with great respect in Singapore.
  • Compliments are generally accepted with a modest denial.
  • Public display of too much affection is not appreciated.

Body Language

  • Head should not be touched in the Singaporean culture as it is believed that head is the home of the soul.
  • Feet are considered to be dirty for touching any object.
  • Care should be taken while crossing legs: the sole of the foot should never be pointed out or inadvertently shown to other people.
  • When you are standing and talking to someone, do not put your hands on your hips since this signifies anger.
  • Do not hit your fist into your other cupped hand; this is an obscene gesture.
  • Beckon someone by extending your hand, palm down, and fluttering your fingers.
  • Cover your mouth with your hand when you yawn.
  • It is considered rude to blow your nose or clear your throat in public.
  • Be aware of and observe all the local laws and fines for littering, spitting, etc.
  • Since most Malays are Muslims, be aware of specific behaviors that would offend them. For instance, only use your right hand to shake hands or hand things to people, since the left hand is considered unclean.
  • Do not share food and do not allow the serving cutlery to touch your plate at communal dinners. Make it a point to wash up both before and after dinner.
Some Commonly Used Terms
How are you?   Ni how ma? Apa khabar?
Thank you   Sieh sieh Terima kasih
You're welcome   Bu yung ker chi Sama-sama
Good morning   Jau an Selamat pagi
Good night   Wan an Selamat malam
Good-bye   Jai jien Selamat tinggal
Sorry   Dui bu chi Maaf
What is your name?   Ni kui sing? Siapa nama kamu?
My name is...   Wo jiau... Nama saya ...
How much?   Ji duo shou? Berapa harga?
Where is it?   Jai na li? Di mana?

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