Doing things the Singaporean way will go a long way to making your solo travel experience in Singapore a smooth and pleasant one. Familiarize yourself with these do’s (and make sure you know the don’ts), before visiting this Utopian city:
Cultural Etiquette Tips for Singapore
1. Do Use Formal Names or Titles When Addressing Someone
Always use Mr., Mrs., Miss or a personal title with someone’s surname. Not until you are addressed by your first name should you do likewise. Formality is respected here and will facilitate a closer relationship faster with a new Singaporean acquaintance.
2. Do Remove Your Shoes When Entering a Home, Mosque or Temple
Shoes and feet are considered dirty. Cleanliness, which is associated with purity, is a treasured value. You are expected to remove your shoes when entering homes, mosques, or temples.
3. Do Ask Permission Before Taking a Photo
This can be violated easily when you are in the moment snapping photos but be ever mindful and when ever possible ask permission to do so. Some people get offended if you take their photo. I have been called out on this in the past, and it's something that makes you feel unmannerly and quite embarrassed. Besides photographing places with people in them, this unspoken rule applies to many different buildings such as museums, temples and mosques. It’s better to be safe and ask than sorry.
4. Do Use Both Hands When Exchanging Business or Calling Cards
This practice might seem unfamiliar to the Westerner but it is another one of those do’s in Asian countries. This gesture shows initial personal respect, which sets the tone for a smooth encounter.
5. Do Drive or Stand on People Movers on the Left Side
Left over from British Colonial control, Singaporeans drive on the left hand side of the road. Make sure you are looking left and right several times before crossing the street. Also, individuals in a hurry on a people mover will want to pass you on the right.
6. Do Smack, Slurp or Burp
This one is completely foreign to me. In Asian cultures it is highly acceptable for people to show great enjoyment when eating foods they like. Don’t be surprised or offended if you observe this practice.
7. Do Leave Something on Your Plate
From what I'm used to, it stands to reason if what you are eating is delicious, you should clean your plate. This is not the case in Singapore.
8. Do Familiarize Yourself with Gift-Giving Customs
If you plan on bearing gifts while in Singapore, it is wise to know what to do and not to do in this situation. Here are some tips.
Give your gift when you are leaving not when you are greeting someone.
Never use white, a symbol of mourning, paper when wrapping a gift.
Likewise, clocks, handkerchiefs and flowers are associated with funerals and death to the Chinese population, refrain from giving these items.
Use both of your hands or your right hand to present a gift to someone.
If given a gift, don’t open it in front of the giver.
Last, a highly unusual custom that Singaporeans tend to practice is they will refuse a gift two times before accepting it. Greed is frowned upon here and this gift refusal practice is considered good etiquette.
9. Do Dress Appropriately
Even though Singapore has a tropical climate, people are stylishly or conservatively dressed when going to work, religious services or for leisure activities. Be forewarned refrain from wearing clothing extremes lest you be insulted or reprimanded with a look or verbally. Also, shoulders must be covered when entering a Mosque or temple.
10. Do Bargain
Though Singaporean vendors tend not to discount their prices as much as some other countries where haggling is the norm, do bargain at some of the markets in places such as Chinatown and Little India. A ten percent discount is common practice but sometimes you’ll get lucky and get a larger one.
The Secret to Singapore’s Utopian Quality
On the way to the airport when leaving, I had a pleasant conversation with my taxi driver. I complimented his city for being such a cosmopolitan, clean, well-administered, civilized place. Singapore to me was truly a model metropolis, an urban utopia. The taxi driver shared the secret to this city-state’s quality of life is that corruption and the violation of laws are not tolerated. Punishments here are swift and hard. While the citizens might complain about the many laws, regulations and rules, these are dutifully obeyed and consequently, this city is a fabulous destination for the solo traveler.
My trip to Singapore was a pure delight because it was a safe, orderly, and thoroughly. Every avid solo traveler should put this delightful destination on their bucket list but as this blog post illustrates do know its do’s and don’ts before traveling there.
Have you been to Singapore recently? I would be interested to hear about any of your positive or negative experiences there.
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Author: Astrid Clements
Astrid Solo Travel Advisor CEO and founder, Astrid, has spent over 40 years traveling around the world. She is passionate about embracing the world’s diverse cultures and sharing with others the global need and personal benefit of cultural literacy. Her focus is on affordable luxury travel that is both substantive and fun! To read more about her and each one of our Solo Travel Advisors, head over to the About page!