Monday, December 7, 2009

A Few More Cultural Nuances

Apart from the most obvious cultural differences most foreigners are exposed to when they relocate to Singapore, here are a few of my (not so immediately recognizable) recent observations and why they could be ignorantly considered by visitors as either offensive or intimidating.

It is important to note, that I am in no way complaining about these nuances… in fact my intention is quite the opposite! Any foreigner in any country needs to show tolerance toward local behaviours, as should the locals appreciate the differences and diversity of others. My most avid readers will know that I always encourage and promote tolerance at every level.

1. Keen Interest in Other Diners’ Food

Often when eating in Singapore, it can be common to have people come close to your table and peer with great interest at the foods that you are consuming. This can occur even in the most upscale restaurants. When talking to some local mates, I have learned to understand that this is usually because the people looking at the food are still deciding what dishes they will eat – if the food looks good and is well presented, then the keen interest could lead to the other person ordering the same food as you.

In many cultures, this is akin to entering someone’s ‘intimate space’, and can often make some diners feel uncomfortable. I have personally witnessed people from western cultures take great offense to this behaviour, and I have quietly reminded them that when they are back in their home country, some of the things that they may do could well be considered strange or quirky behaviour to foreigners.

2. Keen Interest in Other Shoppers’ Purchases

The reason behind this one I’m not too sure about. Once again though, there’s no need for anger or hostility – just go with the flow!!

I think the reason it may be considered strange or offensive to foreigners is similar to the interest in other diners’ food – it can at times sort of feel like an invasion of personal space or privacy. What some shoppers have in their trolley to take home can often be very personal – laxatives, toiletry items, etc.

But it is not uncommon for a fellow shopper in a supermarket to actually stare deeply into the contents of another person’s shopping trolley. I have even noticed people do a ‘reverse turn’ to walk back and double check the contents of my trolley or basket.

3. Cigarette Disposals Used for Rubbish

The last observation I’ll list today, is in relation to the very common ‘dual use’ rubbish bins seen around Singapore. They are designed for use by both smokers and people disposing rubbish. The top of the bin is an ashtray and the receptacle underneath is for disposal of rubbish materials.

Now, many people will probably say ‘don’t smoke, then you won’t notice this behaviour’… ok, touché (especially if you’re my wife)!! You are quite right – it’s a very disgusting habit.

I have not done any in-depth statistical analysis of this, but as a smoker looking to dispose of my butt, I would guess around 90%+ of the time, the ashtray is full of litter – individual items or plastic bags full of rubbish. Not wanting to cause a fire, or to dispose of my butt illegally, I sometimes need to move the hazardous rubbish from the ashtray to the rubbish bin below. This really upsets my wife, as she quite rightly detests me touching other people’s rubbish. I’m not really sure what else I should do (besides kicking the habit).


1 comment:

Joshi Takanawa said...

For me, I've noticed that SG actually has a courtesy campaign to encourage people to be graceful and polite. I've even hugged Singa the lion which is their mascot.

I think it's a good idea and a good case in point is when you are on a crowded MRT. A negative thing I've noticed was the amount of young people my age (20s) who are sitting down on a seat when there is clearly an elderly or pregnant person standing right next to them. So hence a courtesy campaign can encourage people to give up their seats.. Mind you, this happens as well in my own country and its quite sad actually...