You see, after living in Singapore for so many years, there are numerous local customs that I just take for granted. I sometimes forget that for other foreigners perhaps visiting for the first time, some of the local practices would be completely lost on them. The question I'm referring to relates to one of these local nuances.
The Question in it's entirety was:
What exactly is 'choping' and could you regard it as a 'national sport'?
I know 'choping' is something to do with reserving seats but it seems like everyone in Singapore is obsessed with it - almost to a point where it can get very competitive. What exactly is it, where does the word come from and why do people do it?
As a 'guide' at the portal, I answered to the best of my ability, but wanted to expand a little here, and also to elaborate why it's probably important to be aware of this.
Firstly, my understanding is that the word 'chope' or 'choping' originates from the English term 'to chop', or to put one's mark on something (like choping a contract by rubber stamping it and signing).
In real terms in Singapore to 'chope' something means to 'reserve' it. Although many people relate the term to choping tables in a food court, it can be used also in other circumstances - for example, I saw a lady at the local supermarket place her basket behind the queue waiting for the cashier, to reserve her place while she quickly grabbed another item from the shelves... when she returned, there were more people in the queue behind her basket. I heard one (not very happy) person say to her partner, "Wah.. cannot chope with a basket".
Now here's the trap for first time visitors or new expats in Singapore - if you enter a busy hawker centre (food court) and see a vacant table, it does not necessarily mean that it's not unoccupied. If you see a small packet of tissues on the table, do not assume that someone just left them behind when they finished dinner. It is very common to chope a table with a tissue packet while you go to the stall to buy your food.
If you do see an empty table with a tissue packet on it, you should assume that the table is taken, and the person or persons choping it will be returning with their food momentarily... and it's very poor form to take someone else's choped table!!
Finally, you may be thinking "why chope with a tissue packet" - well that's another local nuance all of it's own. You should get used to carrying your own small packet of tissues wherever you go... the reason is that very few food outlets at the hawker centres will provide you with napkins - the expectation is that you will have your own tissues. If you don't have any with you, the drink stall can usually sell them to you for a small fee.
So there go - the "Art of Choping in Singapore". A short but very important lesson in local etiquette!!
Afterthought: If you're sitting at a table eating in a busy foodcourt and there is a spare chair at your table, do not be surprised if someone asks if they can sit with you while they eat... and please, be courteous and allow them to do so - you never know, you might just make a really nice new friend!!