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10 Unique Things Singaporeans Do That Will Shock Foreigners

Though Singapore’s a multi-cultural country, we’re all united by a set of common quirks and habits. These may, however, leave the uninitiated a little bamboozled. We’re here to shed some light on the 10 things Singaporeans do that will shock foreigners.

1. Choping Seats With Incredibly Random Items

“Chope” is a colloquial term that means “to reserve”. It is commonly used as part of a phrase “chope a seat”, which refers to the act of using various items to reserve a table while diners head off to purchase food.

It is an unspoken agreement amongst all Singaporeans that miscellaneous items left on a table signifies that it is occupied, even if no human beings are present at the seat.

The most frequently used item would be a pack of tissue paper as it’s inexpensive and often readily available. More ludicrous items often appear during lunch hours at food courts near offices. For instance, don’t be stunned to see card holders, name cards or even phone cases (desperate times) gracing the Kopitiam tables.

2. Leaving Valuables Unattended In Public

We Singaporeans are a pretty trusting bunch when it comes to the safety of our possessions.

It’s normal practice to leave bags and even laptops unattended in dining areas while their owners head off to queue for food. In fact, I’ve lost count of the number of laptops I’ve seen lying unattended on Starbucks tables while their owners pop out for a quick toilet break.

Miraculously, majority of unattended possessions remain safe. It’s possibly because Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and hence, people have grown complacent.

3. Walking Around With Unzipped Bags

Here you have another example of a Singaporean with too much faith in the world.

It’s usually the younger crowd who don’t bother zipping their bags, much to the chagrin of the elderly, who would chide them for their carelessness.

But, it’s often more about laziness rather than carelessness. The mindset is that since you’ll have to reach into your bag at some point to retrieve items, why not skip the extra step of zipping it? It seems a bit unnecessary since Singapore is so safe.

In my defense, in my 22 years of leaving my bag unzipped, I’ve never had anyone steal my valuables.

Ok, but I’m going to stop tempting fate.

4. Singlish

Singlish is a baffling language for those who haven’t grown up surrounded by it.

It refers to Singaporean English, which basically means mixing non-English words and English words together in a single sentence. Singlish is actually a complex and beautiful language, albeit an unofficial one, that perfectly reflects our multicultural society.

However, the tricky part is that sometimes adding a single word can change the whole nuance of a sentence.

For instance, “Lunch eh?” suggests that the speaker is inviting his partner out for lunch. Swopping words around,“Eh, lunch?”  or “Lunch lah.”  still transmits the same message.  However, “Eh, lunch lor.” suggests a compromise where the speaker is half-heartedly agreeing to have lunch.

As if that’s not enough, Singaporeans also tend to to mix in various languages in one sentence. For example, a simple sentence “Eh, go makan aimai?” has about three different languages thrown into the mix.

5. Wandering Through Town In Dri Fit & FBTs

This is a common rite of passage for Singaporeans during their Secondary School days.

During those days, style isn’t really a main concern but rather, comfort was key. Students who are tired after a long day of lessons but are unwilling to head home, would simply don their dri fit school shirts and FBTs to stroll around malls and even Orchard.

However, I doubt you would see anyone as shabbily dressed in Oxford Street, perhaps, London’s equivalent of our Orchard Road.

6. Joining A Long Queue Without Knowing Why

Singaporeans are known to be kiasu, which loosely translates to being afraid of missing out.

Joining long queues embodies this kiasu spirit because sometimes people won’t even know what they’re queueing up for. All they know is that long queues usually suggest that there’s a good deal to be had.

Singaporeans also don’t seem to mind joining outrageously long queues for newly launched items or overhyped things.

For instance, when Gong Cha (bubble tea brand) re-entered Singapore after its short hiatus, it promised to give out 99 free cups to the first few in line. This prompted people to queue overnight and by 11.30am the next morning, there were 150 people in the queue though the outlet was slated to open at 12pm.

When it comes to a good deal, Singaporeans have no chill.

7. Not Drinking Alcohol Outdoors Late At Night

In 2015, the government introduced a new law under the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act that prohibited drinking in public places between 10.30pm to 7am.

Foreigners who come from more liberal countries would probably be scandalised by this ban but for Singaporeans, it’s simply another measure to improve our country’s safety. Bo bian (no choice).

But don’t fret as Singaporeans are really smart so we’ll just drink outdoors slightly earlier and then head indoors to continue the reverie.

8. Planning Travel Routes To Avoid ERP

Drivers would be familiar with that dull ache you feel after passing through an active ERP gantry and hearing the subsequent ‘beep’ from your IU, indicating that your trip just got a little more expensive.

The worst feeling is passing through two consecutive ERP gantries on the same stretch of road with no way out.

Hence, enterprising Singaporeans tend to plan their journey around the ERP timings. For instance, leaving earlier at around 8am or later at around 10am could save you a dollar off the toll charges.

9. Living With Parents Even As Adults

It’s common practice for teenagers in other countries, especially Western countries, to move out of their family’s house by the time they turn 18. When my friend found out that Singaporeans don’t tend to move out until much later in life, he was shocked.

However, with insufficient housing to go around and the sky-high prices of real estate, it’s more economical for children to stay with their parents until they start their own family. Besides, HDB grants also greatly favour couples instead of singles so not everyone will have the chance to move out.

10. Busting Out Umbrellas In Broad Daylight

Thanks to Singapore’s often fickle-minded weather, where it’s blazing hot one minute and storming the next, people tend to carry umbrellas everywhere. So, it’s a common sight to see Singaporeans busting out their umbrellas even if there’s not a single drop of rain in sight. If it’s there, why not use it for the scorching mid-day sun, right?

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While some of these Singaporean quirks may still seem a little ridiculous, it’s really what binds us together. In fact, I can’t even express that immediate joy and sense of kinship I felt upon hearing a group of people speaking Singlish while I was alone overseas. These quirks unite our melting pot of different cultures!

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