Top 10 incorrect Singaporean stereotypes

Singapore is a great place to do business. Pic: Pixabay

Singapore is a city of contradictions. Is it a bustling metropolis? An exotic tropical island? A ruthless Asian Tiger? It’s impossible to sum up the unique country in a single phrase, but we can separate the truth from exaggeration. Here’s a look at 10 common misconceptions.

Singaporeans can’t speak English

Non-Singaporeans are frequently astonished when they discover that Singaporeans can speak fluent English. In fact, English is the primary language of business, government and instruction in Singapore. While Mandarin, Malay and Tamil are commonly used as well, almost everyone is bilingual to some extent. In schools, students are taught their mother tongue as a second language.

Singapore is run by an authoritarian regime

While The People’s Action Party may still dominate government bureaucracy and the media, Singapore’s socio-political landscape is changing rapidly. The recent general and presidential elections are the best testaments to this. In 2011, President Dr. Tony Tan faced fierce competition despite strong support from the PAP and was elected by the skin of his teeth. Today, dissent is quickly spilling into the mainstream and demanding serious consideration by the powers that be.

You can’t chew gum in Singapore

The ban on gum remains one of the best-known aspects of life in Singapore. The actual chewing of gum is not deemed illegal in Singapore, but the importing and selling of it is. Only gum of therapeutic value or prescribed from a doctor are allowed. One of the reasons the ban was introduced was because gum was stuck on subway train doors to stop them from opening. Although there is a steep fine of spitting gum on the ground as litter, Singaporeans wouldn’t rather find used gum scattered on grass or stuck on the doorknob of a public bathroom.

Singaporeans are uptight

They can’t take a joke – look how they overreacted to that hilarious Seth Rogen video! This seems to stem from a perception that Asians in general lack the ability to laugh at themselves. I beg to differ. Take a look at this popular blog for Singaporean self-deprecation at its finest. From a socio-political standpoint, The Economist referred to Singapore as an “uptight island-state” and that it needed to loosen up to achieve success in the net half-century. We’ll just see about that.

Singaporeans are ‘kiasu’

‘Kiasu’ is a mash-up of both English and Singlish to mean a can’t-lose attitude. The word is often used in a negative light to describe someone who is obsessively competitive, or someone who is not afraid to trample over others just to get a bigger slice of the pie. Firstly, this attitude doesn’t apply to all Singaporeans. And to those it may affect, it’s hardly a Singaporean issue than it is a south east Asian or Chinese one. With our colonial past, past generations are equipped with survivalist mindsets, which may drive them to do anything to fend for themselves.

Singaporean kids have no fun

Is Singapore full of Tiger Mums (and Dads)? Well, one couple did make it onto an episode of “World’s Strictest Parents.” Singapore’s education system definitely places a strong emphasis on grades, especially since children start taking standardized tests at the tender age of 12. But children all over the world are facing increased pressure to excel in school, and parents can be equally strict everywhere. There are “cram schools” in India, China, the United Kingdom, the United States… the list goes on. Children here are just like their counterparts in other countries. There are those who study way too hard, and those who hardly study at all.

Singaporean women are materialistic

They are more interested in finding a man who can provide for them than “true love”. They want designer handbags, luxury cars, beautiful houses and men with luxury country club memberships. Sarong Party Girls are constantly on the prowl for rich Caucasian men who can introduce them to the high life. There are those who argue that there is a fine line between materialism and pragmatism. Overall, the materialistic mind-set among girls in Singapore is no better or worse than others in a first world nation. While there are Singaporean girls who demand for males to foot all the bills and buy them expensive gifts, there are girls who demand those things anywhere in the world.

Singaporeans are apathetic and uninformed

There is a big difference between indifference and ignorance. It is almost impossible in this day and age to be completely oblivious to the news of the day, especially when controversial issues arise. It might be true that Singaporeans are less likely to speak up for fear of sanction, but that should not be mistaken for a lack of concern. Infact, in 2013, when the government proposed a 6.9 million population target, thousands of Singaporeans reacted strongly.

Singaporean men live with their parents

This is often the case not just in Singapore, but throughout Asia. Heck, some Indian men like to live with their parents even after marriage. But for both boys and girls, it makes sense to continue living with our parents even when working because usually, our parents want us to. It’s not a case of parents feeling obliged, most of them genuinely take pleasure in housing us and on the flipside, it’s culturally respectful to continue living with them. Plus, private housing is not a luxury every man can afford, and rent in Singapore is very expensive.

Singaporeans work long hours

Alongside Hong Kong and South Korea, Singapore clocks in a high number of weekly working hours in Asia. People looking to move to Singapore for work are often met with the usual outcry: “Can you survive the long hours?” By labour legislation, Singapore also has the highest maximum working hours in the world capped at 88 hours for two continuous weeks. While working long hours frequently is not healthy, it boils down to individual choice and employer culture. However, working long hours can also be attributed to our survivalist mindset (as mentioned above in ‘kiasu’ entry).