Singapore is a pretty modern and progressive country and it is certainly no stranger to seeing visitors that might have different habits and customs to locals. Indeed, there is such diversity amongst the local communities of Singapore that differences are typically well-tolerated and sometimes embraced with open arms.
There are some things though that visitors should be aware of to prevent any trouble or causing offence. The country has some strict laws, which if you break could land you in a lot of trouble.
Here’s a handy list of dos and don’ts for a pleasant and hassle-free stay in Singapore:
Be Alcohol Aware
Whilst Singapore has a thriving night scene and there are plenty of places to enjoy a drink or two, keep in mind the people that you are socialising with. This is particularly relevant for business visitors who may enjoy an evening out with international colleagues or clients. A large percentage of the Malay population are Muslims and do not drink alcohol. There is also a sizeable percentage of the Indian community that do not drink either. Take your lead from others before ordering in a round!
Use Formal Titles
You should refer to people that you meet using the appropriate title of Mr, Mrs, Miss, or Ms, along with their last name. First names should only be used once a person has invited you to do so. By the same token, don’t be surprised to find that people also refer to you with the same level of formality.
Take off Your Shoes
In common with many other places in SE Asia, it is customary for people to remove their shoes before entering a place of worship or a private home. Some smaller shops and offices might also prefer visitors to remove their footwear – check for shoe racks and piles of shoes outside and that should give you a handy clue!
Leave Some Food
This is more relevant if you are dining in somebody’s home or if a meal out is being paid for by a Singaporean. Make sure that you leave a little food on your plate to show that you have had enough. If you clear your plate it can make your host feel that they haven’t adequately met your needs.
Know the Law Regarding Drugs
Singapore has very harsh and strictly enforced laws when it comes to drugs. Drug use is bad enough, but people being caught drug smuggling can face the death penalty. It’s just not worth it. Know the law and abide by it.
Leave the Gum at Home
Chewing gum is banned in Singapore (except for people who have medical reasons and appropriate supporting evidence.) Make sure you don’t take into the country by mistake.
Light up in Public
Smoking is banned in almost every public place in Singapore. Even having a quick puff in the streets can get you into trouble – look out for designated smoking places if you are a smoker.
Toss Your Trash
Littering is an offence in Singapore, and if you are caught you could face a hefty fine. If others see you they are likely to look at you with disdain. Singapore I clean for a reason – be respectful and help to keep it that way!
Use Your Left Hand
It is important when in the company of Muslims not to use your left hand for eating, passing things, or shaking hands. This is because in that culture the left hand is used for tasks seen to be unclean. Using your left hand in such situations can cause offence.
Talk Religion or Politics
These can be taboo subjects in social circles. Think of other things to talk about instead!
Tipping is not part of Singaporean culture. It is not expected, is actively discouraged in some places, and can make people feel uncomfortable.
If you point using your first finger this can be seen as very impolite. Use your whole hand to motion or nod your head in the general direction in which you want tp draw people’s attention.
Touch People’s Heads
As with many other places in SE Asia, touching somebody’s head is a no-no. The head is seen as the most important part of the body and the spiritual centre of a person and touching the head can really cause offence.
Show Your Feet
As the head is the most important and highest part of the body, the feet are the lowest part and are seen as dirty. Don’t point using your feet, bare the soles of your feet, step over people or their belongings, and certainly don’t touch someone with your foot.