Love the paper planes overhead! #singapore #changiairport @elisetay_ (at Changi International Airport (SIN))
Big <3s for orchids. National flower win. #singapore #changiairport (at Changi International Airport (SIN))
“Watching the English,” Kate Fox.
Can we add Singaporeans to that list?
Now a Singapore skyline signature, the Marina Bay Sands wasn’t here when I left. Get ready to see this baby, @clairemauksch! :) #singapore #marinabaysands
Since moving home to Singapore, I’ve picked up on this norm here that I find very awkward (and at times, really annoying).
When I’m buying something at the shops, the staff speak to me in a polite and proper manner, and then proceed to speak to each other in a completely different, casual manner, joking or scolding or fighting. That’s completely fine, sales staff all over the world do this, but the key difference here is that in Singapore, they act in a way that blatantly shows they don’t expect me to be listening/watching.
The funny thing is, the complementary norm-abiding behaviour kicks in for me, and I pretend that I’m not listening/watching.
This is nigh on ridiculous. Now if I’m standing at counter, and you’re behind it, and joking with someone further away from you than I am, how am I suddenly blind/deaf to your speech?! Why are we both pretending that this is true?!
If it’s a joke, I can’t laugh along. If it’s a fight, I can’t mediate. And if someone just politely collected my name in perfect, gentle English, then turned around to spit out an ugly “Eh, 有没有一个叫LIM HUI的？“ (which translates to, “Oy, got one with LIM HUI on it?”) when looking for something I put on reserve, I’m somehow not supposed to be offended by the really awful way they’re saying my name like it’s a foreign vulgarity.
I’ve been really inspired by this book I’m reading called Watching the English by Kate Fox, which records the norms and customs that are typically English and theorises as to why they might be so. It’s really helped me see just how Singaporean culture really has been shaped by British colonialism, as much as we really don’t have a hang up about them, nor feel much of an active affinity towards them (our attitude towards them is more like, “Thanks for the modern institutions of government and the English language, we’ll take over from here, thank you very much.”).
In the book, Fox repeatedly emphasises this obsession the English have with privacy, and I think the norm above shows how we’ve taken things to yet another level in Singapore, in some areas. Though I do remember the longer lines for the automated “quick checkout” machines in the supermarkets (which, ironically, were never quicker than just having the checkout person do it for you), I also remember being included in any in-store conversations when they happened around me. The simplest little things would tell me so—an apologetic smile or sympathetic eye-roll when a fellow staff is taking a while to rummage through the storeroom and emerge with my item, the complete un-surprise when I’m laughing at the same funny incident that just happened in the shop. The English may avoid having to make conversation as customers, but pretending conversation isn’t happening when it is and they’re the service staff is a whole notch up the denial and privacy scale.
Does this means things are better or worse in Singapore? Neither. Depends on your preference. It’s a blessing when you’re not feeling chatty and just want to get out of there, which is how most Singaporeans feel most of the time. It’s not great when you’re sensitive about your oddball name (In English, it’s Chinese. And in Chinese, the first name bit’s only got one syllable. What gives?), and you just want people to say it nicely. Nice salesperson, is that too much to ask…?
My promised Thanksgiving turkey sandwich. So it was turkey ham, not real turkey, but we take what we can get. #thanksgiving #singapore
Finally exploring my new workplace neighbourhood. Sticky toffee pudding! #dessert #singapore (at Vanilla Bar & Café)
Thian Hock Keng, a Chinese Buddhist temple. Down the road, a mosque. Still further down, a Chinese Methodist church. A couple of streets away, Sri Mariamman, a Hindu temple. Welcome home to #singapore ! (Taken with Instagram at Thian Hock Keng Temple)