Singaporean Culture


Basic Etiquette
  • It is expected that the elderly are treated with respect. However, people may ignore the age when someone particularly powerful is present.
  • Etiquette is sharply distinguished between formal and informal settings. Thus, business etiquette is distinct from general etiquette.
  • Spitting or littering in public is both frowned upon and illegal.
  • It is common for Singaporeans to reserve their seats in a public setting by placing a packet of tissues or their umbrella on the seat.
  • Punctuality is common and expected.
  • Public displays of affection between couples is generally considered inappropriate.
  • Punctuality is essential in Singapore. Being late shows a lack of respect for the person who is kept waiting.

  • It is expected that a guest will bring a small gift to the host. The type of gift expected may differ depending on the host’s .
  • It is common for people to remove their shoes when entering someone’s home.
  • Punctuality is important to Singaporeans, and it is considered polite to call a host in advance if one is running late.
  • An invitation should be acknowledged whether or not one is able to attend.

  • Food is usually placed on a table with all dishes served at once and shared among everyone.
  • It is polite to allow the host to select all the dishes.
  • It is the proper practice to begin eating only once the host has invited the guests to do so.
  • Common utensils are chopsticks and soup spoons. Western cutlery is also used but not as often.
  • Chopstick etiquette is widely practiced. For example, chopsticks should never be rested vertically.
  • A gentle burp is considered to be a sign of appreciation of good food.
  • In light of the diversity, some groups do not eat particular meats. For example, Malays typically do not eat pork and Indians often do not eat beef.
  • To leave a small amount of food on your plate indicates that you are full and were satisfied by the meal. To empty your plate entirely suggest the host did not provide enough food.

  • Given the diversity of Singapore, there are various gift giving traditions. It is important to become familiar with the type of gifts that are common to each identity.
  • Expect elaborate wrapping as the wrapping of gifts is important—particularly to Chinese Singaporeans).
  • Both hands are used to give and receive a gift.
  • The recipient should not open a gift immediately upon receiving it or in front of the giver.
  • Avoid using the colours black or white to wrap gifts. These colours are often associated with mourning.
  • The appropriate gift may vary depending on a Singaporean’s and religion.
  • Gift giving etiquette of Malays typically relate to Islam; gifts that include alcohol or pork should not be given and presents of food must meet standards.
  • For Chinese Singaporeans, a person may decline receiving a gift two or three times out of before accepting. Gifts or wrapping of red and gold is admired and appreciated. Taboo items are sharp objects (e.g. knives, scissors), clocks, handkerchiefs, umbrellas, green hats, mirrors and yellow or white flowers.
  • For Indian or Hindu Singaporeans, wrapping should be in bright colours such as red, yellow and green. Leather products and alcohol should not be given.

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