Does the Ugly Singaporean Still Exist?

Although expats are criticized for remaining in their own circles, sometimes I can’t blame them because it is hard to meet locals who are willing to be as open to new friendships.  It is much easier for expats to connect with other expats so we can’t blame them for keeping to their own circles, especially when they do make an effort. Not all Singaporeans are reserved, but I would say I am among those who would be considered more reserved. It’s not that we don’t like people, but we tend to be shy and introverted.

I suppose there is the case of the ugly expat as blogged about by Maria of I was an Expat Wife.  But there is unfortunately also the Ugly Singaporean. Although I must say we are improving with time.

Developing social graces does take time. But I also think the environment we live in determines how we behave. When there is just not enough, and certain values are upheld by society then you get the kind of self-centred, materialistic culture we have today. I truly wish we could be more like the gracious people in the Nordic countries. To be fair we don’t have the same environment that produces such caring citizens and some of the happiest people in the world.

I just hope we are not as socially ungracious as we used to be.  There were stories of Singaporeans littering as soon as they crossed the causeway into Malaysia as they were  not being fined there.  That’s a classic example of an ugly Singaporean.  It is not a surpise at all to me that our closest neighbour Malaysia considers Singaporeans to be arrogant.  I think we are, compared to Malaysians. I am sad to admit that there is some truth in this article about the Ugly Singaporean.

The ill treatment of domestic workers in Singapore is the one I am most ashamed of and which I find quite deplorable. They are treated as second class citizens and I would not for a second want to be in their shoes. The number of cases of domestic workers or maids as we call them being abused in Singapore is frequently reported in the news.

When you come to Singapore you can expect this kind of treatment sometimes. Just thought I’d put it out there, so that you will have less of a culture shock once you get here.

1. Very few will hold the door open for you.
2. Hardly anyone will give way to you on the roads
3. People will feel uncomfortable if you just start chatting with them in the lift. In the lift everyone usually keeps quiet.
4. We don’t say hello to each other on the street or make small talk with strangers. We are pretty reserved that way.
5. Some people don’t give up their seats for those who deserve it more on the MRT. Although in my experience I have seen more people giving up their seats than those who don’t.

We have cases which are embarrassing but do not shock me, because they are so common:

1. People being inconsiderate on the MRT
2. Inconsiderate in a taxi as well.
3. Bad behaviour by cabbies.
4. Teens hogging the seats at Cafes.

Unfortunately the list could go on, but I’ll stop here.

I wonder if this has to do with the fact that graciousness is not as valued as much as material gain and status. It is one of the key reasons for my unhappiness at the workplace. I just wish we would pay more attention to having the right values and treating others the way we would like to be treated. Stories of bitching, back stabbing and office politics are rampant in Singapore and often only the most aggressive survive. We are expected to be harsh towards subordinates in the workplace and the bosses are always harping at productivity. Productivity usually means one person doing the same job that 3 people used to do, but now he has to work longer hours to get everything done. In the Singapore workplace, niceness is not valued.  In face the nice guy is guaranteed to come in last. I feel this is the root of why Singaporeans behave so badly.

It starts off way back to when we are in school. The competition is merciless. If you don’t do well in school, you’re already streamed or should I say, condemned to join a slower class with less opportunities. There is quite a lot of elitism in schools and I somehow feel that they rich who can afford extra classes and private tutors to hothouse kids, tend to do a lot better. It often has nothing to do with intelligence, but all to do with environment and privilege. It’s no wonder that we are often criticised to be not as creative.  We leave the competitive school environment just to join the rat race which is at it’s worse in East Asia.  All this and the fact that we lived in such close quarters and have to face the human crush daily.

In spite of all this, I think life would be a lot better for us all if only we could be nicer. And I think niceness should permeate from the top down. For instance if bosses want employees to be loyal they should start treating them with more respect and dignity. I think Singaporeans will be willing to trade a bit of progress for a nicer society. What do you think? Would love to hear your views as well.

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore helps me survive the mid-life crisis
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11 Responses to Does the Ugly Singaporean Still Exist?

  1. Maria says:

    I met many kind and friendly Singaporeans when I lived in Singapore, but I have to admit, I encountered my fair share of rudeness as well. I’d never experienced such over-the-top consumerism before, so that was a big shock.

    You should write a post about kiasu — that’s something every expat and tourist ought to know about before arriving!

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject Maria. Yes one thing that repels me is that everyone is ‘keeping up with the Joneses constantly’. It’s so draining.

      Thanks for the tip. Kiasu-ness is so prevalent here that it totally needs a whole post.

  2. Lorenzo says:

    I hope Mr L.H. Loong will grab his citizens by the ears, and tell them:STOP!!!!……

    • bookjunkie says:

      The government already treats us like kids in all matters which is what makes things worse. The high pressure environment would make anyone crumble as well.

      I guess kindness breeds kindness and I hope we all act kinder so that it will spread.

  3. Ryan says:

    Our discomfort, not dislike, of speaking to strangers is a holdover from the British.

    At some point, we learned from our colonial masters: we decided it’s inappropriate to talk to someone without formal introduction (i.e. a mutual friend must introduce you)

    While Britian has moved on, their legacy here hasn’t. Victorian manners, or some imitation of it, still lingers.

    Kiasuism runs even deeper. As it is, most Asian cultures have complex concepts of “face”. Couple this with Victorian influence, where keeping up appearances was a matter of life and death. Now imagine a Chinese immigrant exposed to European culture, and fusing the two.

  4. Pingback: The Ugly Singaporean « 4P's Reading Programme Blog

  5. Snazzy says:

    I agree with this so much. They most certainly do exist. And if you didn’t think it was possible, I think they’ve gotten even uglier.

  6. Brandy says:

    As a Singaporean who has emigrated overseas 15 years ago, I can now look back with a 3rd party point of view. My opinion is that Singaporeans are over-sheltered, soft, spoilt brats. They don’t know hardship, they get everything done for them, the easy availability of domestic maids does not help. My mother who visited me in the UK was an embarresment, she would not iron a shirt, do the grocery shop or walk the kids to school. It was all about image, how to show ‘face’ if I do the maid’s job. I told her there are no maids here, you got to do things for yourself. Shock, horror! No maids! How do you people survive? Quite well, thank you very much! Singaporeans live in la-la land, they do not need to be responsible for their day to day affairs as the ‘maid’ does it, to the point that they start focusing on image, competing with the Jonese, everything is superficial and for show. The government runs a nanny state and shields/protects its citizens from outside media, affairs or any world crisis. So you get a bunch of matrialistic, softies who can’t even do National Service withou tthe maid carrying their rucksack! Yes, believe me, that picture of the NS man with his maid has been circulated round the internet. I am glad I have left Singapore. I am now my own person, an individual, self-reliant, independant and able to think for myself. I am not suprised to read negative articles about Ugly Singaporeans, I have them in my own family.

    • bookjunkie says:

      Gosh you are really honest to share your own family story. The easy availability of maids is causing a social problem in the long run for sure. I feel it especially when I see parents/kids abusing their maids and being disrespectful towards them.

      But there are some maid who become part of the family and show genuine affection towards the children under their care. Must be hard though, as they probably have their own kids back home.

  7. loveybitchey says:

    Having grown up in Singapore speaking perfect Chinese (thanks to the effort of my hardworking parents) and then migrating to Australia in my teenage years, I can practically feel the shallowness of the nation choking me everytime I visit Singapore. When I speak to shop attendants/waitresses in my Chinese accent, I can immediately feel the disdain and superiority they assume in response to ‘another fucking PRC’, but when I switch to english (which also has an accent, but this time Australian), all of a sudden they are that much more meticulous and friendly towards me. I find this open discrimination of developing countries and shameless flattery of ‘angmoh countries’ really rather disgusting, but what can we do when it’s already deeply embedded into the Singaporean culture?

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