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:
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.