Moving to Singapore

There’s a popular temptation to think of Singapore as a somewhat ‘sterile’ place to live. Everyone raves about how clean Singapore is, and it’s also a pretty safe place to live with very low crime rates. But that’s not all there is to say about Singapore. Not by a long stretch. Singapore has a buzzing social scene, it’s a foodie’s HEAVEN, it’s practically a tax haven, and as its relaxing socio-political culture develops, a fascinating counterculture is emerging.


Singapore is a cosmopolitan place thanks to its location and its commercial importance in the world. As such, its population is a rich tapestry of cultures – Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian and Asian. Its expatriate community is broad, with representatives from literally all over the world. Whilst Malay is the national language, English is the language of business in Singapore since Thomas Stafford Raffles established Singapore as a trading hub in 1819. Get hold of a ‘Singlish’ dictionary before you come out here – this dialect is a hybrid of English, Malay and Chinese.

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If you see a packet of tissues on a restaurant or café table, more often than not this means the table is reserved by someone who is currently queuing for their food. This practice is most commonly seen at hawker centres (local covered markets selling a variety of hot foods at different stalls) but also used at soup, salad and sandwich bars to try and beat the lunch hour crush in the CBD (central business district). Be warned: people can also use other things such as scarves, or even half empty bottles to mark their spot. Table-crash at your peril.

Tissue issue

And on the subject of that, you will frequently be approached at hawker centres – or even bars and restaurants if you are sitting outside – by elderly people selling packs of tissues at a mark-up (typically $1 for 3 mini-packs, which would retail for around $0.50 in a shop). Do purchase these – there are few beggars in Singapore but selling tissues is equivalent to selling the Big Issue in the UK, and it provides a meagre income for the impoverished elderly in a country where there are few state benefits.

Can or Cannot?

A bit of Singlish for you (see above). A legacy of the strong ethnic Chinese population, “Can” and “Cannot” roughly translate as “Yes” or “No” in Singapore. For example, you may say to a Singapore friend, “You want to grab lunch on Tuesday?” to which the reply may be “Caaaan!” However, you might ask a waiter in a restaurant something like “Could I swap fries for the house salad?” and the more likely result is a simple, calmly spoken, “Cannot”. At this point abandon all logical reasoning and accept that – even if you know the thing in question to be both possible and simple – it’s just not going to happen today.

Chewing gum

Contrary to popular belief, the act of chewing gum is not illegal in Singapore – it’s just illegal to sell it unless it’s being used for therapeutic purposes. So if you must chew, bring your own small supply with you, do it politely and dispose of your gum in a bin. The city has some serious litter laws and dropping litter attracts a $1000 fine plus community service. It’s also against the law to not flush the loo after use in a public restroom. Police do random checks, so don’t forget…