This article was first published on Matador Network in Aug 2013 and republished here with permission in May 2014.
Singaporeans in general come off as a placid bunch; practical business-oriented folk, striving to be number one, coupled with stoic Asian manners and face-saving. We are apparently considered to be the most emotionless people in the world.
But there’s a lot of pent-up angst when you pack five million people into a country that’s known to the world as just a dot on the map, so it really doesn’t take much to piss off a Singaporean…if you know how.
Tell us we’re located in China
70% of the current Singaporean population is ethnically Chinese, but that doesn’t mean we are actually China, or located anywhere near it for that matter. True, most of our ancestors hailed from various parts of China, but they traversed hell and high ocean to get to where we are — a little island on the southern tip of Malaysia in Southeast Asia — so have some respect for that.
For the record, we’re an independent country, small as we may be.
Think we’re stupid because you don’t understand Singlish
“Wow you speak English really well!” is rather baffling to the younger generation of Singaporeans who grew up speaking English in schools and at work. Especially since most of us are proudly bilingual, with English as one of the languages we speak.
And don’t diss the local Singlish, a bastardized form of English, strewn with many colorful phrases from Chinese, Malay, and other local cultures thrown in. You might not understand half the words, and the grammar is notoriously efficient (“like that can?”), but raising your voice and speaking to us like we’re three years old makes it more likely you’ll hear local vulgarities thrown in your face — Singlish is great for cussing in.
Keep bringing up the chewing gum ban
While it may seem draconian to you free-spirited gum chewers out there in the rest of the world, the actual ban mostly applies to the import and sale of chewing gum in Singapore, so don’t fear for your little pack of Wrigleys as you go through customs.
If your mouth really needs the exercise, you’ll be happy to know they have relaxed the rule to allow the sale of chewing gum for “medicinal purposes” in pharmacies. Just don’t stick your gum under our tables or on our walls, that’s just gross (and we will fine you for littering).
Joke about Singapore being a “fine city.”
Our government knows what hurts us practical folk the most, and that’s taking money out of our pocket. That ol’ line has been printed on so many t-shirts, it’s just a rather stale joke now. Even if it’s true.
Talk about Michael Fay
The dude got caned in 1994. Whether you agree with it or not, he did do a number on public (and private) property in a country that prides itself on being clean and green…almost 20 years ago. Let it go.
Trash our local hawker delicacies
Even if Singaporeans tend to draw racial, ethnic, or language lines in our culture — thanks to the government’s need to identify our precise affiliations on our identity cards — the one thing we’ll all stand united on is our love for local street food. We like it cheap and good, and here, we talk about food all the time.
You’ll hear fierce debates over who knows where the best Hainanese Chicken Rice stall is located, but woe betide the unwitting foreigner who dares to suggest he’s tired of hearing the patter and that our hawker food is not up to snuff because it doesn’t come fancily plated. If our hawker food is good enough for Gordon Ramsay, it’s good enough for you.
Assume we are politically ignorant
We may have voted the same party into power since our independence and are often referred to as a “benevolent dictatorship” elsewhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean we’re unthinking sheep who don’t understand democracy. Talking about Singaporean politics is only exciting when you’ve lived here long enough to know its nuances, so excuse us if we don’t bother trying to clue you tourists in.
Don’t even try to pass any judgements based on your own country’s values — spouting platitudes and acting supremely knowledgable without the right context will only make us roll our eyes at you.
Complain about Singapore
We complain about anything and everything, and we’re good at it, too. From the influx of foreigners to the train system breaking down, or the long queues to get the latest Hello Kitty toy from McDonald’s, you’re bound to find various Singaporeans ranting about it via a simple Google search.
But think twice before you leave a disparaging remark about Singapore, because while we may strive to be a cosmopolitan city, we are still very much Asian at heart — only Singaporeans are allowed to complain about Singapore.
I saw the opportunity of the bounty board within the Matador U travel writing course of which I’m a student (and, erm, only about halfway through the course because I’m a procrastinating bum, oops) and pitched for it, and they liked my article!
This was a pretty fun article to write, because it encompasses all my pet peeves about people’s perceptions of Singaporeans, and I think it’s something my fellow countrymen have experienced and can relate to. Actually the entire How to Piss Off series is pretty funny and I’m sure we’re all a little guilty of stereotyping someone by their nationality!
“How to Piss Off a Singaporean” has proven surprisingly popular on my own facebook page – if you like it, do share it with your friends, or leave a comment here! I’d love to hear what you guys think, Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans alike :) Thanks again to Sarah Park and the Matador team for the opportunity.
Added 30 Aug 2013: The article was also syndicated on Business Insider on 28 Aug. Interesting to note is that they used a completely different ‘Singaporean’ picture for the article, so it does make you wonder what a stereotypical ‘Singaporean’ looks to someone else. Also, it seems that when removed from the context of the entire series of angsty ‘tongue-in-cheek’ nature of Matador’s Piss Off articles, people don’t quite get the joke and take these things at face value overly seriously… Lighten up people, it’s merely one opinion in the grand scheme of things!
Added 31 Aug 2013: Wow this article has gained even more traction than I thought – I’ve made it to Asiaone.com and their forum pages, which is the online aggregator of one of Singapore’s biggest media platforms. 32,000 hits in one day? Wow!