10 Things Singaporeans Always Have to Explain to Foreigners

10 Things Singaporeans Always Have to Explain to Foreigners

Singapore is pretty darn unique. Only when we start explaining some Singapore-related things to our foreign friends do we realise how quirky this country is.

There are some things Singaporeans often take for granted, simply because it’s a ‘way of life’ here. Travel opens our eyes to societies with different social norms, regulations and other customs – and they make us realise that hey, Singapore is pretty darn unique actually. More often than not, travellers have to explain such unique traits of Singapore to their foreign friends. Here are some of them.

1. Singlish

singlishImage Credit: Wikimedia

The mystery of all mysteries to foreigners is definitely always Singlish. It’s hard to start explaining semantics when Singlish is something we all picked up by instinct (obviously, it wasn’t taught in school). There are the lah and lor, then there are the wa lau eh and all the other terms derived from dialects and other languages, and then there are the odd enunciations and missing grammatical structures. You can never truly understand and speak Singlish unless you live here.

2. Draconian laws

Image Credit: Jurriaan Persyn

“What do you mean he got HUNG?!” My American friend gapes, flabbergasted when I told him I know of a friend’s friend who got the death sentence for smuggling large quantities of marijuana into Singapore from Australia for dealing purposes. It’s not just a court hearing and probation over here, unlike the States. You’re going to get at least a prison sentence. Singapore is not just super strict on its drug laws, if you get caught spitting on the ground or eating food on the MRT, you might also get fined. In other words, watch your conduct.

3. Car prices

singaporean cultureImage Credit: epSos .de

Cars are expensive and considered a luxury item. In Singapore, whether someone buys a car depends less on the cost of cars and more on the cost of the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) – essentially the permit to buy a car. The price of the COE rises and dips, but is often always high. Cars also have to be scrapped in 10 years, so there is an expiry date on this ‘investment’. Definitely a way worse deal compared to owning a car overseas.

4. Supper culture

singaporean supperImage Credit: Wikimedia

Singaporeans are united by the love for food. So what do people do late at night, whether drunk munchies induced or not? Supper. Prata, bak chor mee, dim sum are just some popular choices on the list of supper ideas. A lighter meal option for just chilling with a friend would be tau huey. On a Friday night at 4am, Singaporeans congregate where there is food available, and there are all kinds of foods for different supper occasions.

Also read: 34 Little Things That Piss Every Singaporean Off

5. Domestic helpers or maids

Singaporeans have a relatively common phenomenon of hiring helpers (or ‘maids’) to take care of their children because in most families, both parents are working. It isn’t that common overseas and might be perplexing to our foreign friends. Local films like Ilo Ilo has proven that domestic helpers is a ‘thing’ of Singapore, and many people can relate to growing up being taken care of by maids.


beer prices in singaporeImage Credit: Wikipedia

No, you can’t buy a 6 pack of craft beer for $10. And yes, shots in a club can range between $13–$16. If you want to buy a 20 pack of Heineken at a grocery store, it’s going to cost you more than $50. Alcohol is so, so expensive here, and as a broke college student I have developed a 6th sense for sniffing out free drinks deals and events. Can’t learn that in school, but necessary and relevant in life.

7. “Aunty” and “Uncle”

“Aunty” and “Uncle” are terms used to greet your friend’s parents, your neighbors, and even tissue paper selling folks, when in the rest of the world they mean your parent’s siblings. Honestly, nobody really understands why this is done but it is how it is. It is considered a respectful practice.

8. Smoking regulations

no smoking signImage Credit: Penubag

Smoking laws are so extensive (and constantly getting updated with more bans) in Singapore that not even the people really know what they are, we just know it’s really difficult. For example, you can’t smoke under sheltered areas, in void decks under residential blocks, 5 metres from bus stops, and so on. The list continuously grows over the years. Cigarettes are also really expensive.

9. No minimum wage

minimum wageImage Credit: Denis Bocquet

Singapore does not have a minimum wage, which means your friendly 7-eleven staff earns peanuts. We are one of the few developed countries that do not have this law, and this is partly due the government’s belief that it will adversely impact the economy.

Also read: 12 Perfect Spots to Catch the Sunset in Singapore

10. Young adults usually live with their parents

Image Credit: Wikimedia

It’s very common for young adults in Singapore to live with their parents and only move out when they get married – sometimes even then, they stay with their in-laws. This mainly because of the high property prices caused by the the country’s lack of land, and the length of time needed to secure a flat. It probably seems very strange to foreigners, especially Westerners.

What else have you had to explain to foreign friends?

About Author

Ashleigh Goh
Ashleigh Goh

Ash is a self-identified feminist hippie filmmaker and loves the mountains and trees. She has travelled extensively through the US and has spent some time working/living/studying in Montana and Austin. She is constantly on the pursuit of personal growth, and travel gives her exactly that.


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