The Unexpected

What I Was Not Expecting in Singapore

This post is intended to introduce those going to Singapore to what I consider to be the somewhat insubstantial, overlooked nuances of the culture, but those that are shaping my experience here.

First, it is common for women not to shave their legs. This came as a bit of a surprise, especially because it seems popular among young women. The decision to not shave their legs does not come off as a feminist stand, as it might in the U.S., but rather an indifferent decision. The hair itself is often so fine and thin that you have to look closely to discern whether it is shaved or unshaved anyway.

Next, (and this observation has been confirmed by other IFTA participants) it appears that nose-picking is openly practiced by adults. I never watch long enough to see the aftermath of the pick, but I know it happens. It seems that it is not viewed as a bad practice that one grows out of past childhood. Still, when making eye contact with the person who is rummaging their nasal orifice, I am the first to avert my eyes.

This next observation of cultural differences is one that I was probably least prepared for – the squat toilet. I first encountered this while at an MRT station. I went into a stall and was confronted with a ceramic hole, flush (no pun intended) to the tile floor with two rectangles flanking it on either side, designating feet placement. In hindsight, I understand now why tissue packets are such a popular item for street vendors and stores. There was no toilet paper, and it became clear that the practice always involves no toilet paper – only what you bring in with you.

Squat toilet at MRT station

Applying this same “only what you bring with you” rule, tissue packets are again popular, this time substituting as napkins instead of toilet paper. It is commonplace for all hawker centers and food courts to lack napkins. Perhaps this is an environmental effort to cut back on their use and waste. Or, perhaps it is simply uncustomary.

Another trend prevalent in Singapore relates to the behavior of romantic couples. I have been witness to numerous couples wearing matching outfits. I do not mean matching in the sense that the colors coordinate. I mean full-blown his and hers outfits of the same brand, same colors, same pattern, same style, same cut. For instance, while at Bugis Village I witnessed a couple wearing sky blue and salmon pink striped polo shirts (stripes of equal thickness) walking side by side. The day before I had witnessed a woman wearing a black and white striped polo dress while her partner wore the polo shirt version – and they too were walking side by side. There does not seem to be a particular occasion for dressing identically, nor does it seem coincidental given the fact that I have seen matching couples at more than one location, nearly every day.

My final observation is on hand holding. In the United States the practice is usually limited to couples, or parents and young children. However, in Singapore hand holding can be an affection that extends to friends as well. Boys and young men hold each other’s hands, and girls and young women hold each other’s hands. The act is not romantic or parental, but rather a public expression of friendship. It is a practice I have grown fond of seeing.

– Aileen


One comment

  1. Susan Daney · · Reply

    Oh… so very interesting! Question? Where the boys/young men holding hands by any chance gay? Is this a culture where it is ‘openly’ ok to display your affection for the same sex? Just curious…

    Also, could you imagine Daddy and me wearing the same outfit? Hmmmm, let’s wear our matching polkadots today – ha! :>)

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