Cultural Awareness in Singapore

Singapore culture

Singapore is a small island country located in South East Asia and situated off the southern tip of Malaysia. It has a population of just 5.18 million (2011), and is an extremely urbanized region. There are thousands of local and international businesses based in Singapore, and the region is becoming an increasingly popular hub for international business operations.

Singapore is regarded as one of the best places to work for foreign workers, as its government has a pro-foreigner approach whilst the opportunity to work for a reputable company and earn a considerable income is high. In addition, it is easy to communicate in Singapore, as the English language plays an integral role in Singaporean life.

Singapore is a unique cultural mix of Chinese (76%), Malay (15%) and Indian (6%). Singaporean people are described as peaceful, open-minded and unified who are accepting of many different cultures. Nevertheless when relocating to Singapore for employment purposes it is recommended that you research cultural conventions to ensure that you comply with correct etiquette at all times. Demonstrating respect for the culture will also reflect positively on you, both as an employee and as an individual.

Once you have been offered a position of employment in a Singapore office, it is important that you research the customs and traditions of Singapore office life prior to commencing with your new experience. Although Singapore is a multicultural society, it still maintains certain conventions that must be abided by out of respect for others.

For example upon meeting people for the first time always shake their hands and give a small nod of your head to your superiors or elders. Demonstrate continued respect for others at all time, and also cultivate a positive attitude towards your work.

Singapore dress code is relatively relaxed in comparison with other Asian nations. For example, although dress should be smart, a business jacket is not obligatory and there is not an expected color code that must be followed. Men should wear white shirts with a tie and smart trousers, whilst women should wear sleeved shirts with skirts or trousers.

Always arrive on time for a business meeting as lateness is regarded as disrespectful and many people take offence at poor timekeeping skills. At the beginning and end of the meeting, shake hands with everyone present. It is also polite to give a small bow or nod of your head at this point, particularly towards Chinese or older people.

Upon commencing the interview business cards will be exchanged. You must exchange business cards with both hands and treat the card you have received with respect (do not fold it or deface it in any way). Place it in a safe and secure location once you have received it.

Unlike in other cultures, Singaporeans tend to avoid small talk at the beginning of meetings, instead commencing with business talk immediately. The business environment in Singapore is much more fast paced than in other cultures (e.g. in Hong Kong the decision making process can be extremely long-winded), therefore decisions can be reached quite swiftly in many instances.

Finally, saving ‘face’ in Singapore culture is critical, as it demonstrates that you are a dignified character. Therefore always hold yourself in a respectable manner and not do cause embarrassment to other persons in a business meeting, either by disagreeing with them or correcting them. This is extremely detrimental for business negotiations and may lead to ‘loss of face’.

Singapore is a very clean region and in day to day life, smoking in public or in air-conditioned buildings is a punishable offence. Even being discovered using chewing gum carries a huge fine. Furthermore, public displays of affection are not recommended, whilst you are advised to avoid discussing subjects such as religion or politics, unless you are in the presence of very close acquaintances.