Singapore is home to three of Asia’s great cultures— Chinese, Malay, and Indian—and, although they each have their own distinct norms, values, and religions, many of these are held in common. When visiting a Singaporean at home, it is vital to identify and understand the cultural heritage of your host so that you can act appropriately. Here are three major aspects to consider when invited to visit a Singaporean in their home:
It is a privilege to be invited to a Singaporean home, but it is easy to cause offense inadvertently. In all three communities (and among many Westerners too) it is customary to remove your shoes when entering the home (so wear socks or tights).
Remember to dress modestly and always err on the side of being more rather than less formal—no shorts or revealing clothes, even if it is hot and humid outside.
You may be invited to sit on the floor in a Malay home, but since pointing the soles of your feet at a person is considered impolite, men should sit cross legged, and women should sit sideways with their feet tucked underneath. If you are invited to sit on a sofa or a chair, try not to cross your legs, especially in front of an older person, as this is regarded as rude. Where children are concerned, do not pat the small child or toddler on the head. While this is an act of affection in the West, for a Malay or Indian the head is sacred and should never be touched. Above all, do not use the left hand when eating, shaking hands, or giving gifts in Malay or Indian households, as it is reserved for personal hygiene and considered unclean.
In all three communities it is the tradition to offer some refreshment, however brief the visit, and it would be impolite to refuse. If you are invited to a meal in the evening, remember that Singaporeans tend to rise early and retire early, so take your cue from your hosts. Unlike in the West, guests do not stay on after the meal but leave promptly when it is over. If you are hosting a dinner, do not take it personally!
It is always appreciated if a visitor brings a gift, but remember that Malay and Indian Muslims do not drink alcohol and frown upon smoking, so sweets or cakes are safe options. If your hosts are Chinese, remember to keep to even numbers, except 4, 14, and 24, which, as we have seen, are considered unlucky.
Public and Private Areas
Singaporeans have definite public and private areas, and the visitor can cause grave embarrassment if in conversation he or she unwittingly touches on close personal or family relationships, emotions, romantic attachments, or sexual matters. Displays of affection are frowned upon and the hugging and kissing of close personal friends of the opposite sex is not done.
Discussions about religion or politics are best avoided, and humor does not always travel well—especially British humor, which is often self-deprecating.
If you’ve enjoyed reading these tips on how to meet and greet like a local in Singapore, the full guide is available on our shop.
We are currently having a 25% discount across the whole shop – to get 25% off your order, please used code NEWCS25 at checkouts.
Singapore – Culture Smart!
The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture
Angela Milligan & Tricia Voute
Page count: 168
Dimensions: 171 x 108 x 13mm
Published at: £7.99 / $11.99 / CAN $15.99