Traveling is like a double edged sword! Most of the time, you meet wonderful people, but on the flip side, you also meet really interesting people! As I traveled extensively to many countries, sometimes to major mainstream cities or some off beaten tracks places, I received many funny or I should be more precise, ridiculous misconceptions about Singapore. Not trying to complain that this is bad, but definitely spark up interesting conversation with international strangers (ultimately, becoming a new friend of mine). Somehow, I was transformed into a patriotic global adult educator, telling people about my country – “The little red dot”, explaining to them what exactly Singapore is today!
Singapore is a city of contradictions. This is a bustling metropolis and also an exotic tropical island (exotic was the description given by my Brazilian friends) with a ruthless Asian Tiger behavior! It’s impossible to sum up the unique country in a single phrase, but we can separate the truth from exaggeration.
To be honest, I actually love such cultural exchange and usually, I will try my best to answer in a humorous manner (Note: only to those who are like-minded and open to humour, not suitable for people who are serious minded or humorless). So here are the 10 ridiculous misconceptions and stereotypes about Singapore I personally came across before:
#1 How do you say hello in Singapore?
Suggested Reply: Hello! 🙂
The first joke is by far the most common question from many foreigners. Often, people were really surprised that Singaporeans speak English fluently. Some were even blown away when people found out that our official language is actually English. Many may fall off their chair, when they realise that most Singaporeans are at least bilingual or multilingual talents! 🙂
#2 Will you die from chewing and spitting?
Suggested Reply: Yes you will! You will definitely die from swallowing the gum and spitting out blood talking to ignorant people! 🙂
So many people are concern about this when they are coming to Singapore. Many are worried about getting into trouble for chewing gums publicly or littering in Singapore. Some thought offenders may get death penalty, which is kinda hilarious.
As far as I know, the import and sale of chewing gum is illegal in Singapore, but there is nothing mentioned about chewing gum publicly, I honestly don’t think that you would be accosted by a police officer if you were visibly chewing publicly. Refer to website from Wikipedia to find out more. As for death penalty on chewing and littering, don’t be ridiculous please!
Reference: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chewing_gum_ban_in_Singapore
#3 I know I know, I think your capital city is in Tokyo / Beijing, right?
Suggested Reply: Nope, it should be Pulau Ujong!
Foreigner: Oh, so where’s Pulau Ujong?
My Reply: Is the main island of Singapore! 🙂
Although this don’t happen very often nowadays, just like anywhere else, for my case (East Asian Descendant), it’s extremely frustrating when people think you are part of some other country. Japan, China or Korea which are sort of more “well-known” to the rest of the world. Sometimes when you entered a shop in Europe, America or anywhere else, you will be greeted with Konichiwa, Ni Hao, Annyeong Haseyo… Well I’m used to it anyway, I’m not expecting people to recognise me as a Singaporean at one look. However, despite my attempts of explanation, some people still confused us with Japanese, Chinese or Korean, is kinda frustrating. The most ridiculous stereotype are those who are visually handicapped and thought all Asians look da same. Duh!
*Pulau Ujong is the mainland of Singapore Island.
#4 Your country is amazing, is spotless clean! Even the rubbish is clean!
Suggested Reply: I’m not 100% sure about the rubbish, because we don’t spend time monitoring it like you do.
We may be the cleanest city or country in the world, but we are not a bunch of people suffering from OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder! Government spend a lot of resources on educating people about clean and green environment. A friend of mine, actually got really disappointed when she saw some litters at public area, and she was really believing Singapore is a spotless clean country. I was kinda surprised that she would believed that way, but anyway, I probably should have told her, we are near spotless clean! haha Whatever it is, it is always great to have a clean environment and country after all. The downside of this is when we travel, the threshold of our immune system may not be high. So, we gotta take extra good care when we travel. 🙂
#5 You guys under some form of dictatorship?
Suggested Reply: If your boss is good would you want to change? Same goes to our government, we has a good mix of talented people governing our home and we practice Meritocracy and Democracy in governance. 🙂
Some say Singapore’s governance is considered as a benevolent dictatorship. Our late ex prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, is well known in the world as the man who transformed Singapore from nothing into one of Asia’s wealthiest and economic stronghold nations. As a leader who was in power for many years during Singapore’s turbulent times, he implemented numerous powerful laws that would seem to be autocratic. Despite this, he was often looked upon favorably for transforming Singapore, and even today, he is considered by many as one of the most successful political pragmatists in the world. Wanting to know more and why Singaporean should be grateful to our founding father?
Read More on Mr Lee Kuan Yew: 10 Reasons Why Singaporean Travelers Should Be Grateful To Mr Lee Kuan Yew
#6 Wow, you’re from Singapore, so you must be rich!
Suggested Reply: It’s kinda complicated! I’m super rich in Zimbabwe, Indonesia or Vietnam, but I’m kinda poor in United Kingdom, Jordan or United States! What say you?
Singapore is one of the richest country in the world, but most of its citizens come from middle income families where real wages has been stagnant for a few years due to inflation. Only 1 to 2% of the population are millionaires in Singapore (to fact check online). Singaporeans however made 8.05 million trips last year, by air and sea. So, considering our population is only 5.5 million, Singaporeans are considered to be well-traveled! To a certain extent, it’s true that we are RICHER by measurement of travelers, but not financially for sure! When a country is doing well economically it doesn’t automatically equate to have a rich population, the accurate measurement will depends on REAL wages of the population.
#7 What do you usually do in the concrete jungle of Singapore? Must be boring right?
Suggested Reply: Well seems like nothing really interesting. Anyway, we don’t really just sit inside the apartment all day long staring at the walls though, we do go out to swim in the pool, ride bikes or jog around the neighbourhood parks, or go to the reservoir, take interest groups lessons i.e. table tennis or music class, meet up with friends at theme cafes, fulfilling our idol dreams in the karaoke, chilling out with friends… hmmm so, pretty much the things that you’ll do in your own country right?
Many believed Singapore is full of high rise buildings and nothing else which lacks of character. Well, Singapore Tourism Board didn’t pay me to write this article, but certainly, it is worth mentioning that we are one of the best entertainment hub in the world. We have many cultural and heritage areas to explore our diverse cultures and history. Apart from the theme parks i.e. Universal Studios, Casinos and excitement in Sentosa Island, we have Gardens By The Bay and the best rain forest zoo in the world. All thanks our Ministry of Foreign Affairs for establishing all the great connection and bilateral relationship with many countries. For example, our zoo have pandas from China and koala bears from Australia as a good bilateral relationship exchange 🙂 I would say, we are not that boring after all! Google attractions in Singapore now, and try to resist us! 🙂
- Cycling at East Coast Park to Gardens By The Bay
- Scuba Diving Dive Trails at Sisters’ Islands Marine Park
- South East Asia SEA Aquarium
- Adventure Cove
- Universal Studio Singapore
- 1 Altitude Alfresco Rooftop Bar
- Boat Quay & Clark Quay
- Suites Karaoke
- Gardens By The Bay
- Freeing SG
- Trick Eye Museum Singapore
- Lau Pat Sat (Old Food Market)
- Meomi Cafe
- River Safari Singapore (Singapore Zoo)
#8 I think your entire country is covered with wifi!
Suggested Reply: Oh so how big do you think our router is? 🙂
First, this is REAL! I had an epic encounter from one of my foreign friend, she was telling me how impressed she was about our internet connection, everywhere she go, they could connect to wifi from public areas such as, fast food outlets, restaurant, shopping malls, hostels, hotels and even in the park. So probably that’s the source of how things spread to the friends of hers and eventually, Singapore is fully covered by wifi! haha I know this sounds kinda crappy, how can an ENTIRE country be covered with wifi? As lame as it sounds, I have heard the Polynesian island country of Niue is the first country fully covered with wifi, but until today, it is impossible to connect at off main spot area such as villages or jungles. So, Niue is not that fully covered after all. This may disappoint the IT geeks, sadly, Singapore is NOT fully covered with wifi, not even data coverage. 🙂
#9 Ah nice, Singapore! I know Kungfu and Taekwondo! Show me your martial arts!
Suggested Reply: I don’t know anything like those, but we were all trained how to operate M16 when in need! Perhaps now is the time for me to pull the trigger! 🙂
All thanks to the western-made movies, the productions always featured Asian characters, especially those who are otherwise unassuming funny foreigners, are likely to be a master some form of martial arts. Another major stereotype of East Asian descendants is that everyone is a martial artists, or know kungfu to be exact.
There was an epic exchange before, I was greeted with “yee…ha… yee…oh” and a kungfu stance by a random guy on the street in NYC. I must say it was kinda annoying! Okay, I am offended! So, what I did was telling him this “Dude, a good attempt but wrong posture!”, so, I ended up correcting his posture. He was amazed and believed he really met a kungfu master. Anyway, I wasted about few precious minutes of my life on a silly exchange, and ended up telling him this “By the way, I know nothing about kungfu, but I’m sure I can kick your ass if need be! Have a good day mate!”. 🙂
Honestly, I am a fan of Bruce Lee when I was young and more towards Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen when I’m older, but just a fan like everyone else watching the martial arts movies. These are the Asian action film with style, maximum coolness and adrenaline to watch. That’s it! So now let me try again and repeat ladies and gentlemen, we AIN’T NO martial artistes! This is a true fact and accept it! That being said, there’s something absolutely true about Singaporean though, most Singaporean men really know how to pull the trigger, because all Singaporean men have to undergo a 2.5 years of training during our national service when we reached 18 years old. So my personal recommendation is, DO NOT EVER mess around with us! Especially Singaporean, period! LOL 🙂
#10 Please help me solve my math question!
Suggested Reply: Honestly, not just math, we are good at everything! 🙂
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Seriously? What an awful stereotype! Maybe this does not apply to Singaporeans only, but to Asian in general. Many foreigners actually believe that we are not only academically successful but also hardworking, uncomplaining, extremely intelligent, seeking economic attainment and educational prestige.
Put it this way, every bag will have good and rotten eggs. Same goes with education in school. There are straight A’s students and also people who are struggling to get through. Do you realised, in most schools, the top students are usually foreign students? This is because the locals are enjoying their life and slack through college or university. Of course, there are some who can made it to the top. On the other hand, in general, the foreign students will put more effort into their studies, because they want to make the best out of their investment for education. Hence, the Singaporean or Asian students in the overseas schools will naturally excel more. More efforts = better results (if nothing goes terribly wrong) Simple equation for success. As simple as that! 🙂
Honestly, I met many beautiful and awesome people as I traveled intensively around the world, . Made a lot of life-time brotherhoods and friendships with people coming from different backgrounds and diverse cultures. Perhaps, from this article it seems like I am annoyed with the misconceptions, to be honest, it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m always open to cultural interactions, and loved seeing stunned faces from people when dealing with misconceptions. Most of the time, it wasn’t awkward at all, usually we laughed it off, and struck good conversations which ultimately, brought people closer. This is also one of the reason why I got to know so many friends around the world. It doesn’t matter if you have any misconceptions, because you can clear it. The hardest to cure is prejudice or worse still, discrimination.
In my opinion, stereotyping is really bad and annoying, it shuts your mind and blinds your visual. The only way to live life to the fullest, meet many great people, globalise your circle of friendships and have a trip of a lifetime, is to open your heart when you travel! Only when you open up your frame of mind and accept things wholeheartedly, you will see things differently, and be able to receive kindness, inspiration, friendships and loves! 🙂
I hope you like this article – The 10 Ridiculous Misconceptions and Stereotypes about Singapore, elaborating the most ridiculous and funniest stereotypes I have heard, when I traveled around the world. These are some hard facts mixed with some personal experiences. The moral of this is: Do NOT stereotype, & Don’t be ridiculous! To fellow Singaporeans: don’t be offended by the opinions of others, try to help people understand the beauty of Singapore positively, you may gain an understanding foreigner, a supporter or fan of our country or maybe develop a new friendship from the attempt! 🙂 As for other travelers, you want to fall in love with Singapore, come visit! Are you up for the challenge to resist Singapore? 🙂 “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley
If you have any other funny or ridiculous misconception or stereotype, feel free to comment below. 🙂
Open your mind before you open your mouth! – Subroto Bagchi