A Singapore Survival Guide for Expat Wives

I have now been an expat wife for two years. Settling down in Singapore is relatively easy. It’s easy to get around, it’s safe to go anywhere alone, there’s no fear that someone will snatch your purse. However, while the country is an easy place to settle down at, living around Singaporeans can take much getting used to.

I have listened attentively to the horror that some expat wives are going through when moving to Singapore. Their stories are not unique, for I also experience some of the things they told me. It took me one good year myself to understand the Singaporean behavior and how to get around it successfully without being stressed out.

So I decide to write this …. so expat wives don’t need to spend 12 months or so figuring out these things on their own, stressing themselves out along the way.

1. Don’t expect them to be considerate. They will still slam the door on your face and won’t hold the elevator door open for you, even if you are struggling to carry six shopping bags and have a baby in arm.

A friend of mine had been knocked over by a Singaporean when she swung her car door open without looking, hitting my friend to the point where she fell onto the grass. This lady did not even helped her up, apologized, let alone offered to buy her new clothes. She just walked off as if nothing happened.

In another occasion, my Japanese friend was hit by a car which reversed out of the parking lot without looking. My friend wasn’t hurt, but the driver apologized only after her husband knocked on his window and blocked the car’s way out until the guy apologized to his wife.

2. Ask them to speak English s l o w e r. Regardless of what you read in the brochures that Singapore is an English-speaking country, many expats find their English hard to comprehend – not only because they speak a distinct Singlish, but also because they speak rapidly. So ask them to speak slowly. Even my husband and I, who have spent quite a few years here, still have to do this in restaurants and shops.

3. Occasionally, you need to scream to get proper service. Almost no one has ever heard me raising my voice, let alone see my rage. But in Singapore, generally speaking, customer service or any of your service providers don’t answer your questions or solve your issues if you say it nicely. It’s like … as if, “If you make your complaints nicely, then obviously you’re not bothered much by it.” Then they have 1001 reasons to say, “Someone will call you back”, “Sorry, cannot!” or “This is not our fault” until you lose your patience.

So I have learned over time that in extreme cases, the only way to get proper service in Singapore is to raise the tone of your voice plus refuse to leave until you get a firm solution. I have several other posts that show when I consider this necessary. When you do this, make sure there are other people around you who will hear you and make the customer service looks like a total fool. And, again, refuse to leave until you get a solution (and by the way, a solution doesn’t include, “Someone will call you back in three days.” They almost never call you back).

Some people have called me bad-tempered and rude for suggesting this. But think about it this way. If you’re a mother like me, you would know that there would be occasions where shouting at your kids is the ultimate way to get them to listen to you. I raise my voice at my son not even once a week because in most conflicts, we reach an agreement over a normal talk. But at some point, there would be that moment where your kids just refuse to listen, keep cutting you off, and not respecting your turn to speak. Then you know, raising your voice is a matter of necessity, not rudeness.

The same thing applies to phone conversations. If you are making a complaint over the phone, don’t let the customer service / your supplier cut you off. They are good at making excuses and chances are they will shout at you first before you do at them, and they will try constantly to cut you off when you’re speaking. DO NOT let this happen to you. When they cut you off, tell them, “Excuse me, you’re cutting me off. Listen to me, I am not finished.” And, again, DO NOT hang up until you get a firm solution. In addition, there are times when you just have to tell them what you want them to do, repeat it a few times, then hang up after you’ve said what you need to say before they can open their mouth and tell you another reason why they can’t do it.

In the extreme cases where they just keep failing you, report your issue to CASE (Singapore’s Consumer Association), Small Claims Tribunal plus write a letter to The Straits Times. Businesses are generally very competitive in Singapore, and having their names mentioned negatively in a media is a big blow.

4. Some parking issues ….. Oh, boy, … this is the issue that still bugs me constantly to this day. Many of them don’t park within the lines, and in doing so they may not leave you enough space to park + open your door properly. If you can find another parking spot, just avoid these types of cars … they’re not worth arguing with. If the only empty spot is right next to this type of car, see if the driver is inside. If the driver is waiting inside the car, knock on the window and ask the driver to straighten up his/her car. They usually do it when you ask them. If the driver is not there, write on A4 paper what a “wonderful considerate driver” he/she is ๐Ÿ™‚ – and put it on the front of the car for everyone to see.

They also slam the side of your car when they swing their door open … it doesn’t occur to them to open their door slowly. So (believe me, I do this constantly!) whenever I park next to a car that has a chance of bumping into me, I would take a photo of this car + my car, including its license plate. If I see a ding on the side when I return to my car, I have evidence to report to my insurance company so the company can sue the car owner for damages. People think I overreact by doing this. But after two dings on my car because other people slammed their door on mine (in one occasion, I was still in the car when the lady did it!), I learned my lesson.

Just like you learn to watch your purse more carefully after some pickpocket snatched it, I learn to take precautions after two people successfully damaged my car by sheer negligence.

When someone is about to steal your parking space. There have been times when the car park is full and people fight over space. Some times, when you are just a bit over an empty parking spot and you need to back up to get into that slot, the car behind you might refuse to back up (even though there’s no car behind him/her) because he/she might want the same spot. In times like this, you (or your husband, preferably) should step out of the car, knock on the car door behind you, and say, “Excuse me, I believe you can see that I’m trying to back up and I would appreciate if you back off, now.” Keep eye contact. You don’t need to raise your voice but make sure the other person see that you’re serious and that you would do something if he/she doesn’t follow your advice. I have done this several times (yes, little tiny me!) when my husband is not even around, and every single one of them (including car owners who adult males three times my size) would back off.

5. You should have a written record for every conversation with a service provider. This applies to anyone you require considerable service from – interior designer, contractor, aircon maintenance, telecommunication and internet, etc. They will try to break verbal agreements, rush their work, charge you more, reduce their amount of work without giving you partial refund, etc. So in your every conversation with them, make sure you keep a note of it. Even when it is a phone conversation, follow up that phone conversation with an e-mail (referring to our phone conversation just now, I would like to reiterate the points that we’ve agreed: …).

Long time ago I stopped having phone conversations with any service providers … I do them purely by SMS and e-mail, and I require a working contract signed by both parties. This way, I have evidence when any issues come up (issues regarding sloppy work, overcharging etc are almost a certainty).

Again, some people call this overreacting. Then I suggest you wait until you have to deal with a renovation contractor or when you request many additions to your basic phone / cable subscription. When your telco provider overcharged you and your contractor said that your marble floor is sandy because “it’s the style this year!” instead of admitting that they did a crappy polishing job, you would be grateful to have all those written records ๐Ÿ™‚

There are many other issues, but these are the ones that I most commonly experience, and the ones I still have to deal with almost on daily basis. Hopefully settling down to Singapore is a bit easier after reading this post ๐Ÿ™‚


54 thoughts on “A Singapore Survival Guide for Expat Wives

  1. Though Singapore has many positive points such clean air, fantastic government, law and order, living with Singaporeans stresses me out to death. The only bearable place in the entire Singapore is my home sweet home. The city is way too clean and too neat. It has no character and despite the fact the government and the tourism board are trying hard to portray Singapore as center of finance and the arts. It will never be one cause Singapore has no soul. The intention may be good, but they’re way too mechanical and square. This place is so un-inspiring for me.

    I happen to also agree with you that Singaporeans are not considerate people. After living in Singapore for 2 years, I make a point not to hold doors for Singaporeans. Whenever I’m inside the lift, I will purposely close it whenever I see a Singaporean approaching. It makes me feel good to see a Singaporean struggling over grocery bags trying to get into a lift only to find the door shut on him/her.

    One other thing I can never understand Singaporeans is their inability to speak properly. Their spoken English and Mandarin are extremely bad. My ears hurt every time I hear them butcher the English and Chinese languages. It’s disgusting!

    You are also right about service providers/customers services. The next time they try to hang up on you or ignore your request, just threaten them with “I will write all the bad things about your company to the Straits Times forum”. I guarantee that they will respond and tend to you like a king. And if not, make sure you really write to the Straits Times forum.

    Point 5, Singaporeans can’t drive and can’t park. Despite their clear roads and tough traffic laws, more Singaporeans are involved in car accidents compared to other cities like Bangkok or Jakarta. Singaporeans drive as if the roads belong to their grandfathers. I repeat, Singaporeans can’t drive and can’t park (period).

  2. Wow, it’s make me thinking about my auntie’s says to me that if you driving a car in singapore as if you drive in jakarta, you will got a ticket from a cop. thank’s hope you can enjoy your life.

  3. being new to singapore, and being a Malaysian the urge to hate singapore is deep…
    so yes I completely agreed with most of things you say about singapore, I have adopted the exact opposite – I purposely be nice to them, correct their language etc – I refuse to pull myself down to their level – I mean I am going to complain about it even if I am polite or rude to them, so I may as well feel good about me right??

    1. Hi Aarathi – I can’t agree with you more. I used to spend a lot of time being disgruntled about it … to a certain extent I still do, but much less so than when I was a newcomer… at least I have learned to be easy with their driving shortcomings … the whole nation drives like that and I go mental every single time, I would die of heart attack at age 35 ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Different societies have different social norms, habits and practices.

    If you don’t like it here in Singapore, I suggest you pack up and leave …

    Why waste your time being a keyboard warrior when you can be ‘somewhere better’

  5. Hi Paul – I believe I did not mention anywhere in this article that I don’t like Singapore … I just find the people irritating at times : | And knowing the issues are not exclusive to me, I just want to share it with other expats so they know how to deal with it instead of being depressed about it ๐Ÿ™‚

    And if you call slamming doors on people’s face plus being oblivious to your surroundings when driving – the “social norms” of Singapore, …. oh well ….

  6. I think you are just rude, arrogant and incredibly unaware.

    You don’t need to scream at the locals, you just need to be polite and very persistant.

    We are living in their country under their customs, culture and laws, NOT the other way around.

    People like you are the reason expat wives have such an enormously bad reputation.

    1. Hi bby – If you know me personally, you would know that given the choice, I would rather not do it. But I do this only in cases where my persistent, polite, request or complaints do not get the logical resolutions (look at my other posts here or here just to illustrate the things that my friends and I deal with frequently).

      The second thing why I choose to do it this way is because I see many Singaporeans using this very same tactic to their own people! My first few months in Singapore were filled with awe at how screamy some Singaporeans complained to their hairdressers, cashiers, shopkeepers, etc. I thought, at the beginning, they were just unnecessarily loud. But after living in the same world as they are for a while, I realized that screaming, at times, is THE ONLY way to get my message heard and get proper service.

  7. Sigh, foreigners like you give the rest of your kind a bad name. If you don’t like it here, don’t complain. Just GO BACK. Trust me, no one will miss you.

    1. Again, I never said in my article that I don’t like it here ๐Ÿ™‚ But in Singapore, as in the case of any other countries, there are things that would make one’s stay less than pleasant – so I share them simply to make other people go through the learning curve quicker rather than having to go through more than a year of stress trying to figure things out ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. wow, I can’t believe that this lady is ranting about Singapore! I guess it’s so hard for her to sit at home and simply wait for her fat expat husband to make it home and so she has to go out and make lives for Singaporeans difficult. It’s already a very stressful place to live in and being inconsiderate back to the Singaporeans ain’t just not the way to do it.
    Perhaps she is just upset that most Singaporeans are doing so much better than her and that Singapore ladies don’t have to sit at home and wait for their husbands like she does.
    Must be tough to be a wife of an expat where perhaps the little brown maid doesn’t understand your “proper English” and put your valuables in the wrong box!
    Most be tough to be having to hail a taxi and try to speak with your “proper English” where the taxi driver could hardly understand.
    Perhaps you should learn how to speak like the locals, ain’t hard at all!

    1. Wow… that is such a presumption. People being rude in any culture is obvious after experiencing the culture for some time…. regardless of if the person they are being rude to comes from somewhere else. Slamming doors in the face of another person is rarely acceptable… I can assure you that in the majority of asian countries and certainly singapore you will not have people do that in the company of others who might judge their bad behaviour.

      I am an expat wife… and my very attractive husband often has to wait for me to return from what is a very fulfilling existence. I also work… contrary to what your bigoted opinion may be of spouses of expats. It is often hard to find work in a new country, but that does not mean we are not qualified individuals or do not try to find employment.

      Not all of us have little ‘brown’ maids btw… disgusting you should bring up help that so many singaporeans have themselves in their homes.

      I am also sure that there are many singaporean nationals who lack the ability to speak all the major languages in singapore… so communication difficulties should not be a shock… what should be shocking is the lack of empathy toward someone who tries to get by in a new country, only to be shown little courtesy or understanding when they speak of their troubles. People should be listening and addressing these issues rather than making excuses for the bad behaviour of others.

  9. No, I am Singaporean living in Tokyo for the longest time.-over 20 years. I miss home and each time I visit, I find the city very welcoming, especially with my young children, I get help everywhere I turn. Could it be your vibe and attitude ? When you are kind and polite to rude people, it puts them to shame and if it doesn’t, you show them how to be socially polite and it just might catch on. No screaming necessary. You can be firm, but please do not scream at your host country, whether you like Singapore or not, you are a guest.

  10. CC Ng – everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no personal attack please. By writing your commentary like that, you just become yet another evidence that Singapore is not a considerate place.

  11. Hi Nancy – thanks for your input. I agree with you on the most parts and after re-reading this article (for the umphteen time), yes I do sound pretty rough in some edges. I’m not like this in person, and I guess I shouldn’t make myself sound harsher than I am in person.

    I have changed some parts of this article. For future reference, I guess I should make a point not to write when angry ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Elinksi, you have a lot to learn about the world. I’m an American who has lived in Singapore for 5 years and respect the Singaporean culture, which is a mix of many cultures. Many of your complaints could be said of New Yorkers — or just about anyone, frankly, in any country. Sounds like you need to relax and learn how to handle tricky situations a bit better. People can be rude anywhere, and if you were even faintly sensitive you would also see the wonderful kindness that Singaporeans express when an expat recognizes the unique values of their culture. But judging by your post, you’ll never experience that. It’s a shame. My recommendation is to pack up and leave.

    1. Hi expat – noted that rudeness etc. can happen just about anywhere in the world, my home country and any other countries I’ve lived in not an exception. But this is a blog written while I’m living in Singapore, so naturally the things I experience here in Singapore get the headline a lot of times. But I’ve lived in quite a few countries and not many of them surprised me in terms of lack of basic courtesy. I have experienced these things in other countries too, but not nearly at the same level of frequency.

      I have things to admire about Singapore too, and have never said that I don’t like it here. But this particular post is not about Singapore’s multiculturalism, benevolent government, or greatest airport in the world. It’s my personal opinion about the day-to-day interaction that I have heard firsthand or experienced … and it is your call to take the advice on this post or think I’m just insensitive ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. I LOVE this and all your other articles! They are so first hand and intelligent.

    I used to think that when people are so pleased with themselves, they start becoming a problem to other people they meet. The people I see and talk with here, especially those nearing their CPF fruition or past their prime years, hate – in capital letters – themselves.

    I watched “Mee Pok Man” by Eric Khoo (google it sometimes Beau, this place needs more people like him for a change!) and see these 3 new supermalls built per month and the Integrated Entertainment going up and big development projects east and west … Where are you going, do you know?

    I think they do, the older people, and they’re not very proud of it.

    They slam doors and scream? Why, they do that even to their parents on their ubiquitous wheel-chair. And as the city’s avg. tempt. keeps on rising from year to year as a result of too many tall buildings (not because the lack of trees) blocking any cool breeze, they’d soon need blockers and stabilizers stronger than a few cool Tigers, just to keep them from hurting themselves. Tehehe.

    Survive? More than that: feel good about it, the way one feels good from a behavioral study class.

  14. I hail you elinski,

    Everything you have said is true. I go though some of the same issues daily. Now I have learnt to keep myself to myself. As per the Singaporeans have defended their country and its a sense of pride for their home state. I say this to you Singaporeans keep your racist comments like โ€œif you dont like it go homeโ€ if it werenโ€™t for overseas companies and expats coming here I do not think you would be able to maintain what you have, so I would be very careful what you say, I mean didnโ€™t Singapore belong to Malaysia once up one a time, yet Singaporeans treat Malays like dog dirt shocking!!!
    I find Singaporeans rude, aggressive, and very selfish people. I have not yet made 1 Singaporean friend 1 ยฝ years in, not one for trying mind you, but if youโ€™re not spending money then they donโ€™t want to know you “sigh”. Only a few weeks ago after trying to find a table to eat at in a shopping mall food court, a guy sat down as me and my husband did (only empty table spotted at the smae time) and said oh I have 3 ppl sitting here, we said fine pull up 1 more chair ( there was plenty of room) you donโ€™t have your food yet, ours is getting cold, we wonโ€™t be long, only to be shouted and told You F***ing tourist mmmmm and swearing like this with a 2 year old in his arms just shows the small mindedness and selfishness of this sad nation. Yes, unfortunately we have to be here for another year and a half, and for those who are PO by my comments believe me if I could go back I would. As for culture sorry but SG donโ€™t have much they seem to take it from everyone else and claim it as their own.
    I am a very passive, patient, nice bubbly gal but I begin to be nippy and bitchy living here. I am no way demanding and expect nothing from no one, I have a positive outlook on life and treat everyone with respect regardless of what country I am in, but in Singapore I have no faith in the people anymore, I have been treated like rubbish, befriended and ripped off by a Singaporean I am no one to tar everyone with the same but here I canโ€™t help it.
    To be courteous to one another, polite and helpful costs nothing, it just shows from the young to old Singaporeans this is not instilled in them from childhood, my mum always taught me maners costs nothing.
    As for MAID I would never have one, I have no need for one, I cook, clean, shop at local supermarkets/wet market with the maids etc. Now slag off us expat wives all you want Singaporeans but we are not all the same. I see Singaporeans treating maids like slaves, slapping them in public as witnessed today in the supermarket, talking down to them….I have heard a maid would rather work for an expat then a local as there is something call mutual respect regardless of their role, you only have to read the straits times to see how maids are treated by locals, and this is only cases that are reported.
    Any way my rant is over, but before judging get to know me and I know you would like me. I donโ€™t dislike Singapore as a whole, just the people donโ€™t make it easy at all. It costs nothing to smile once in a while either. Just stop to think, and open your hearts and good things will happen, smile and the world will smile with you, chill out a bit, learn more about the world…you know in Asia you have a bad reputation, itโ€™s not just us expats that have issues with the way you are.

    I am not rich, I did not live a privileged life back home I grew up in a 1 parent family with 4 other kids, my mum is an alcoholic, as is my dad whom I only met when I was 21. We had little very little money and were supported by the government and they provided my childhood home. It was not an easy life but we were happy as kids. I worked hard back home to get where I am today, I had a full time job working from 8am till 6pm to pay the bills to live a decent life. I am from the UK, I am white, sometimes I am not proud to be white, it is not a privilege, treat me the same as everyone else. But because I am a white, British, and an expat wife I have been labelled, remove my label and maybe I can remove yours.

    1. Lets get rid of the stress , friends of expat wives and partners in Sg. by meeting up and get chilled. This is a borderless world now, so we need each other no matter where we are. Having said that, the culture? Who started it in the 1st place, not foreigners. Calling people to leave the country and refuse to change for the better? It’s actually exhausting having to think and talk about this issue. I can understand one can be racist or bias if it came from just a one or two feedbacks, but if it’s like from hundred and thousands , let’s think about it. True, if you said ‘ if you don’t like here leave, so have you heard of no man is an island? Very well if one country can be independent without anybody, I mean nations.

  15. Well, of course, I’m sure you’ll agree that they aren’t exactly all like that. I’ve met some who recognized the challenges expats face while trying to integrate themselves to the Singapore society and actually hosts events (voluntary basis) to encourage interaction and cultural understanding. And I thought that was absolutely cool of them.

    It’s a shame that your experience has been more edgy than smooth. I do understand the stresses you have to deal with being a mum in a foreign land. Hence, you’ll have to resort to raising your voice. Though I am uncertain that it is a good idea to pick up the bad habits, I would imagine your kids will end up learning from you. (Just a thought, no offence)

    Cheer up, Wind down and like Monty Python always sings.. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life … *whistle*

    1. Hi Katie – thanks for your feedback. You’re right in saying that they aren’t exactly all like that.

      You’re also right that it’s a shame I have to resort to raising my voice from time to time. I’m not proud of it, but sharing it out of necessity. Many Singaporeans in the service sector don’t understand sarcasm and rhetoric, the softer way of “making my point” that I would rather use. So I just have to raise my voice. And yes, my son does see me when I raise my voice. But he doesn’t just listen to what I’m saying. He understands when I would snap and why, and he clearly sees that I am not having fun doing it.

      It’s the same thing as raising your voice to your own kids. Some times you just have to do it out of necessity to be taken seriously. It’s not like you’re being bitchy .. you’re just stating your facts and disappointments, just louder and firmer.

  16. Another white expat who moves into our country and then accuses us of being inconsiderate. Why can’t these people understand that they’re simply not wanted here and thus should stay where they belong? After all, her breathren in the West are more apt to welcome us with racial slurs and physical violence than polite consideration. Far this whinging parasite.

  17. Hi Maggot – My picture is posted all over this blog and you still call me a white expat? Please pay closer attention before you comment ๐Ÿ™‚

    And beware what you wish for. Unlike many other countries, where foreigners are just a meagre proportion to the economic growth, they form a 20% minority in Singapore and are the powerhouse of Singapore’s top GDP contributors – service, financial and manufacturing sectors.

    When you don’t have a Chinese or Malaysian workers in your factories, no Indonesian maid taking care of your kids, no mainland Chinese working in restaurants, no Indian/Bangladeshi construction workers, and no white expats providing technical assistance to businesses here, your economy would come to a standstill, if not total collapse. And then, only then, you would cry out for these people to return.

    Fortunately, your government realizes this .. which is why they make it easy for foreign skilled workers to come. With their families.

  18. hi, sy dr indo,

    umm, i just gt interview few days ago via phone by 2 interviewer.
    but i so hard to understand what they are talking about. so i keep say sorry.
    they was not talking with singlish, but i still hardly listen their accent ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    1. Hi funhappy – If the interviewer is Singaporean, the best way to interview is to do it via Skype, so if anything is not clear you can paraphrase or answer through text chat. And other than Singaporean, Singapore is a melting pot of British, Filipino, American, Aussie, New Zealand, all the way to Korean and Japanese accent. Just ask them to speak slower if you don’t understand.

  19. Hi elinski,
    It’s a great blog for a new comer in spore.
    We’re plan to move to spore next month. I’m blessed with 3 children, all below 5 yrs old. So kindly inform me which area/district is best for children as their ages. Is it possible to enroll to gov’t primary school with only EP on hand?
    Many thanks.. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hi Mr Moe – my answer to this is pretty lengthy so I’m sending it to your private e-mail ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Hi elinski,
    I have read it, thanks, it’s a really comprehensive information, highly appreciate it ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Really shocked to read the hatred some of you have against Singapore and the locals. You can really go back where you come from “dreaded expat wife.” Singapore can certainly do without the likes of you, it won’t crumble just because you leave — many expats love SG and don’t ever want to leave – gracious country and so child friendlly. Be nice to the locals and don’t look down on your hosts – very ill mannered on your part. I’m American and love it here and always feels so embarrassed when the likes of you bully locals. Back where you come from, you won’t take it kindly if expats there or foreighneres treated you like how you treat Singaporeans. How pathetic you mean womna.

    1. Hi Michelle – I have said it time and again that I don’t dislike living in Singapore. It’s low taxes, they make it easy for your family to come and own property, it’s safe, and there’s good education for the kids. A lot of times too, because there is expat perks so you have cars, housing, healthcare, and education allowances from the company. These things you may (or DOES) not have when you’re in your home country. Not because Singapore is gracious though.

      A Singaporean friend of mine, now in hospital, said a horrid story of when she had an accident while driving with her son. Her car swerved while trying to avoid head-on collision with a truck and ended up in a ditch. She was only partly conscious and couldn’t move because she was all black and blue and wasn’t sure if she broke anything. Her son was bleeding on his face to a point where he couldn’t see clearly. But he knew people were around them because of the noise, so he asked, “Please, someone, call the ambulance …!” Repeatedly he asked that, until someone said, “Hey, you’re conscious! Call the ambulance yourself lah!” So he finally did call the ambulance himself, while stuck in a ditched car with people crowding around them – not one of them offering help or comfort until the ambulance came!

      And this is a Singaporean, telling a real story of treatment from other Singaporeans. Try this in the US, and these onlookers can be sued for breaching the good Samaritan law.

      Having said that, expats who spend their days hanging out in a country club, eating at restaurants, shopping in gourmet supermarkets and sending their kids to the top-notch American school here would not understand what I’m talking about. But try going to neighborhood shops in some HDB complex, read my post about Singtel and foreign workers on this blog, try have real conversations with the locals outside of the service provider-customer context, then you will see a VERY different picture of Singapore. Singaporeans are generally nice to you when they want something from you. But if you’re the one who needs help from them … be it having them hold the door for you when you carry eight bags of groceries, having someone give you a bus seat when you’re pregnant, or having someone call the ambulance when you have an accident, good luck.

      1. I can’t comment on your story – but the Good Samaritan law in the States apply to when by-standers provide help, not when they do not provide help.

        In the States we are taught that you should help someone in distress and that this law will protect you if you accidentally injure the person while helping them.

  22. Instead of giving 1001 reasons why Singapore sucks, why don’t you come up with 1001 reasons why your existence in Singapore makes Singapore suck?

  23. I’m a Filipino from Pasig City. I’ve lived here for 14 years (Singapore that is) and all the bad encounters you state here happens as well in the Philippines.
    There are different behaviours and observances here but it doesn’t mean that all of them are negative. Just because it doesn’t apply to you or it doesn’t please you it already means it’s bad. We have behaviours as well that common locals may find offensive, such as, being too loud, too chatty, too messy, too boisterous, lack of sensitivity for time and cuf-off hours because we love to bbq and karaoke til late.

    1. Hi super man … I would argue in defense of your own countrymen, if you are indeed a Filipino. Filipinos are EXTREMELY friendly, helpful and service-oriented (if you don’t find yourself fitting in this category … all I could say is that you’ve probably stayed in Singapore for too long). Yes, they like karaoke all night and might be too chatty or loud … but when they are NICE and HELPFUL, people are generally more relaxed about the imperfection in other areas.

  24. Ah yes, the natural Singaporean response when someone airs their dirty linen: “Dont like it, go back!”. Well believe me, I AM going back. I simply can’t wait for other expats to see that there are other more welcoming countries out there. We should all just leave this public toilet… let’s see what they would do without us.

    Goodbye and good riddance.

    1. Hi Ivy – I believe I have repeatedly mentioned that it’s not that I’m not happy here. But the things I’m writing here are all day-to-day facts that I face when you try to live as much a local lifestyle as possible. On the other hand, when the expats only read Expat magazines, hang out only with expats, spend their day in country clubs, go to private doctors / hospitals, and have the office takes care of everything from school registration, housing to car, chances are they won’t see what I see … because the service providers in these circumstances are specifically trained to make expats happy and the expats live in a special bubble.

  25. I think Singaporeans in general have an ugly behavior. They have a very big ego, cannot accept any type of constructive criticism, get offended easily and love to tell foreigners to ‘fark off’ and ‘go back home’. First world intelligence indeed!

  26. Hi there all.
    I am about to become a expat in Singapore and was searching the net to read as much information as I can before we leave.
    My mother in law lived there teaching for 2 years and had nothing but wonderful things to say about the place. I am taking all the good and bad on board, reading this, but will not let this effect my experience at all. I am so looking forward to the 2 years I will be spending there and giving my sons an amazing adventure.
    Thank you Elinski for the discussion.

  27. Hi Elinski,

    I’m sorry to hear about the awful things you experienced or have heard about. I sometimes go through terrible situations myself too like for example, I was in a cab once and in order to save time and be nice, I told the taxi driver to keep the change of $7 for a cab fare of $5.20 and instead of thanking me he said,”ok ok now hurry up lah get out”..

    . I am a Singaporean and like u said, I tend to speak in a rapid manner and I was certainly not taking my time to get out of his silly cab.

    But u see, ugly people are really everywhere. Yes there are plenty of them in my country and im ashamed of it but I’ve been living in a country in Europe( shan’t say where for 2 years now) but I’ve had My fair share of ugly and horrible experiences too. All the points you’ve listed I’ve seen and experienced it here. First hand. They are not even stories I’ve heard from someone else. Been to a restaurant before, waited for more than an 1 hr for lunch ( this was during office hours) to arrive but lunch never came. I asked the waiter whether the food will take much longer to arrive cos my lunch hour is over politely. he got mad and told us to leave since we are so impatient and we didn’t even shout:)

    but there is of course difference in point 2 you made, here people refuse to speak in English although they ‘ve learnt it at a young age. Instead people who don’t even know you will tell you straight to your face that if you want to live in their country, then better learn to speak their language cos many people don’t like speaking English. Incredible isnt it? And yet, made the effort to speak their language. I attend courses l and am already beyond advanced level in just 2 years. You don’t get singaporeans telling you to learn to get used to their accent, do you?

    People get annoyed when singaporeans stereotype expat wives. I get that. I get annoyed being stereotyped too. I once met a person who said to me, ” Thais, Filipinos, Chinese are all the same. They all look the same to me. Cut the fins off a shark and leave it to die. All Asians are crazy”.

    Of course, I could go on and on but my purpose here is not to compare which country has the worst inhabitants. All I wish to point out is that, ugly people are everywhere. for the most parts, the ugliness you see around you really comes from people who just refuse to make an effort to learn new cultures and who thinks that their culture, values and beliefs are more superior than others. The question is, are you turning into the very people u dislike?

  28. Oh, my, what a discourse! i will be returning to singapore for another stint in a few months, and read with interest, bemusement and mostly humour the lively exchange above. we made some lovely singaporean friends while in singapore. Yes, they are reticent to make friends with expats…they live here, and you are likely to be gone by the end of the year. having lived the last few years in England, i have to say the English are even harder to make friends with (combination of busy settled lives, and natural reserve) but again, like singapore, i have made lovely friends here as well.
    I found some of your comments poorly researched. for instance, the reason you will be fobbed off is usually because the singaporean doesn’t know the answer and cant/wont tell you or their supervisor to save face. SO, ASK for the supervisor, then they dont have to tell the supervisor they dont understand, but get to learn what to do. Hope singapore is treating you well Lah!

  29. Thanks for a very informative blog. I am a British Expat living in Australia through no choice of my own and dearly want to go home, however it looks like I will have to move to Singapore for two years before going back to the UK. It’s interesting how aggressively you have been rebuked in this thread which I think only stands to reinforce your points! I think that the cultural differences between Singapore and other SEA countries and westernised countries such as the UK and US are huge, which manifests in these awful difficulties around manners, etc. Australia is a melting pot of cultures and I have to say I find the differences in manners somewhat confronting. Last week a mother of two older children screamed at me and called me a *itch for asking her boys to stand aside to let me out of a lift before they barged in. She screamed that her children were only 7 & 9 so how were they supposed to understand? Well, my three year old boy knows the etiquette of letting people out of lifts before entering yourself, so I think it’s quite clear where her boys get their manners from!
    I think it can be very hard for those of us brought up with a strong sense of etiquette and consideration for others to relate to cultures where manners are not so important and we find it very difficult to deal with these people without feeling (or even being) quite rude. This is perhaps why so many expats to try to remain within their own communities and not integrate much with the locals. This is not unique to white people – there are Italian Districts, Vietnamese Districts, etc, in Australia where people tend to stick with their own cultures because it’s what we know.
    Yes, it’s hard living in a country other than where you grew up, but unfortunately no-one is going to make it any easier for you, so if you need to hang out only with expats and have a maid so you don’t have to shop, what the hell, just do it and stay sane!

  30. Oh, dear! My daughter is moving to Singapore in less than a month. After reading these posts I am less than thrilled about it. The most alarming is the lack of consideration for others. Rudeness is inexcusable in any culture. Manners are what separate us from the wild animals.

      1. Not too long ago New York City was the rudest, dirtiest, scariest place I had ever encountered. But a concerted effort by the mayor to improve friendliness and a huge influx of people from other states and countries has made NYC a safer and friendlier place. People hold doors, offer assistance with directions, and yes, even smile. So, it CAN happen in Singapore. For this to happen the officials need to make politeness a priority, and expats need to demonstrate good manners and civility daily.

      2. @ Sara: Agree with you that the NYC that I visited a few years ago felt way friendlier and safer than my expectations. I think the govt here recognizes the need for increased courtesy and graciousness, and makes concerted efforts at reminding people to do that (there are posters in buses and MRTs, bus stops, TV ads, radio mentions, etc.). Let’s wait and see – hopefully the campaign does work and we could notice the difference fairly soon.

  31. We too are considering a move back to Singapore, and frankly I can’t believe it. We fled back home less than a year ago, being there less than a year. Both my husband and I were miserable. At work he was treated like rubbish, no consideration given to his family(us), who came with him and knew no one. We never saw him because he was always overseas working. In the end he resigned from his job because they put him on a 9 month long job in another country and refused to pay for us to go and live with him. We lost our $8000 bond on our rented condo because the owner knew my husband was in another country and couldn’t fight and he also knew that we were in a hurry to leave. We are now back home and are poorer than we were 10 years ago as students. The trip to Singapore was meant to make us more financially comfortable, not less so. We now owe thousands and had to get loans to buy a car and even food. We are now considering a move back to SG out of financial necessity because where I am from the tax is massive and we have to pay back university loans also. Singapore can work if you do it long term ie/ 5-10 years. As someone mentioned above.. lease a car and employ a maid if it will keep your sanity. I wish I had and I will if we come back. I agree with being mistreated in Singapore, I felt it was because I was a lowly female, and worse, an ‘expat wife’ and worse again a ‘housewife’. That said I feel that the expat community tend to be worse than the locals. I was ostracised and my life at one of the condos was made miserable as one expat wife (from my own country) wanted to turn all potential and current friends against me. It was crazy and I felt very very isolated. I have managed to make one friend though and she is still a friend to this day. I would also be very very cautious about trying to make friends with people in my condo. It is very uncomfortable seeing people who are your own kind or who were your friends completely turn their back on you every day. I, like many so called expat wives am well educated and intelligent. I didn’t have a maid and looked after my 2 young children myself because it is a role I value and I know how important a strong maternal presence is. I value this more than I value the benefits of a second income. I am sad to think that others looked down on me because of this, or thought that I didn’t work because I was unskilled and stupid. The women I knew left well paid jobs and full lives to support their husbands’ careers, and to experience another country. Another said issue is that I was also overweight in Singapore and I was reminded of my alleged fatness daily. People would always ask when my baby was due, both locals and expats. So to add to the advise already given I would say;

    -lease a car esp if you have kids.
    -hire a maid and treat her well.
    -be careful who you befriend.
    -wear flowy tops or dresses to hide your beautiful curves.

    Going back a second time I will be much better informed.

    1. @ N: sorry to hear about your experience. My time in Singapore is probably not as bad as yours then … but hopefully you get a better feel the second time around. I would suggest that you hire a helper that you can trust (if you can’t learn to trust your helper, she will only create more headache to you), get involved in something (e.g. for me, it’s being involved with my son’s school’s PTA and the condo board), and live in an area where there’s good access to public transport and a good mix of expats and locals. Quite some of my expat friends choose not to own cars but because our condo’s location is so convenient, they get around easy and often.

  32. Hi, I just move to Singapore for about 8 months. Get yelled by hawker ladies, some guy cut my queue line, Taxi uncle who is very choosy, moody, and stuff. I felt terrible but it becomes better now. I agree that they are a lil bit rude at some point. Keep treat them nicely and it will change somehow.
    But when I scroll down and see how locals react on your post: Weew. Indeed rude. Hahahaha..

    1. @Anna: in the locals’ defense … some of the expat ladies also yelled at me with their comments ๐Ÿ˜€

  33. I just love this article… as an expat who works in a customer service field, I do experienced most all of the sentiments that you plotted and I applaud you for it! Sometimes singaporeans REALLY had a close mind… I mean REALLY CLOSE… LOL

  34. Hi Elinski, it might be outdated being a post in 2008 but would like to share some comments with you on your well-written description of the-not-so-nice-part-of-life here. ๐Ÿ˜›
    I am a Singaporean and I very much agree with you in that I have had similar nasty experiences along with very inconsiderate/unkind/indifferent people here. It makes living a little more (unnecessarily) stressful with these ridiculous incidents happening on a frequent basis. I noticed shortage of natural nature/green spaces, increasing overcrowded-ness, back-breaking irrelevant competitive behavior and materialistic inclinations. And we don’t always know how to express ourselves in a positive, inoffensive manner. Perhaps, living in a very fast paced, high-living-expense, somewhat unforgiving society with a scarcity mentality has left us being a… distrustful, disgruntled, selfish and unhappy lot. In terms of being a gracious society, my opinion is that we still have quite a bit to work on.
    And I do dislike rude comments from illogical haters asking you to leave the country.
    That being said, you would rarely encounter people who will argue back with you aggressively unreasonably or be violent whenever you speak out face-to-face. And I do have sg friends that are are very giving, selfless and kind to everyone they meet. The way I see around this is to not fight fire with fire but with water so we are not all building a wall/divide between locals and foreigners. I hope you meet more of the nicer lot, and experience more warm-hearted Singaporeans more often. It just takes time, you will see that all this will improve and this sunny island has much to offer. I know I have seen it because I came back after living abroad for only 1 year and already seen some lovely changes. ๐Ÿ™‚

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