Solo Travel in Singapore: Etiquette and Cultural Dos

Doing things the Singaporean way will go a long way to making your solo experience there a smooth and pleasant one. Familiarize yourself with these dos (and check out the don’ts), before visiting:  

1.     Do Use Formal Names or Titles When Addressing Someone

Always use Mr., Mrs., Miss or a personal title with someone’s surname until you are addressed by your first name. Formality is respected here and will help you develop a closer relationship faster with a new Singaporean acquaintance.

2.  Do Remove Your Shoes When Entering a Home, Mosque or Temple

Shoes and feet are considered dirty. Cleanliness, which is associated with purity, is a treasured value. You are expected to remove your shoes when entering homes, mosques, or temples.

3. Do Ask Permission Before Taking a Photo

This can be violated easily when you are "in the moment" snapping photos but be ever mindful and ask permission to do so. Some people get offended if you take their photo. I have been called out on this in the past, and it's something that makes you feel unmannerly and quite embarrassed. Besides, photographing places with people in them, this unspoken rule applies to many different buildings such as museums, temples and mosques. It’s better to be safe and ask than sorry.

4. Do Use Both Hands When Exchanging Business or Calling Cards

This practice might seem unfamiliar to the Westerner but it is another one of those dos in Asian countries that shows initial personal respect, which sets the tone for a smooth encounter.

5.  Do Drive or Stand on People Movers on the Left Side

Left over from British Colonial control, Singaporeans drive on the left hand side of the road. Make sure you are looking left and right several times before crossing the street. Also, individuals in a hurry on a people mover will want to pass you on the right. 

6. Do Smack or Burp

This one is completely foreign to me: in Asian cultures it is highly acceptable for people to show great enjoyment when eating foods they like. Don’t be surprised or offended if you observe this practice.

7. Do Leave Something on Your Plate

From what I'm used to, it stands to reason if what you are eating is delicious, you should clean your plate. This is not the case in Singapore.

8. Do Familiarize Yourself with Gift-Giving Customs 

If you plan on bearing gifts while in Singapore, it is wise to know what to do and not to do in this situation. Give your gift when you are leaving not when you are greeting someone. Never use white, a symbol of mourning, paper when wrapping a gift. Likewise, clocks, handkerchiefs and flowers are associated with funerals and death to the Chinese population, refrain from giving these items. Use both of your hands or your right hand to present a gift to someone. If given a gift, don’t open it in front of the giver. Lastly, and a highly unusual custom, is that Singaporeans tend to refuse a gift two times before accepting it. Greed is frowned upon here and this gift refusal practice is considered good etiquette. 

9. Do Dress Appropriately

Even though Singapore has a tropical climate, people are stylishly or conservatively dressed when going to work, religious services or for leisure activities, refrain from wearing clothing extremes. Also, shoulders must be covered when entering a Mosque or temple.

10.  Do Bargain

Though Singaporean vendors tend not to discount their prices as much as some other countries where haggling is the norm, do bargain at some of the markets such as Chinatown and Little India. A ten percent discount is common practice but sometimes you’ll get lucky and get a bigger one.

On the way to the airport when leaving, I had a pleasant conversation with my taxi driver. I complimented his city for being such a cosmopolitan, clean, well-administered, civilized place. Singapore to me was truly a model metropolis, an urban utopia. The taxi driver shared the secret to this city-state’s quality of life is that corruption and the violation of laws are not tolerated. Punishments here are swift and hard. While the citizens might complain about the many laws, regulations and rules, these are dutifully obeyed and consequently, this city is a fabulous destination for the solo traveler.

My trip to Singapore was a pure delight because it was a safe, orderly, and thoroughly modern city. Every avid solo traveler should put this delightful destination on their bucket list but as this blog post illustrates do know its "dos and don’ts" before traveling there.

Were any readers recently in Singapore? I would be interested to hear any positive or negative experiences. Feel free to comment below or email me via astrid@astridtravel.com.  

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