Tourists, Please Just Be Seen And Not Heard

There was an article on 2nd December that advised tourists on what to do and what not to do in foreign countries. The list really included more things they were not supposed to do compared to things they were.

The list is pretty staggering, though thankfully it includes nothing of Singapore. I think Singapore is a pretty easygoing country. We do not mind if foreign tourists accidentally make rude gestures (especially if they are Caucasian) but it could also be because we are rather Westernised ourselves, with no distinct national culture for people to flout.

But really, it seems the general advice, after reading the long list of indiscretions, is to just stand straight and smile and not talk too much.

I remember a time in the long distant past, when I was travelling in Australia, my mother used medicated oil in a minibus. It was mildly amusing to see so many Australians frantically opening their windows and coughing while trying not to look at us.

Sometimes it is hard to remember which countries welcome haggling and which do not. Some countries take great offence when you bargain for prices, while others only pretend to be offended but it is actually a common and lucrative practice. And ironically, the cheaper stuff are sold there, the more likely it is that they welcome haggling.

It is also difficult to accustom oneself to the pace of a foreign country. Like in Australia, we were amazed to find that everyone was always strictly on time whereas in Singapore one would expect people to be 5 minutes late. And yet on the other hand, people in Australia seem to go about stuff at a leisurely pace whilst Singaporeans are the ones who rush through everything. Could it be that because Singaporeans pile a lot more things on their plate that they rush around and are late a lot more?

Even in choice of words we have to be careful. Just like as the article says, in the Philippines “hostess” means something different from what we typically think. In China I believe saying “miss” (as in xiao jie) has a similar derogatory meaning, but that I can’t remember too well. And of course nowadays we probably shouldn’t be talking about politics in certain countries.

But I don’t know, is it really all that frightening? Surely people understand that tourists are foreigners and cannot be expected to know their ways? It’s just like in Japan where they do not expect foreigners to bow, because they know the foreigners will surely get it wrong. The Japanese have many unwritten rules about bowing (as they do for a large number of things) and the angle and position of the bow should vary according to seniority. The fine art of bowing takes years to learn and so foreigners are not supposed to bow if they do not know how.

In Singapore, it’s not the people who are sensitive but the government, I would think. No talking about politics, especially the opposition. No talking about race or any subject matter that may damage social harmony and cohesion.

In any case, as a tourist, I would advise you to just smile and get an interpreter to do the talking for you, to avoid any legal or social trouble.


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