07 June 2011


Adjusting to a new culture can be difficult, especially when one is not familiar with the new culture’s ins and outs. My husband and I learned one or two things about Asian culture before we moved here; others we continue to learn as we go along. We happened to watch a show depicting Asian business culture while still in the States and learned that business cards are a big deal in Asia – as big as a first impression on many levels. Business cards are handed to a person with two hands and presented in a proud manner. When accepting a business card, the receiver should take the card in both hands and spend a moment examining the card as the card is a reflection of the person. I have noticed that I am given store receipts with both hands, so I started receiving them with both hands when I am able. I learned today that this practice should also be applied when receiving any type of gift. For a person to accept anything with one hand in lieu of two, the receiver appears rude and arrogant.

Before relocating, I had seen movies and TV shows where people have taken off their shoes when entering homes or certain Asian restaurants. In Singapore, it is customary to take off one’s shoes before entering someone’s home, but some conditions apply. I still do not understand all of the conditions but I do my best. Shortly after our arrival, I entered a new friend’s home for the first time and noticed that she was wearing flip flops, so I kept mine on. Later in the evening I noticed that I was the only person at the dinner party wearing any form of footwear. Faux pas? The new friends were Americans and I was not asked to leave or to remove my shoes, so I suppose either no one noticed or I was forgiven. Being the nice person that I am, I stopped at a bakery before the dinner and bought a small cake as a way of saying thank you to our new friends. I read today that it is customary to bring a gift such as cake, chocolates or fruits when visiting a home for the first time, so it appears that I did something right.

Singapore celebrates 10 national holidays – 11 this year with the addition of Polling Day, Singapore’s election day held once every five years. I find it interesting that Christmas and Good Friday made the cut but Easter did not. Easter this year was a bit odd for me. We went to church and experienced what I referred to as a non-typical Easter service, which was a nice break from tradition. The service was a typical Sunday service with a couple Easter references but there was no drama team and no annual story about how Jesus died and arose on the third day. When we left church, it was like any other day of the week – stores were open, banks were open, malls were crowded. No one was panicking about forgetting to buy something at the grocery store because all of the markets remained open. I also find it interesting that Singaporeans celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1 (or 1 January as they write it here), as well as Chinese New Year a few weeks later.

The dates have us all screwed up. To us, 2/10/11 is confusing. Our American brains look at that date and think February 10, 2011, but our new Singapore mind set makes us question if the date is in fact the 2nd of October, 2011. Paul has had enough of the confusion so he has started his own way of writing the date. Today, as an example, he will write 7/Jun/2011 so there is no confusion.

Singapore, to me, has a very warm culture – not just because it is 95 and sunny every day. The people are quiet and keep to themselves but there is nothing cold about them. No one seems rude, no one barks at one another and no one gives crazy, disapproving looks to anyone else. What is interesting to me is that these people hardly show any affection toward one another either. Only twice have I witnessed couples kissing in public. Hand holding is rarely seen. The only real affection I see is between toddlers and their parents.

Censorship is big in Singapore, which is something my husband and I are getting used to. Paul and I go crazy when watching a TV show that awkwardly cuts to a new scene. We laugh when words shown on the screen have been removed. I don’t think we have made it all the way through an episode of How I Met Your Mother without any kind of interruption. I think they allow some swearing but girls kissing, any mention of “private parts” and the word “orgasm” is banned. While I see the good intentions, I am fascinated by the repercussions. On the sex topic, Singapore’s birth rate has steadily declined for the last 10 years. In reviewing data, I observed a drop of more than 25 percent between 2003 and 2004. Even more interesting, I found that the Media Development Authority, the government association responsible for ratings and censoring materials, was formed in January of 2003.

By sheltering the younger generations, it is my opinion that they are lacking knowledge necessary to continue the circle of life. While I certainly do not condone the overwhelming popularity of teenage moms becoming television stars and the continuous birthing of babies when one cannot take care of herself, it seems that Singaporeans are completely out of the know when it comes to sex and they are too embarrassed to ask. An expat teacher briefly discussing sexual education was baffled by her experience with the class. The kids were so clueless and so embarrassed to ask questions that the teacher resorted to having the students text her mobile phone so that anonymous questions could be answered.

While we have not yet experienced any major form of culture shock (and I do not believe we ever will), we continue to learn and to embrace the many little cultural differences that make life in Singapore so interesting.


Janelle said...

Hi, I have been following your blog for quite some time now. I'm an Asian and it's interesting reading your perspective on Asian way of living.

Oh, about taking off shoes when entering a house; well it's because we find that shoes are extremely dirty, you never know what yucky stuff you have may have stepped on. We just don't want any shoe prints, dirt, stain or smell in our home. Or maybe we Asian just too lazy to clean it up, hahaha... :)

About the affection part, I, myself have never been hugged or kissed by my parents. To this day, I feel weird when being hugged or to hug someone, even if they are my own family members. Crazy, isn't it?

And for Asian couples, regardless married or not, they usually are too shy to show affection in public because since we were young, we have been brainwashed that it is something bad or inappropriate to do so. It's like you have no self control or manners, affection is mostly done behind closed bedroom door only.

McKee said...

Hi Janelle,

Thank you so much for your comments. I left it open a few days to see if this post would spark additional comments but I am happy to be the first to reply. I have to admit, hearing you had never received a hug from your parents made my heart hurt a bit and it seemed to crush my mom as well. In the U.S. we are taught that personal touch and showing affection through hugs, kisses and words of affirmation aid child development. So far, I do not believe that Asian people are any less affectionate or warm - they just don't show it in public as you confirmed.

I sincerely appreciate you sharing your point of view and encourage you to continue in the future. I love learning more each day and appreciate the insight. Thank you for reading!