02 May 2012


It all started a few weeks ago. I was typing something, likely a blog post, and I wrote the word “flavour” without hesitation. It actually took a few seconds for my mind to register, focus on the word and wonder whether or not the spelling was correct.

Singapore has a lot of British influence since the country used to be one of the queen’s territories but I had not had any experience writing in that form up to that point in time so I am unsure from where the instinct came.

In my last two weeks of work, I was responsible for developing a proposal regarding a process improvement. This was a test for me since it would be my first official British-English, or Singaporean-English, document. I had a British friend of mine review the material to first ensure the information presented made sense to someone outside of the project and, second, to proof my British.

To my surprise, my colleague laughed and stated that not even she understood all of the proper grammar anymore as things have changed over the years. My biggest challenge was the Z/S/C transition. I know that the letter Z is rarely used and that an S should remain in place of the Z; however, when to use an S and when to use a C still baffles me. At least I remembered to change words like “program” to “programme.”

Another thing that still eludes me is the use of the Singaporean term, “la.” My very Singaporean staff mates attempted to teach me how to use “la” properly in a variety of sentences, which was quite entertaining. I listened as they had conversations and mentally noted where the “la” was placed and where the emphasis fell.

I decided, after their coaching of course, that I just needed to say, “la,” after every word. When I seriously tried to use the term, I thought I sounded like an idiot and they just laughed at me. While they were teaching me, I just replied, “O.K. la,” which is a very commonly used phrase, and they all started laughing so hard, you would have thought that was the funniest thing they had ever heard in their entire Singaporean lives. They loved it.

Last weekend when Paul and I were on our boating adventure, I again listened for the “la.” Our driver/boat captain is a native Singaporean and he is fluent in the “la” language. I still don’t get it but I suppose I still have time to learn.

Another thing I must learn is to stop using seasons when describing months. The Riding for the Disabled Association is about to finish a riding term. In June there will be a term of “holiday rides” before the next riding term, which will commence at the end of June and conclude in August.

In more than one meeting, I referred to the latter as the “Summer term” and received criticism. I was reminded that what I deemed “summer” another colleague hailing from New Zealand would consider “winter.” I admitted that was a true statement. And then I made the same mistake again.

In a meeting with a government entity last week, I referred to the summer term. A woman across the table actually stopped me mid-sentence, put up a finger to “pause” the conversation and then she asked, “What do you mean by ‘summer’?”

I had to stop myself from laughing. Who does not know what months constitute summer? Singapore is in the northern hemisphere. Does that not count? My boss advised that there is no summer in Singapore; there is hot and there is hotter and then there is rain – there is no summer or winter.

O.K., so I still have a lot to learn before I can officially call myself a Singaporean. This week, with the help of a nutritionist friend, I will be continuing my education in one of my favorite genres – food!

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