19 June 2012


Singaporean lingo is fun. Though English is one of four official languages and arguably the most common language spoken, the Singaporeans have their own way of saying things and, sometimes, it just makes me laugh.

To begin a conversation, Singaporeans ask, “Have you had lunch?” or “You eat?” No matter the time of day, the Singaporean people want to be sure that my belly is full. When we had dinner with Singaporeans, after the meal we were asked, “Did you get enough to eat?” I’m glad someone cares about my belly.

Today at work I decided to stick around past the typical lunch time. One of the office workers came from behind me and stuck a bag of snack-size Kit-Kats in my face and said, “Here. Eat. You didn’t have lunch yet, right? Take two.” I chuckled and then I ate one because she was right.

In the U.S. one of the most common introductory questions is, “What do you do?” We like to know people’s occupations. In Singapore, the most common question is, “Where you stay?” Not “Where do you live,” or, “Where are you from,” though the latter is pretty common since I happen to be white; they like to know where we stay.

I have already discussed my confusion surrounding the term, “la,” a word that seemingly fits onto the end of every word and in the middle of every sentence. La. Read here for more info.

To confirm a directive or a decision, Singaporeans say, “O.K., O.K.” Paul first heard this “ho-kay, ho-kay” when on a Skype call with a Singaporean real estate agent while we were still living stateside. He continues to mimic the guy any chance he gets.

Speaking of Paul mimicking people, he has his own Singaporean accent that pops out so instinctively now, he doesn’t even know he is doing it. Whenever he is in the presence of a local person, he drops words from sentences, drops letters from words and over-annunciates syllables. We had drinks with a Western man last week. The conversation was good – we talked business, we talked life, we laughed a lot. The minute a Singaporean man joined our table, Paul’s Singlish accent came out and I started laughing, though I knew I had to contain myself.

Since Singapore was formerly settled by and practically owned by Britain, we also have a strong British influence. We have trolleys, chips, lifts and lorries; I only understood one of the three right away. Trolleys are carts – either shopping carts, flatbed carts like those at Sam’s Club and Costco, and multi-decked wheely carts often seen in office buildings or kitchens.

Chips are fries – I am getting used to this one. Elevators are lifts. Lorries are trucks. I had absolutely no idea what a lorry was the first few times I heard the term. Lorries are typically work trucks that have open beds where all of the workers can sit.

My favorite British term to date comes courtesy of my friend, Nicola, who hails from a London suburb. Only the Brits can turn a common word like “pants” into a dirty word that makes me laugh like no other. Yes, pants.

The first time I observed the term, Nicola and I were meeting for dinner and I happened to send her a text asking if she would be available to help me with something on another day. “Pants, sadly no as am in England for exams,” was her reply. I looked at my phone….read that first word again…wondered if Spell Check had taken over, and then I wondered if she really did mean to write “pants.” So I laughed out loud and confronted her at the restaurant.

“O.K., so I totally laughed out loud at the ‘pants’ term. What is the deal?” She then laughed herself and went on to explain that ‘pants’ is just a substitute for bad words without really saying a bad word. Saying ‘pants’ makes her feel better about herself. Then, a few weeks later, I heard another Brit use the term.

”Oh, pants!”

Me, laughing: “OMG did you just say ‘pants’?”


“Ha. My friend, Nicola says that and it cracks me up.”

Then she gives a look that says to me, “Yeah…you’re a little nuts.”

Words and phrases can make me laugh or make me confused, but sometimes the absence of words can be just as awkward as a foreign language. For instance, when someone sneezes, no one says, “Bless you.” No one makes a gesture. People typically do not say, “You’re welcome,” after a thanks offering. On occasion, mostly outside of Singapore or in high-class establishments, I will hear a smiley, “Wel-come,” but not so often.

They are very good about ending conversations. “O.K.bye-bye” is all one word. “See you!” is another common phrase. And, with that, I am calling it a night – O.K.bye-bye!

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