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What do locals think is appalling behaviour from expats?

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What do locals think is appalling behaviour from expats?

Postby k1w1 » Sun, 26 Oct 2008 9:41 pm

Apologies to QRM, but this actually stumped me and I do think it's a good idea for a thread:

QRM wrote:Lets not blame just the locals westerners are sometimes just as ignorant to local customs and manners here are some examples

Giving white flowers, wearing gold at royal functions, black at weddings, not looking at name cards, paying with one hand, pointing using your fingers, exposing the soles of your feet, no concept of face etc. in fact there should be a separate thread on what locals find very rude about expats.


I have lived here for four years now and have made a number of local friends. I have to put my hand up here and I say I don't know about some of these no-no's. And some of them I do know about, and probably do without being aware of it - like pointing with fingers. :oops:

The face concept is one that I just cannot get my head around (pun not intended). It seems that there is an assumption that certain people have the right to make others lose face. Local business practices, for instance, see managers or supervisors (sometimes not even that much more senior) shout, berate and belittle people and this is accepted.

Paying with one hand?
Soles of the feet?
Gold at royal functions? (what is that anyway?)
Black at weddings? (What if it's a "black tie" event?)

So what else do expats do that is considered rude, appalling or just weird? (And can someone explain the points above, please? :oops!: )

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Postby sierra2469alpha » Sun, 26 Oct 2008 10:01 pm

K1w1 - you are kidding, aren't you?

Paying with one hand? Some cultures will only pay with one and rest their other hand under forearm. If you don't know this, after four years, get a book.

Soles of the feet? Figuring you've never read The Koran nor taken much into account with your local Muslim friends? The showing of the sole of the foot is one of the biggest insults you can show someone who follows the Muslim faith.

Gold at "royal functions". As a guest? Did you not even bother to to read a little about Chinese culture? I guess you haven't acutally been to any.

Black at weddings. Well, obvious.

K1W1 - I am shocked - I thought you got the concept of face. If after four years, you aren't getting it, well, I just don't know what to say.

I'm not being nasty - I am just seriously shocked that after four years...oh well.

Mr. P

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Postby k1w1 » Sun, 26 Oct 2008 10:11 pm

sierra2469alpha wrote:K1w1 - you are kidding, aren't you?

Paying with one hand? Some cultures will only pay with one and rest their other hand under forearm. If you don't know this, after four years, get a book.

Soles of the feet? Figuring you've never read The Koran nor taken much into account with your local Muslim friends? The showing of the sole of the foot is one of the biggest insults you can show someone who follows the Muslim faith.

Gold at "royal functions". As a guest? Did you not even bother to to read a little about Chinese culture? I guess you haven't acutally been to any.

Black at weddings. Well, obvious.

K1W1 - I am shocked - I thought you got the concept of face. If after four years, you aren't getting it, well, I just don't know what to say.

I'm not being nasty - I am just seriously shocked that after four years...oh well.

Mr. P


Yeah, ok, I guess I deserved some of that. No, never been to a royal function. I am not sure I'll ever go, but I would like to know why gold is such a bad thing to wear.

The face thing is far more complex than I initially thought, and I get it to an extent...

And I will ask my muslim friends about the soles of the feet - no, have to admit I haven't read the Koran. I have certainly discussed Islam at length though, actually a lot more than you might think considering my post, but this has never come up.

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Postby sierra2469alpha » Sun, 26 Oct 2008 10:13 pm

Always happy to lend you my copy of The Koran - although the Mother In Law has it at the moment! :)

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Postby Global Citizen » Sun, 26 Oct 2008 10:38 pm

A meaty topic no doubt. Let's see, where should I start? :)

1. The attitude of entitlement that I've seen translated to sometimes as being , "I'm Western, therefore I am."

2. The constant references to how things are done back home and that the local way is deficient just because it doesn't fit into your preconceived ideas of meeting your level of expectations. Sometimes justified and sometimes not.

3. The ignorance of local customs and lack of cultural sensitivity to the local races.

4. Automatically raising your voice to pitch a hissy fit when you're not understood as if the person is deaf.

5. The neverending whinging and whining that gets tiresome.
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Postby Saint » Sun, 26 Oct 2008 10:52 pm

sierra2469alpha wrote:K1w1 - you are kidding, aren't you?

Paying with one hand? Some cultures will only pay with one and rest their other hand under forearm. If you don't know this, after four years, get a book.

Soles of the feet? Figuring you've never read The Koran nor taken much into account with your local Muslim friends? The showing of the sole of the foot is one of the biggest insults you can show someone who follows the Muslim faith.

Gold at "royal functions". As a guest? Did you not even bother to to read a little about Chinese culture? I guess you haven't acutally been to any.

Black at weddings. Well, obvious.

K1W1 - I am shocked - I thought you got the concept of face. If after four years, you aren't getting it, well, I just don't know what to say.

I'm not being nasty - I am just seriously shocked that after four years...oh well.

Mr. P


Very harsh there, there are hundreds of no nos here and probably loads I could mention that you've not come across

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Postby Plavt » Sun, 26 Oct 2008 10:53 pm

Global Citizen wrote:3. The ignorance of local customs and lack of cultural sensitivity to the local races.




This doesn't come as a surprise; there are few books available that are either up to date or informative about Singaporean culture. I have one that mentions about the giving of white flowers and emblems of storks for mothers of new born babies. However, it does go as far as to mention that it is not uncommon for younger Singporeans to buy cards with storks on them for new mums! Hence there may be some confusion through no fault of the confused. I never knew until I was there and was told by an English business men that Chinese always return your credit card for instance with one hand. I think my knowledge of confinement maids was from this forum. The sole of the feet issue is quite well known and is also applicable to Thais who in addition should not be touched on the head and the same respect should be accorded to statues of the Buddha (for you Kiwi).

I am sure there is plenty more I don't know about, I notice Sms is still learning after 25 years! :o
Last edited by Plavt on Mon, 27 Oct 2008 6:36 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby sierra2469alpha » Sun, 26 Oct 2008 11:08 pm

Saint? Me being harsh?

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Postby sundaymorningstaple » Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:20 am

Plavt wrote:I am sure there is plenty more I don't know about, I notice Sms is still learning after 25 years! :o


So true....... :-k

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Postby road.not.taken » Mon, 27 Oct 2008 7:34 am

sierra2469alpha wrote:K1w1 - you are kidding, aren't you?

Paying with one hand? Some cultures will only pay with one and rest their other hand under forearm. If you don't know this, after four years, get a book.

Soles of the feet? Figuring you've never read The Koran nor taken much into account with your local Muslim friends? The showing of the sole of the foot is one of the biggest insults you can show someone who follows the Muslim faith.

Gold at "royal functions". As a guest? Did you not even bother to to read a little about Chinese culture? I guess you haven't acutally been to any.

Black at weddings. Well, obvious.

K1W1 - I am shocked - I thought you got the concept of face. If after four years, you aren't getting it, well, I just don't know what to say.

I'm not being nasty - I am just seriously shocked that after four years...oh well.

Mr. P


Mr. P, this is really not a true depiction of everyday life in Singapore, is it? Or at least not for everyone?

Sure, there are hundreds of customs individuals in each ethnic group can or can not ascribe to, but that doesn't mean it plays out in everyday life. More and more these cultural or religious superstitions/practices/beliefs are getting watered down as globalization homogenizes this little island, and ethnicities are abandoned in the name of progress or to chase the dollar.

I've lived here 15 years, I still can't describe what 'face' is.

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Postby Saint » Mon, 27 Oct 2008 8:02 am

sierra2469alpha wrote:Saint? Me being harsh?


Yep very harsh, as a couple of people who have been here many year, they are still discovering new customs.

I haven't read the Koran and I bet 75% of Singaporeans haven't either!

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Postby QRM » Mon, 27 Oct 2008 9:56 am

A while back there was a series of TV adverts by HSBC, which was a very funny take on the cultural difference.

My UK relatives, brought up in the rationing era of post wartime Britain, are upset to the point of being disgusted by the amount of food that is placed in front of them and left behind in Asia. Despite being stuffed they would eat every scrap of food on the plate as a sign of good manners to the host.

Here if the guest finishes everything it means the host has not provided enough food and insults his guest.

The HSBC ad, had an Ang Mo just managing to swallow the last piece on his plate and say that was delicious. The Chinese host was horrified that he had finished it all, yells and gives the cook a right bollocking, and what turns up next is a fish the size of a dolphin.

When we go out with the Asian in laws, I look at the menu and just point out what I don't like, as I can guarantee pretty much everything on the menu will arrive on the table. They have this terrible habit, which is a form of local manners, of keep dishing the stuff on your plate whether you want it or not.

As to Gold, its not so much gold as in metal, its the color of the the outfit,

Gold is reserved for royalty, like wise when you go to a suite in a hotel where a royal family is staying all the towels will be yellow.

Next time you are in restaurant in Malaysia and all the tables have white table cloths except one, a yellow one, you know that's reserved for a member of a royal family.

Another expat faux pas, a friend was staying in a hotel and was using the hotel provided prayer mat as a door or shower mat.
He would go around pulling the green Mecca arrow off the ceiling (found in most hotel rooms) and re stick it onto the ceiling fan blade, typical expat humor which the locals no doubt will take great offence.
Last edited by QRM on Mon, 27 Oct 2008 12:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Forks » Mon, 27 Oct 2008 11:07 am

sometimes its less about understanding and more about just accepting that some things are the way they are. When in Rome...
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Postby ozchick » Mon, 27 Oct 2008 11:54 am

Mm...good thread this one. Wish a few Aussie visitors who swear or speak unnecessarily loudly in public places here would try to imitate the generally unobtrusive Singaporean. Whenever I'm on public transport here, I don't get bombarded with loud conversations. Back home, on a train or bus we're all forced to listen to Mr or Miss Loudmouth who seems to want everyone to know their business. Gee I don't miss that.
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Postby Global Citizen » Mon, 27 Oct 2008 6:16 pm

Plavt wrote:

This doesn't come as a surprise; there are few books available that are either up to date or informative about Singaporean culture. I have one that mentions about the giving of white flowers and emblems of storks for mothers of new born babies. However, it does go as far as to mention that it is not uncommon for younger Singporeans to buy cards with storks on them for new mums! Hence there may be some confusion through no fault of the confused. I never knew until I was there and was told by an English business men that Chinese always return your credit card for instance with one hand. I think my knowledge of confinement maids was from this forum. The sole of the feet issue is quite well known and is also applicable to Thais who in addition should not be touched on the head and the same respect should be accorded to statues of the Buddha (for you Kiwi).

I am sure there is plenty more I don't know about, I notice Sms is still learning after 25 years! :o


I don't think anyone is going to be offended by the stork bit as Singapore tends to be a bit of a paradox. Whilst being Asian, it also has a Western outlook and loads of Western exposure and most S'poreans are quite tolerant of a foreigner's faux pas especially if no malice was intended.

There are some more obvious ones which are also applicable to the rest of Asia. For instance, the removing of one's shoes before entering someone's home. Not too long ago, I recall reading an expat's post on a different board of how outraged he/she was at having to do that. WTF!?
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