Guest post: Culture Shock

by admin on March 7, 2012


There are few places in the world where you find the cultural diversity I have encountered in Singapore. Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures mix with many more and are all influenced by colonial history. The rich history of immigration has meant that the country is a melting pot of varied communities from Chinatown to Kampong Glam to Little India, and there is not just one but four official languages: Mandarin, English, Malay, and Tamil.

Moving to Singapore opened my eyes to many of the small cultural differences, whether it’s what people eat (think frog porridge; pig organ soup; or durians, which some say smell of rotting flesh) or various customs such as shoes being removed before entering someone’s home, seen as a sign of respect.

Even something as universal as drying clothes is different. It takes bloody ages to dry clothes in the hot and humid air and we’re not even supposed to hang clothes on our balcony (because apparently it spoils the facade of the condo). Thankfully we have a tumble dryer, which is always on the go, washing endless baby clothes and those of my 4 year old who changes ten times a day. This is something some people here seem to find a bit of an alien concept, and instead dry their washing on long bamboo poles which you’ll see stretching precariously from high rise apartment blocks. You wouldn’t catch me hanging out the washing in at such great heights.

The term ‘culture shock’ seems very appropriate when I look at how my life is developing here, although we are getting used to things. You realise that you are very used to living by a set of rules common to your culture and these have to be relearned when you move to a totally unfamiliar environment, even one as westernised as Singapore. For example, chopsticks are used when eating food, and you would never leave your chopsticks standing in a bowl of rice; At social occasions, you tend to bow a little as you shake hands; Showing emotion in public is not really accepted so hugging and kissing are kept as indoor activities. It’s fascinating learning.

No doubt there will be plenty more times when I feel slightly out of my comfort zone when it comes to living as an expat abroad.

This article was written in conjunction with Tesco Direct.

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