With an almost 6 million population, Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. A small rich country located on the equator in Southeast Asia, Singapore has a multiethnic and multi religious society. While having a core ethnic makeup of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian, Singapore has adopted many western ideals especially in lifestyle aspects such as food, entertainment, and mindset. Singapore is the perfect paradox of East meets West.
As Singaporeans become more exposed to Western lifestyles and values, they risk losing core values such as hard work, thrift and sacrifice, and the erosion of their Asian values. To combat this, the Singapore government has identified five shared values that Singapore should adopt in a 1991 whitepaper. They are:
- Nation before community and society above self
Because of Singapore’s multiethnic and multi religious local population, the government needed to make sure that no one culture or religion would get in the way of nation building and progress. To ensure a nationalistic society, this shared value needs to be addressed and emphasised. In a time where division and chaos are rampant everywhere in the world, Singapore is creating and maintaining unification amongst its people.
- Family as the basic unit of society
Filial piety is a deeply ingrained value in Asian culture, likewise in Singaporeans’. Acts of filial piety include providing and caring for ageing parents at old age and being kind to elders. When people can be respectful, kind, and care for their own family unit, they would be able to extend the same values to the bigger community.
- Community support and respect for the individual
Singaporeans are supportive people and this is evident in what is called the kampung spirit. It is the act of helping and looking out for one another in a community, a common culture in people living in villages in the olden days. Today, individuals and companies help to distribute cooked food and food packs to the needy communities in Singapore. During emergencies such as a fire, neighbours would be the first to help call the fire brigade and warn others to evacuate the building.
Asians are generally gentler, more respectful, and avoid conflicts during interactions. In Singapore, interactions are tiered and require a level of deference and respect from one party based on a number of factors including but not limited to a person’s position, occupation and level of education. However, age is often the overriding factor that takes precedence over all other factors. Giving respect, therefore, is a more hierarchical process than the West.
- Consensus, not conflict
Concepts such as freedom of speech, which promotes voicing out individual opinions for purposes such as raising awareness or to stand up against set societal norms, is still being frowned upon in Asian societies. Freedom of speech focuses more on the message being raised, disregarding other factors that Asians are more sensitive to like societal hierarchy. Speaking out might be seen as rude and being disrespectful, making other people lose face. Instead of being brash and imposing their own ideals onto others, being diplomatic and agreeing to disagree is expected in Singaporean society.
- Racial and religious harmony
Racial and religious tolerance have been taught to every Singaporean since the country’s independence. Singapore has experienced some racial riots in the early days and the government is determined not to have it happen again.
Every year, students up to 17 years old celebrate Racial Harmony Day in school to expose them to the different races, cultures, and religions of Singapore. Students get to wear traditional clothing, eat ethnic food, play traditional ethnic games, and watch cultural performances of their own and other cultures. Singaporeans are also “forced” to live amongst each other due to the government’s race quota in every public housing block, thus avoiding a ghetto situation common in other countries.
Singaporean Values for Foreigners
Foreigners, whether they are expats living in Singapore or they are tourists who visit the city state for a couple of days, often find Singaporeans unfriendly and cold. These may be the reasons why:
Singaporeans tend to be more wary of outsiders, especially since the government has been accepting more and more expats and new citizens. Locals worry that jobs are being given to foreigners and locals are forced to do menial jobs like food delivery and taxi drivers. This sentiment came about many years ago when foreigners who hold HR jobs or are hiring managers, hire their own people when Singaporeans are more qualified. Salaries for these jobs are much higher than what locals are being paid too, thus the resentment. These cases have been published in the news and the government has taken steps to curb this practice and avoid it from happening again.
There are also more and more foreigners misbehaving in Singapore and these cases are being published by the news media. Singaporeans have been taught that bad behaviour has harsh consequences and the low crime rate in Singapore is testament to that. However, the recent cases involving foreigners only resulted in light sentences. Some even sued government bodies for their own mistakes, something no Singaporean would ever do. This shows foreigners just want to take advantage of Singapore as a rich country.
Foreigners also tend to live amongst themselves and not mingle with the locals. They prefer to find and meet with other expats to source for help or help each other with their new living environment. They mingle amongst themselves during their free time and try to live the way they did back home. Unless they have colleagues who are Singaporeans, their interaction with locals is limited. This segregation doesn’t allow Singaporeans to know and understand these expats, much less accept them in society.
In short, there is a huge disparity in values and mindset between foreigners living in Singapore and Singaporeans. This is where social integration offers a solution for foreigners who want to live in Singapore long-term.
There are many ways for foreigners to assimilate to local culture. Basic ones include understanding and/or speaking Singlish, eating local food at hawker centres, and celebrating local festivities such as Chinese New Year and Hari Raya. These can be fun and educational for foreigners.
Foreigners who are applying for Singapore Permanent Residence (PR) have these options:
- Volunteering: A good way to interact with locals and especially the needy in Singapore. Find out and understand their plight and contribute to make their lives easier.
- Mentoring & Coaching: Impart expertise and knowledge to the younger generation of Singapore and help contribute to the future workforce and economy.
- Monetary Donations: Funds are always needed for NGOs to support its beneficiaries.
- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): Foreigners working for employers with existing CSR outreach activities / business owners who set up operations in Singapore can do CSR of their choice to contribute to the society.
Foreigners may choose the specific cause they want to contribute to. It is recommended to choose a cause that they believe or have expertise in as this will help with their profile in the PR application. These efforts will be recognised and certified by the NGOs and can be used as supporting documents in the PR application.
With the growing local resentment, this will show the government that the PR applicant is serious about living and contributing to Singapore economically and socially by taking initiatives to understand and blend into the Singaporean society. For more information, contact [email protected].