The Online Citizen

About respecting people and blending in

About respecting people and blending in
January 24
08:00 2014

Pamela Lim is an entrepreneur and entrepreneurship lecturer. This article first appeared on her Facebook page. We thank Pamela for allowing us to re-publish it in full.

He pulled my sleeve and told me to boldly cross the busy street when we were in Hong Kong, telling me that he is “Kwai Lo” (Hong Kong term for expat) and nobody will dare run him down. And he was right. The van screeched to a halt and we made it across the street safely. I turned to apologize to the driver but he just waddled off. I was shocked that he was so confident that he would get the same treatment in any Asian country, since he has worked in Hong Kong, Manila and Singapore. For the first time, I regretted employing him as our CFO.

That evening, we had dinner and I apologized that he waited for five minutes and mentioned it was bad manners. He told me he expected no manners or etiquette from Chinese, since we spit into the bowls we eat out of. Though I was angry, I just smiled politely. And that is the problem. Because we choose to be polite, people like him think we are stupid. Because we are not confrontational, we are weak. That was the last C-level Brit I have ever employed when I was running my companies.

At our annual meeting a few years back, our outgoing President made a remark that set everyone in the room laughing. His remark was, “Singaporeans can’t write.” I wasn’t sure if that was a joke or a criticism. And when he said that, I looked around the room to search for some kind of reaction, since it was a room full of academics who depended on their writing to make a living. But they just laughed, as politely as I did when I was told I had no table etiquette even before I sat at the table.

I think SOME (not all) people who are not familiar with our culture have clearly misunderstood us. Singaporeans and Asians in general are polite and non-confrontational people, even in the face of insults. While MOST westerners are polite and know their limits, SOME think that we agree with them simply because we do not violently disagree. I see this at the work place, in the university, and in my own companies.

I believe if one wants to work or live in a foreign land, he needs to learn to respect the people of the land, and not categorize people or things according to his standards. So what if our food requires us to take bones out in the middle of a meal? So what if we use our cutlery differently? So what if we dress in our smartest office wear and eat humbly with anyone in a hawker center? So what if our kids do not get to play outside? So what if our accent sounds wrong? So what if we like our coffee in a plastic bag? So what if our secretaries in the office are obliging and willing to make your coffee? So what if we write differently? So what if we have less opportunities in our education because our country was poor when we were young? So what if we like to dress simply and take our public transport?

If you are a foreigner in Singapore, here’s a little tip: You have no right to mindlessly throw insults just because we are too polite to tell you off. You shouldn’t think that you can fool us with lies, excuses and half-truths, since we can see through these, and just don’t want to make you look bad. You shouldn’t measure us with your yardsticks because if we measure them against ours, you will fail badly as well.

If any foreigner can make an attempt to blend in, we will receive him with open arms. But if he cannot respect our people, our culture and our habits, please go home. We bear no grudges. Hopefully a better place with better opportunities awaits him.

  • Andrew Leung

    The Government must enact a Contempt of Singapore/Singaporean Act. He is guilty of Contempt for Singaporeans and should be punished by a fine. He must also publish a full page advertisement Apology to Singaporeans in the Straits Times for his contempt. He must be downgraded to an Employment Pass Holder.


      he insulted MRT and its passengers by calling them poor people and saying taking MRT gets stench; he should therefore apologize to them, say by putting ads around MRT stations saying “MRT passengers are not all poor” and “MRT carriages smell OK”. (There is no need to go overboard and say “MRT passengers are rich” and “MRT carriages smell nice”).

      • nelsonmandala

        and LTA who governed the MRT is not even takin libel actions?
        if some1 says the OLE fart is smelly..wud the ole FARt not take libel action?
        wah! nowaday angmortuakee syndrome is back..
        remindin me of Shanghai in the prewar post era where Dogs and Chinese not allowed in a public Shanghai gardens..but u do see many YANGren with dogs inside the same garden

  • Duh

    Foreigners take their cue from the PAP – they keep repeating the fact that foreigners are essential to Singapore and LKY, no less, kept reiterating how Singaporeans are less diligent and competent than foreigners – it is no wonder that foreigners think they are begged into Singapore to help us ‘useless’ Singaporeans. And we wonder why these foreigners have this dismissive, condescending, and sanctimonious attitude towards Singaporeans? Thanks to the PAP.

    Frankly, I do not know which is worse – PAP belittling the very citizens they are running the country, or the majority of Singaporeans who continuously voted them in to insult, belittle, dismiss, and humiliate Singaporeans.