Singaporeans are a quirky bunch, with habits and practices some might find peculiar. Once you know why we do what we do, however, you will probably jump right in and join us. Here’s how to make sense of five common Singaporean habits.

1. We don’t mind queuing for good stuff

A group of people waiting in line in Singapore

Always stash a paper fan in your bag, and maybe a pair of flats too, as these items will come in handy if you have to queue up in Singapore’s hot weather

If you ever see a queue forming in Singapore, you can be assured there's something awesome waiting to be discovered at the front of the line. From a good sale to a freebie, Singaporeans have a knack for sniffing out the best deals in town, and have no qualms getting in line, even if it sometimes means queuing for hours. After all, as long as other people are waiting for something – whether it’s food, a limited-edition fashion product or a celebrity meet-and-greet – it has to be good, right? At least that’s what we believe, which means in typical Singapore kiasu (fear of losing out) fashion, we have to get it too. So before the line gets even longer, hop in and ask the people in front what it’s all about.

Pro tip: If you don’t know what to eat at a hawker centre, just join the longest queue! It’s probably cheap, good or both!

2. Everyone seems to be related to each other

A group of senior citizens playing checkers

Be sure that you only address those who are a generation older than you as “uncle” or “auntie”, or you run the risk of insulting the person you are speaking to

Listen up and you will notice Singaporeans calling everybody “auntie” or “uncle”. You might think these terms are strictly reserved for relatives, but in Singapore it is actually a respectful way to address someone who is older than you. Try this next time you need a little bit of help and be amazed at how much friendlier your newfound uncles and aunties are.

3. We are efficient and concise in our speech

It may take a few years to understand all the nuances of Singlish, but you can quickly pick up ways to shorten your sentences into single-word statements. “Huh?” indicates confusion while “Can” could either be a question (Can you do this?) or an affirmative statement (Yes, I can), depending on your intonation. Some other useful single-word expressions are shiok, used to describe a very satisfying experience, such as a delicious meal, and cheem, which means something is very complicated. For example, Singlish can appear cheem initially, but once you learn it, the feeling is shiok!

Some other useful single-word expressions are shiok, used to describe a very satisfying experience, such as a delicious meal, and cheem, which means something is very complicated

4. We use many techniques to ‘chope’ seats

Picture of a hawker centre with an empty table with tissue paper and umbrellas on it.

Follow the locals’ lead and bring along a tissue packet or umbrella to reserve your spot at a table. Water bottles or a name card will also do the trick!

When you go to a hawker centre, especially during lunchtime in the Central Business District (CBD), you will see otherwise empty tables with packets of tissue paper, lanyards, business cards and even umbrellas on them. These are not to be confused with a flea market sale! They are placed there by diners who use their personal items to chope (Singlish for reserve) tables while they buy their food. So don’t think it’s okay to take the seat or use the tissues and umbrellas!

5. We are not afraid to voice our opinions

Bus two minutes late? A disgruntled passenger will point this out. Weather too hot? We start reminiscing about how great the weather was just a few days ago. Singaporeans are very vocal in their opinions and hold everything to the highest standards.

But this doesn’t mean we will allow anyone else to complain about our beloved country – not even the weather or a late bus! This is the moment we transform from pleasant, smiling people into the fiercest defenders of Singapore, and we will provide a hundred reasons why you should not be complaining about our country.

Now that you’re familiar with a few Singaporean habits, go forth and explore the island with confidence. And if you do get confused, ask a friendly uncle or auntie for help. Can?