8 Responses You Get When You’re a Singaporean Overseas

We’ve all been there. One minute, we’re just strolling along the beaches of Boracay, or standing in line to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or maybe even just trying to get something to drink at a coffeeshop in Hong Kong, and just casually engaging in idle chit chat with some of our fellow tourists. Then come the obligatory “Where are you from?” questions, and before you’ve even had the chance to say anything more than “Singapore”, you’ll likely be confronted with a combination of the following responses. And it doesn’t even matter which country the other person comes from, whether they’re American, or Korean, or Italian, or Cuban – they’ll all still have a pretty similar reaction.

1) Where is Singapore?

Game of Thrones Map“Singapore? Take a left turn at Mordor, pass through Narnia, and it should be right around the corner from Hogwarts. You can’t miss it.”
(Image credit: ugur uğur | Pexels)

Shockingly enough, while many people have heard of and/or read about Singapore, and seem to know quite a staggering amount about us, very few people actually know where we are. The most common assumptions seem to be that we are somewhere in China, or Malaysia. And who can blame them? You can barely see Singapore on the world map.

2. You speak very good English!

Lee Child

“I only look expressionless because I have no idea whether to laugh, cry, or both.”
(Image credit: Wikipedia)

This is especially true of Westerners, who always seem surprised that we can string more than three English words together at a time. It’s kind of what happens when the main language spoken, and taught, in your country is English. You kind ofdon’t really have a choice but to pick it up.

3. What’s NS like?

saf“And that’s where we keep all the fun stuff you get to do in NS.”
“But sir, there’s nothing there.”
“Precisely.”
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

This question usually only comes from people who don’t have compulsory military service in their own countries and is typically only asked of guys. If we look confused, it’s probably because we’re a tiny bit stumped as to how to go about answering this question. That, or we’re fighting back oppressed memories of our platoon sergeant screaming at us to touch the tree/fence/tonner/wall, etc.

4. What’s the capital of Singapore?

Orchard RoadThis is the closest we will ever get to having a capital in Singapore.
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

This is understandably confusing for some, as there are only a handful of city-states left in the world. But yes, we’re so small that we don’t technically have a separate capital, since our entire country is pretty much the size of the capital of most other countries.

5. Everything is so clean and green there!

Botanic GardenNOT an accurate representation of all parks in Singapore, but pretty close.
(Image credit: tpsdave | Pixabay)

With sprawling gardens littered all over the island, and trees lining almost every road in Singapore, Singapore’s reputation as a modern garden-city is well-earned, with rows of colourful flora providing a welcome contrast to our towering office buildings and HDBs. But keeping it clean is always a challenge, which brings me to my next point.

6. Is it true you can’t chew gum in Singapore?

GumImagine having a “gum police”, who would be in charge of staring into people’s mouths to make sure they’re not chewing gum.
(Image credit: Cory Doctorow | flickr)

Non-Singaporeans are often split into two camps about this. On the one hand are people who are appalled and offended that the government would seek to ban something as simple and universal as chewing gum. On the other end of the spectrum, though, are those who find it refreshing to walk in public and not worry about accidentally touching, or stepping on discarded gum. Love it or hate it though, you’re unlikely to find it in Singapore.

7. Are you very good at Math?

Panda

This panda is not very good at Math. Or any other fields of study, for that matter. Because it’s a panda.
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Thanks to Hollywood, there’s a widespread misconception that just because we’re Asian, it must mean that we’re all really good at Math, are lethal martial artists, and have really small eyes (unfortunately, only one of those three stereotypes is true, and it definitely ain’t either of the first two). Contrary to popular belief, though, plenty of us suck as Math, too. Just ask our Math teachers.

8. Do you guys really cane people for vandalism?

CaningThis is totally an accurate depiction of caning in Singapore. Except maybe without the tophat and waistcoat.
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

While caning is, and has always been, considered a routine punishment in Singapore, the practice became the subject of international attention back in 1994, when American teenager Michael Fay became the first American citizen in Singapore to be caned for vandalism. Despite the fact that it has been over 20 years since the caning, many Americans have come to associate Singapore with caning (although, to be fair, we do issue the punishment for a fair number of offences).

Whatever your thoughts are on the individual issues mentioned above, though, most Singaporeans and foreigners alike can still easily find something to love about the island-state, which is the surest indication that Singapore has succeeded as a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. So the next time you’re overseas and someone asks you where you’re from, say it loud and say it proud,

I’m Singaporean.

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