Culture Smart! Singapore will introduce you to the rich and varied customs of this densely populated island-state. It describes its private, social, and business life, and tells you what to expect and how to behave in unfamiliar situations. In doing so it offers you a fuller, more rounded experience of this fascinating, conservative, “can-do” society.

Singapore is a land of immigrants. Although the Chinese are by far the largest ethnic group, it is more of a salad bowl than a melting pot, and has never had a dominant culture or a single language. It is, however, possible to recognize a common identity that has emerged since independence in 1965. 

With no natural resources, the newly independent state invested in education and trade, and today this clean, sleek, air-conditioned nation is a global financial center that makes much of the West seem third-rate. Singaporeans are hardworking, goal-focused individuals who are both enterprising and modern. They love noise, color, and shopping, and are proud of being high-maintenance and competitive. Yet behind this consumerist façade is a deep respect for family and hierarchy, political passivity, and a fear of losing face. They often use two Hokkien words to describe themselves: kiasu and kiasi, that is, a fear of missing out and a tendency to be risk-averse.

Culture Smart! Singapore describes how locals interact with each other and with outsiders, and tells you what to expect and how to behave in unfamiliar situations. For foreigners the culture shock can be subtle. Despite its Western veneer this is definitely an Asian city, and it is easy to make mistakes. Any open expression of anger is frowned upon, and while questions about politics will be met with silence, expect to be asked everything, including your salary.

ANGELA MILLIGAN prepares individuals and families from Europe and North America for expatriate life, an important aspect of which is cultural-awareness training. She has lived and worked in many parts of East Asia, as well as in Australia, Belgium, and Argentina, and has briefed international companies on Singapore. Her publications include How to Survive in Style, a practical reference guide for newly arrived expatriates to Britain, and Customs and Etiquette of Australia. Angela is a graduate in history from the University of East Anglia and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

TRICIA VOUTE has a B.A. in Anthropology from Durham University and an M.A. in the Philosophy of Religion from King’s College, London. She has taught philosophy in different parts of the world and written textbooks on the subject, as well as articles on cultural and faith issues in the Times and other publications. Tricia lived in Singapore for five years, teaching religion and philosophy at the Tanglin School. She was involved in teacher training in local schools and has Singaporean friends across the social and religious spectrum.