Monday, December 20, 2004

A Branded Culture

When I was in Las Vegas several years ago, I went to a casino and applied for a Player's Card to accumulate points, not so much to gamble but to have the card as a souvenir. When I submit my application at the counter, the attendant on realizing I am from Singapore exclaimed, "Oh no! Not another Singaporean." I was immediately appalled and questioned her what is the problem, but she did not give me a reply, except to apologize.

This occurrence sets me thinking. What is it about Singaporean that turns people off? Is there a problem with our behavior that shocks others? Is it our kiasu-ism, the fear of losing? Or is it because we are always too particular about things that when we ask for something we always expect the best and no less? Is it because we cannot accept anything other than perfection or is it because we lack the spirit of give and take? Is it our lack of gracefulness?

These thoughts that go through my mind remind me of another incident. I was helping a foreign company set up an exhibition in Singapore and while I was mending the booth together with these foreigners, I observed some of the greatest embarrassments I have ever seen as a Singaporean. The booth for the exhibit was intended for selling some software products, but as a form of goodwill, my foreign partners also give away button badges as freebies to attract visitors. A Singaporean carrying a child came by and was given a button badge. Instead of appreciating the gift, the man upon confirming that the button badge is free, grabs all the remainder badges in the container and intends to walk away with them, if not for my foreign partner stopping him from doing so, explaining that they are for giveaways to other visitors too. This incident puts me in a disgraced position as a Singaporean and I had to apologize to my foreign partners for the occurrence.

Although not all Singaporeans behave in the same way as described above, very often we are seen by our foreign counterparts as people of very low dignity and sometimes as deviants, non-etiquette, and nuisance. I don't wish to be ashamed to be called a Singaporean, and I certainly don't wish others to have the impression of us as nuisance. It is for that reason I often stay away from our own people who behave in such mannerism, and when I travel overseas, I always avoid travelling in a big group of Singaporeans. It is not about being ashamed of one's own country, but it is the association of characters like these that spoil our nation's image that concerns me as a citizen.

So, to all Singaporeans who are reading this, I pray that we will all learn more from the cultures overseas that may help us to be more graceful. Let us learn the good things from them and teach others to make our nation a better country, filled with citizens who are considerate, willing to give and take, who detest ungraceful acts and appropriate what is good, wholesome, and culturally refine.

To foreigners who are reading this, our suggestion is not to generalize or brand all Singaporeans as a type of people with particular behaviors. Not all of us are the same and many of us are totally unlike what has been described. Some may have similar traits and many are still learning to be more graceful by the day. Occasionally our ways may not seem rational to you, but it is often societal pressures that make us the way we are and by no means are the fault of our own. So please just view us as individuals, each with a difference, and do not categorize us as a single genre!

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