Simple etiquette when visiting a Singaporean Chinese home
Singapore is a city country located within South East Asia. We are a cosmopolitan society where people of different races and all walks of life often interact with each other harmoniously. We have many races living here (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, Peranakan and other minority races) and each race has their own little cultural habits.
As I am a Singaporean Chinese, I would be sharing with you some simple etiquette that will be good to know and can help you impress your host, if you plan on visiting a Singaporean Chinese home.
Shoes off, please
In most homes in Singapore, the visitors are expected to remove their shoes before entering the home. Please, under no circumstances do you walk around the home in your shoes. This will very greatly get on the nerves of your host.
What I would suggest is once you have taken off your shoes, ask your host where would be a good place to leave your shoes. Some of them would direct you to a shoe rack, or some would let you know that it is safe to leave the shoes just outside the door.
If you are staying with your host and have shoes packed in your suitcase, please bring them outside the home to wear them. Remember to not wear it in your room and walk out of the room to the front door even if your shoes are brand new.
It will greatly impress your host when you take the care to remove your shoes when you enter a Singapore home without the host needing to remind you.
Some books on Singapore
10.30pm cut off time
There is this unspoken rule that 10.30pm is the cut off time for telephone calls and visits unless your host has specifically told you that it is alright to hang about after the cut off time. ie, the party doesn't end till 2am.
If you need to call somebody and it is after 10.30pm, it would be polite to drop them a text to ask if it is possible to give them a call. Singaporeans have a huge texting culture over phone calls.
For parties that end in the mornings, do try to keep your volume down after 10.30pm because the other neighbors might complain about the noise level and this will put your host in a tight spot.
I do know of some people whose cut off time is 10.00pm, hence if you are not too close with the Singaporean host, do try to contact them before 10.00pm if possible.
Bring a gift
If you're dropping by for a party or dinner, it is not necessary but it will be nice if you bring a gift along with you for your host.
If you are attending a small party, or it is the first time you are meeting a Singaporean Chinese host, here is a list of some gifts you can bring along:
- Souvenirs from your home country - could be a special pastry that only your country produces, a fruit not found in Singapore, or a sweet that is iconic to your country.
- Fine liqueur
- A pen
- Kitchen gadgets
Here is a list of some popular gifts that people bring with them for larger parties (not for formal sit down dinners though):
- A bottle of wine
- A chiffon / butter cake
- Pastries (Savory / sweet)
Basically the idea is that you bring something for your host that can also be shared with the other guests hence finger food items are often popular as gifts. If you expect the party to have an overflow of food, give food gifts that can be kept for consumption after the party.
Feel free to be creative with the gifts but here is a list of taboo items that Singaporean Chinese families do not like to receive:
- Clock / watch gifts - because clock in chinese sounds like "death" and it is considered bad luck to receive this.
- Shoes - not a good practice to give shoes because it symbolises that you want the host to "walk" away from you and sever the friendship. If you have to gift shoes, ask your host to give you a small amount of money like S$0.10 to symbolise that you have "sold" it to him instead.
- Avoid giving Chrysanthemums as flower gifts because they are usually given during funerals. Actually flowers are not all that popular as gifts either as some people do not even own a vase at home.
- Avoid giving sharp, pointed gifts like knives and scissors, it also symbolises severing of the bond between the both of you.
Hence to be really safe, just bring a bottle of wine unless you know that your host is a teetotaler and enjoy the party.
In Singapore Chinese households, greetings are in the form of shaking hands or waving. It is not in the culture to give a hug or kiss unless you know that your host is not that traditional, have spent some time overseas and have actually adopted that habit. Usually the older generation, 50 years old and above limit all greetings to a handshake at maximum. If you are meeting your friend's parents or grandparents, it is customary to acknowledge them by saying, "Hello, uncle!" or "Hello, auntie!" as a form of respect.
The older generation like to greet by asking, "Have you eaten?" instead of "How are you." In chinese culture, it is important that people have enough food in their tummies hence the question. My default answer is always, "Yes, I have, thank you for asking." and they will reply, "if you're hungry, we still have food, please do join us". However, if you're going for a dinner party, a more appropriate response would be, "Not yet, saving up space for dinner together with you." or something along those lines. It is intricate, you need to be full enough to indicate that you are well, and hungry enough to join them for the dinner party.
Enjoy the experience
I do hope that this hub has provided useful information to you and hope you have a great visit to Singapore!