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Manners Matter What Are the Taboos in Singapore

Manners Matter: What Are the Taboos in Singapore?

Cultural taboos exist in every country, and in a diverse place like Singapore, you’ll come across many. Experienced travellers learn local customs to avoid fines and negative attention, and new visitors should do the same, especially in Singapore.

If your online search led you to “What are the taboos in Singapore?” you’re on the right track to travelling to the Fine City like a local.

Keep this guide handy in your travel notes as you navigate Singapore!

1. Not Respecting the “Chope-ing” Culture 

Not Respecting the “Chope-ing” Culture

Chope-ing is a uniquely Singaporean way to reserve a table in a hawker centre or food court. Diners will leave a packet of tissue paper on an empty table to reserve it while they line up to order food at stalls. 

This chope-ing behaviour is culturally respected, and removing chope-ing items like tissue packets from empty tables is very frowned upon. 

2. Being Late

Being Late

In Singapore, being on time is important, especially in the realm of business. Arriving late for a meeting or making someone wait is viewed as disrespectful.

If you’re planning a coffee date with your friends and family, it’s important to establish a meeting time and get there at least 15 minutes early. When you know you’re going to be late, immediately inform the host or your friends that you’ll arrive a bit later. 

3. Not Bringing the Host a Small Gift When Invited Into Their Home

Not Bringing the Host a Small Gift When Invited Into Their Home

When invited to a local’s home, it’s customary to bring a modest present for the host. The gift can vary, contingent on the host’s cultural background.

Most Singaporeans will appreciate fruit baskets or snack items like biscuits and chocolates. Malay and Indian hosts usually appreciate fruits and other food items so long as they’re halal and non-alcoholic. 

It’s common among the Chinese community to bring Mandarin oranges with a red envelope filled with money (usually during Chinese New Year), but monetary gifts aren’t necessary for casual visits. 

4. Not Acknowledging Seniority Among People Older Than You

Not Acknowledging Seniority Among People Older Than You

Within Singapore’s business etiquette, there’s a prevailing belief that the senior-most individual is deemed the most experienced and should, therefore, occupy a superior position. 

Consequently, it’s considered inappropriate to openly contradict or argue with an older person in public. This is done to prevent potential embarrassment. 

Going so far as to raise your voice to the elderly is also frowned upon.

5. Eating Snacks While on Public Transport

Eating Snacks While on Public Transport

Consuming food or beverages on Singapore’s public transit systems can lead to penalties. Since 1987, Singapore has regarded eating or drinking on public transport as a breach of cultural norms. 

Those found in violation of this regulation will face a fine of S$500. Additionally, it’s important to note that even chewing gum is prohibited.

While it may sound extreme, the ban on snacking in public transit and chewing gum actually helps keep Singapore clean. 

It’s one of the reasons why you don’t see trash littered around the streets, so keep this in mind before opening a bag of chips on the train. 

6. Raising Your Voice When Speaking with Others

Raising Your Voice When Speaking with Others

Another known cultural taboo in Singapore is speaking loudly or in a raised voice. In relation to taboo no. 4, raising your voice, especially to the elderly, is considered disrespectful. 

A loud voice can signify strong emotions such as anger and dissatisfaction. Additionally, speaking loudly can also disrupt others while in public, especially on public transport. 

7. Responding Too Quickly

Responding Too Quickly

Did you know that Singaporeans have a listening etiquette? When having a conversation with a local, always keep in mind to listen intently and avoid cutting the person off. 

Responding too quickly or cutting off a person while they’re speaking comes off as arrogant, even if you don’t mean to. Singapore’s listening etiquette is centred on active listening, and looking like you aren’t paying attention to the speaker is frowned upon. 

If you do need to cut a person off, don’t do it hurriedly. Patiently wait for them to stop speaking and politely tell them that you’ll need to cut the conversation short. 

It’s even better if you give them a reason why. Just make sure it’s reasonable! 

8. Not Following Where to Stand or Walk on Escalators or Walking Paths

Not Following Where to Stand or Walk on Escalators or Walking Paths

In Singapore, here’s a handy rule for stairs and escalators: if you’re not in a rush, stand on the left side, and let those in a hurry pass on the right.

Also, you’ll find separate paths for walking and biking. Stick to your lane; use paths marked for walking if you’re on foot and paths with bicycle signs if you’re on a bike. This helps everyone stay safe, prevents traffic jams, and keeps people happy.

Doing this can also reduce accidents, especially when walking around Singapore’s natural parks with designated cycling paths. 

9. Talking Badly About Singapore

Talking Badly About Singapore

In Singapore, it’s not advisable to speak negatively about the government or the entire city-state. Such criticism can lead to public perception of the person as controversial, impolite, and lacking in patriotism.

It’s also important to note that Singapore holds a clean reputation as a nation around the world, and speaking badly about its government is bad press. 

10. Picking Things Up Using Your Feet

Picking Things Up Using Your Feet

In Singapore, picking up items off the floor using your feet is a cultural taboo due to the belief that our feet are dirty. 

It’s customary to pick items off the floor with your hands, especially when handing an object to someone else. Besides, this taboo may have valid grounds, so it’s safer to just use your hands, not your feet! 

11. Wrapping Your Gifts in Either White or Black Gift Wrapping Paper

Wrapping Your Gifts in Either White or Black Gift Wrapping Paper

The colours white and black are associated with funerals and mourning, so wrapping a birthday gift in these colours isn’t appropriate. 

It’s best to wrap your gifts in brighter, joyful colours like red, yellow, orange, or even pink when gifting it to a person on their birthday or special occasion.

12. Spitting in Public Areas

Spitting in Public Areas

Spitting in public areas (or even in private areas for some cases within families) isn’t merely a cultural no-no; it’s also a sanitary violation that can lead to fines of up to $1,000, as spitting is equivalent to littering. 

The historical origins of this prohibition harken back to a time when such behaviour in public spaces was seen as uncivilised and rude.

13. Tipping


Tipping is not a cultural norm in Singapore. Visitors accustomed to tipping in their home countries might find this weird, but Singaporeans will most likely refuse tips. 

The equivalent of a tip is already included in the bill through the goods and service tax, which is automatically added to each check.

The best way you can show your appreciation for one’s good service or hospitality in a restaurant, cafe, or hotel is to politely express your gratitude and leave a good review. Plus points if you personally commend their manager! 

14. Jaywalking


Jaywalking entails unlawfully crossing streets away from designated crossings. 

Although some may see it as a minor transgression, it poses substantial dangers to both drivers and pedestrians, potentially leading to avoidable traffic disruptions. 

To evade fines or penalties, adhere to this rule. Familiarise yourself with the locations of authorised crosswalks and safety guidelines for crossing streets.

15. Showing Excessive Public Displays of Affection

Showing Excessive Public Displays of Affection

Singapore may be a cultural melting pot, but the locals there are pretty conservative when it comes to showing displays of affection. 

Publicly kissing, cuddling, or hugging your significant other may warrant uneasy attention from others. 

It’s best to go someplace private like a fancy dinner or a staycation place if you want to do romantic things with your partner. The public will appreciate it! 

16. Smoking Outside of Designated Smoking Areas

Smoking Outside of Designated Smoking Areas

Smoking in Singapore is restricted to specific designated zones, with many areas in the city being off-limits for this activity. 

Smokers should take care to identify these designated areas rather than assuming they can light up anywhere outdoors.

Moreover, smokers must be mindful of the city’s anti-littering regulations. Even small items like cigarette butts should not be discarded on the ground and must be disposed of properly in a trash bin.

17. Opening Gifts Immediately After Receiving Them

Opening Gifts Immediately After Receiving Them

For many Singaporeans, gift-giving has its own set of rules, and one of the most important ones is to not open gifts immediately after receiving them. 

It’s customary, especially in the Chinese community, to refuse gifts at least three times before politely accepting them. 

Moreover, opening gifts in front of the receiver is also frowned upon. Consider waiting until you get home before unwrapping all the gifts you’ve received from someone in Singapore. 

This way, you don’t come off as greedy or needy of attention!

18. Not Taking Your Shoes Off Before Entering Someone’s Home

Not Taking Your Shoes Off Before Entering Someone’s Home

Like many countries in Asia, removing your shoes or slippers before entering someone’s home is customary. Not only does it show respect to the host, but it also reduces bringing in dirt. 

It’s very common in Singapore to also wear house slippers once inside a home, so if the host offers you a pair, simply accept them and keep them on your feet while inside. 

19. Leaving Your Plate Empty After a Meal

Leaving Your Plate Empty After a Meal

This may sound a little peculiar, but Singaporeans consider empty plates as disrespectful. 

When eating lunch or dinner with a local, it’s customary to leave a little food on your plate to show that you enjoy their company. 

Leaving your plate completely clean after dining shows that you’re in a hurry to leave. 

While this taboo is a little more old school than the others, keep a tiny portion of food on your plate when dining with elderly locals. A little goes a long way with this one! 

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