Singapore Adventure

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cultural Difference
by venitha

Two questions I was asked at church this morning:
  • What does Singapore think of the US?
  • What language do you speak in Hong Kong?

This recent post on a Singaporean friend's blog (we've never met but have been avid readers of each other's blogs for many months) provides answers of sorts to these questions, painfully illustrating both what Singaporeans think of Americans and also our communication problems in spite of our sharing a common language, English.

My take on Cobalt Paladin's current situation is that the buyers who have expressed interest in his company are not trustworthy, but regardless of whether or not you believe that the mysterious American partner exists, it's depressing how easy it is to believe that he does, depressing what convenient and deserving scapegoats Americans make these days. Ever more arrogant foreign policy and endless ethics scandals have painted us with disheartening accuracy as supercilious and unscrupulous.

Regarding Cobalt's Singaporean view of the standard American "How are you?" greeting, it's fascinating to me that this meaningless salutation is so easily interpreted as pretentious and insincere. Conversely, I find the Singaporean "Have you eaten?" annoying, a rude comment on the fact that I am significantly bigger than the toothpick-thin Singaporeans, so I'm thankful for Cobalt's etymological explanation and am gratified to learn the correct answer to this common question.

My typical response is "Yes, I'm fine, thank you," delivered with obvious bewilderment. Jim says he's actually told Singaporeans in detail about his last meal and received the same stunned speechless silent treatment that Cobalt got when he gave an honest answer to the question "How are you?"

The people of speak Cantonese and, to a significant extent, English. Jim and I live in Singapore, where the official languages are English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay.

Click here for a map that shows both Hong Kong and Singapore.