It’s no secret that Singapore is a “campaign city”.
The National Courtesy Campaign, Speak Good English Movement, the Singapore Kindness Movement and even toilet campaigns like “Aim Right”, “Wash Your Hands Right”, “Don’t Wet The Floor” are clear testaments to this.
But Sydney Morning Herald writer Tamara Thiessen takes this a step further in a provocative piece entitled “Singaporeans asked to chew on their manners” that was published on the newspaper’s website on May 31.
In it, she questions the level of courtesy and graciousness in Singaporeans as well as how constant reminders to be courteous have to be “thrust down their thoats daily”. The article further goes to portray Singapore as a regimentally law-abiding and clean country, where “happiness and civility need…outside enforcement”.
But despite the city-state’s spick-and-span spaces free of chewing gum and spit, “there is no assurance of finding good manners and a caring society”, she writes.
An IT manager from Sydney who is based in Singapore, Paul Stapleton, is quoted in the article saying, “They (Singaporeans) are the rudest f***ing people I have ever seen; they need some basic training in civic awareness. They don’t feel that anyone else exists outside this tiny island.”
Another long-time British resident staying here added, “The problem is the sole concern of most Singaporeans is money and economic well-being. The only reason the churches here are packed to the rafters is because people attend in order to network.”
General manager of the Singapore Kindness Movement, Teh Thien Yew, is also quoted in the paper as saying, ”Levels of indifference and unhappiness are still high … we are all concerned about graciousness in our country.”
Invariably, every society has its fair share of bad social graces. But is it fair for an Australian or Briton to pass judgement on Singaporeans as a whole based on personal experience and a few opinions?
A 24-year-old Singaporean student, who wanted to be known as Jen, told Yahoo! Singapore that Thiessen’s article is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
“Who is the writer to say that Singaporeans make up an ungracious society? Yes, there may be some rude people in Singapore. But there are always bad eggs in every society. Personally, I’ve met my fair share of rude Australians while studying there, but I don’t dismiss Australia as a country of ungracious people.”
To Singaporeans’ credit, according to the State of Graciousness in Singapore Survey, people here conducted themselves better on public transport over the past year. Also, the country’s “Graciousness Index” — an indication of how citizens rate the level of graciousness within society — climbed 3 points from 58 to 61 in the same time.
Having said that, while Thiessen’s article borders on being one-sided and slightly extreme, could the ugly truth be that she’s actually right?
After all, in the same survey, only 37% out of 1,000 Singaporeans interviewed were happy with the level of graciousness in the city-state.
In light of such harsh criticism, do you agree that the level of courtesy and graciousness in Singapore society leaves much to be desired? Are state campaigns effective in inculcating kindness and consideration in local citizens?