Normal for a Canadian is definitely not always normal for a Singaporean. I've been here for 2 weeks and already am amassing a list of things that make me say, "waaaaait a second". Here are 5 things this loon is adjusting to:
1. Those dishes aren't for you to clear
Habit: You're finishing at a food court (or Starbucks) and the table is piled high with empty cups and other miscellaneous garbage? The next logical step before leaving would be to clean up and assort mess-mountain into the proper garbage/recycle containers. That way the table is free, and the next diner/future-J.K.-Rowling can sit down and bang out a best-seller.
Singapore: Nope! When you're done eating, everything is left behind and that problem is no longer yours. At Hawker centres there are workers (usually older men or women) waiting nearby to swoop in (like a Hawk?) and clear everything for the next diner. If it's somewhere like a Starbucks, I've seen piles of garbage pile higher because the baristas are busy filling orders. Regardless, don't lift a manicured pinky, because that mess will be taken care of. Even if you DID want to help out, visible trash cans are few and far between.
2. Want a knife? Here's a spoon
Habit: Behold! A fresh plate of chicken rice sits before ye, but some of the pieces are too large. Use a knife to cut it into more manageable pieces and not choke to death in a foreign country, right? I don't even know what they'd call the Heimlich* maneuver in Singapore... the "Heimlich-la maneuver?"
Singapore: Here's a spoon, sonny! Now stab the meat until it breaks into pieces! I don't have an explanation for this... but in most eating establishments the trio of utensils is: fork, spoon, and sometimes chopsticks. Based on observations, most Singaporeans eat with the spoon in their left hand and fork in right. Common meat dishes like chicken, duck, char siu, and BBQ pork, are already chopped into bite-sized portions, negating any need for a knife. However, you will find knives in finer establishments or western restaurants.
3. Napkins are not for what you think
Habit: Damn that was some mighty fine prawn noodle! But now there's a heroic mess of sauce and sweat all over your face (Singapore is hot, okay? Don't judge me for sweating while I eat). So you look around for a napkin dispenser.
Singapore: You're out of luck. Most eating/drinking/anything establishments won't have napkins to dispense or even offer. I've asked a local about this and they made some remark about "reducing waste". When I go to Starbucks I stockpile napkins in my backpack because I'm a cheap ass and won't spend $1 on packaged napkins. So everyone carries around packets of tissues/napkins for cleanup, but for also another peculiar reason...
4. Reserve seats and tables
Habit: In Canada, if it's hard to find a seat in an eating establishment or coffee shop, one person usually jumps on the first open chair and guards it with their life. The other friend will line up and order. Or if you're a loner like me: leave backpack on chair and line up whilst giving dagger eyes to anyone who dare step close to your coveted territory.
Singapore: Remember those napkin packs? Place either one of those or a business card on the seat and it will not be taken. The honour system is strong in this country and I'm so impressed by the respect Singaporeans have for other people's belongings. I've even been told that if you leave your wallet or cell phone on the chair, it will act as your "reservation" and there is no risk of it being stolen... I'm not going to test this theory.
5. Nature calls? Be prepared to hike
Habit: According to Section 4.0 of the Canadian Provincial Public Eating Establishment Standards, all "public eating establishments with seating (outdoor or indoor) are required to provide washroom facilities for patrons." I took this for granted and made the false assumption that it would be the same in Singapore - what a silly Canuck.
Singapore: Although not often in the eating establishment, one usually does not have to venture far for a washroom. The farthest I've had to walk to "appease the mighty Poseidon" was across the street at a local movie theatre. No accidents... yet.
Interesting that the first 5 things that came to mind when writing this all have to do with food. Goes to show where I spend most of my time. This is only the first of many lists, but I am hungry now and must venture out for sustenance - don't forget those napkins!
- * Yes, I am aware that the maneuver is no longer named after the doctor who described it in 1974, and that it's now taught as "abdominal thrusts". Humour me.