How Singaporeans Actually Feel About Expats in Singapore

I think I am not alone when I say that most Singaporeans have entertained the idea of migrating at some point or another and it’s our families or other circumstances that hold us back. We are annoyed with our government’s policies as they are in contrast with the protectionist policies of other countries which leaves Singaporeans stuck where we are. It hurts when your country does not protect you. This is especially frustrating during the recession. Even if you wanted to migrate, unless you have a load of cash to invest or skills in demand, Australia, America or Europe won’t have you. You also need to be young enough.

We are upset by our government’s policies that don’t protect us or provide us welfare especially in old age, even though Singapore is lauded as one of the hottest economies right now. Well there is the compulsary contribution called the Central Provident Fund or CPF, but that seems a pittance when you consider the future value of money. Unless you’re high up on the socio-economic scale, most Singaporeans are not feeling secure, with our basic needs priced out of our range like clothing, housing, cars, and we’re thoroughly worried about the widening income gap.

That being said, when we criticize policies, we don’t have anything personal against expats. I guess it would be the same in your country if there were no protectionist policies in place. A free market is good in economic terms but not so good for the ordinary person who struggles from day to day. If we could, we would willingly be expats in another country if that meant a better quality of life, although we will probably be thoroughly homesick.

And I am afraid to admit this in case I upset fellow Singaporeans, but in terms of customers service, expats from the Philippines are doing such a great job. This may be a generalization but I find them exceedingly polite and attentive. To be fair I have noticed Singaporeans who provide great customer service too and perhaps it’s a case of the bad apple here and there that ruins our reputation. For instance, the customer service at some shops at the notorious Sim Lim Square can be positively traumatizing. Also how can in Singaporean compete, as an employer can hire a Filippino graduate for half the salary. If you were running a business, wouldn’t it make more business sense to hire a foreigner?

Singaporeans were so upset about customer service people from China speaking to them only in Mandarin that it prompted facebook pages like this one – I am Singaporean and tired of Non-English Speaking Service Staff and an article in AsiaOne which revealed how minorities in Singapore feel marginalized. I guess it comes from the fact that minorities are already having a hard time finding jobs as many jobs you see advertised require that you be able to speak Mandarin. Unless there is some control over this discrimination minorities will continue to feel marginalized. I have to say here that there are some customer service people from China who try their very best and even if it’s halting English, it’s thoroughly appreciated. After all, isn’t English still officially our language of Business?

Expat bloggers like Crystal, Maria, Kirsten, Jeff and Flora, and Notabilia, make me appreciate things in my country that I’ve taken for granted. So our Zoo and Botanic Gardens really are that awesome. I haven’t visited in ages, and now you made me think that perhaps I should. I also feel that I’m missing out, having never explored Haji Lane.

I thoroughly enjoyed the post, Bad Expat by Crystal who is an expat wife in Singapore from Boston. She gave up her teaching career to come here which says a lot. It is quite flattering in a sense that Singapore was chosen over other countries. It must mean that we have something to offer. I was even thinking, if I could call beautiful Boston home, there is no way I would want to leave. It’s actually quite brave to uproot yourself and start off quite alone in another country. Especially if you have a child, and now you don’t have the help of grandparents.

You must read Crystal’s very candid post which was inspired by Maria’s post on Bad Expats, and prompted me to reveal the following and I hope it helps expats to not be so hard on themselves. Crystal and Maria, the fact that you worry at all that you might be a bad expat reveals that you are definitely not one.

I think at some point the line blurs, and we’re all just people trying to have the best little life possible.

photo by bookjunkie

Here’s my list:

1. Not all Singaporeans like Durian
2. Not all Singaporeans like our local food (I am quite sick of Chicken rice)
3. Not all of us like to eat organs and such and we wouldn’t make it past episode one of Fear Factor.
4. We can’t survive without air-conditioning, hot showers, bottled water etc.
5. We love American food like burgers and sandwiches (well at least if you’re below 50 you will as older folk still prefer Asian food)
6. We realize that the western food in Singapore is not too authentic and can be really crappy at times. A bit like how we call Asian food outside of Asia – fake Asian food
7. We adore Ikea.
8. Eating at Chili’s is a treat
9. There are some malls in Singapore that are known to be expat haunts, like Tanglin Mall, Holland Village, Great World City – and we like these places as well.

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore & recently cancer too.
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16 Responses to How Singaporeans Actually Feel About Expats in Singapore

  1. kirsten says:

    A lot of people think that locals are xenophobic. For me, at least, that is not the case. I have nothing against the foreigners who are coming in. It is well within their rights to move to a country that they believe will give them a better life. I myself think about moving overseas all the time, so who am I to judge them for coming here?

    I think what we’re most concerned about is the open-door policy that has let so many people come in so fast, and we can barely cope with it. The wage suppression, the lack of job security, the overcrowding… it all adds up. And then there’s a government who pretty much tells us “you die your business”… how is that supposed to make locals feel?

    Apparently only 14% of Singaporeans will be able to retire now. Scary!

    • bookjunkie says:

      Yes I too feel the same way…I would migrate if they would have me. I am not one of the 14% for sure and it’s just terrifying. I am worried about writing this post as I didn’t want to cause offense, because sincerely it’s not personal….all our frustrations are due to this basic fear – the basic issue of survival.

  2. Maria says:

    “The fact that you worry at all that you might be a bad expat reveals that you are definitely not one.” I will be quoting this line until the day I die. Thanks for boiling it all down to one short but very wise sentence.

    • bookjunkie says:

      Awww thanks Maria!!!….You and my expat bloggers friends have truly enriched my Singapore experience 🙂 I love the dialogues we have in this cosy interweb world without borders.

  3. Crystal says:

    Making the call to become an expat isn’t easy. I certainly never thought it was something that would actually HAPPEN as opposed to something that we talked about in a “wouldn’t it be great if…”

    My perception is that Singaporeans view Expats differently depending on where they’re from and what job they’ve taken here in Singapore. Ravi and I haven’t experienced any discrimination…but our helper has.

    I actually gave up teaching when I was pregnant with Elanor. I had thought to return eventually, but her health issues at the start interfered with that, coupled with the high cost of childcare in our part of the US (spending all day with your kids just to cover the cost of someone else spending the day with mine wasn’t a great trade-off).

    Honestly, while teachers are paid well here (I certainly gave thought to working as the salary is a bit mind boggling), in the US, I made a fraction of what Ravi did when I was working. His career was always going to dictate where we lived, and that was certainly a consideration that I had to mull at length when we decided to marry. I gave up the freedom of having autonomy over where we would live. If we hadn’t met when we did…I would be living in New Orleans, most likely.

    Moving when E was young was actually a bigger motivator. Ravi’s parents moved him to Bangalore when he was 11/12 and he caused them a great deal of heartache over it…he was MISERABLE in India (and a great deal of his resistance to Indian culture can be directly traced to his stay there). It seemed easier to move before we were disrupting things like schooling…even as it meant we were moving her away from grandparents and friends.

    You really should come to the zoo or the gardens!

    • bookjunkie says:

      I am ashamed when I see the discrimination against domestic helpers in Singapore. They make lives so much easier, but they are not treated with much dignity here. I can’t help but feel it’s like the caste system all over.

      Yes teachers are much better paid now then a decade ago as the government put their focus on education, but yet again I learn something new. I had no idea teachers were so poorly compensated in the US. I have seen it on TV, but I never thought it was real. Lecturers in Singapore make even more. But the thing about teaching here is that you are bonded by the government and you can only teach after you’ve got a diploma from the teaching institute here. You can’t just teach right after University. I know people who were so stressed by the system here which is obsessed with marks and school rankings that they quite and paid back the enormous bond.

      Oh no! moving to Bangalore must have been traumatic at that age. If I had been moved to Sri Lanka I would have resisted as well. I can totally understand his misery. To me Ravi seems totally American rather than Indian, the same way I am totally Singaporean. Just going by our accents alone.

      Thank so much for your thoughts Crystal….zoo and gardens…I’ll be coming your way soon 🙂

    • bookjunkie says:

      On another note I can’t get to your blog or my other one as I think the WordPress server has been attacked in a major way…sob! I hope it’s up and running again soon.

  4. notabilia says:

    Thanks for the blog shout-out. Glad you enjoy reading it. Not sure what you mean by good and bad expat, Singaporean, etc. but I am of the philosophy of live and let live. (In other words, I live the way that makes me happy and don’t think about it too much.)

    Every single person we have met here – expat, local, in personal setting, in professional setting – has been unfailingly nice, incredibly intelligent, and generous with their time and knowledge.

    • bookjunkie says:

      Yeah I guess that’s a great philosophy to live by 🙂 Thanks so much for commenting. Your blog makes me see just how cool Singapore is. Who knew this tiny island was filled with so many talented artists.

  5. 365days2play says:

    I think Singaporeans have a chip on their shoulders. Subconsciously, Singaporeans believe they are inferior to Westerners. Someone once told me, Perception is reality.

    Btw, is your other blog down? Can’t seem to access it.

    • bookjunkie says:

      That’s sad but true sometimes…the inferiority complex…I think it might be due to the colonial hangover?

      Yes…it’s so frustrating and it bit scary at first when I thought it was just my blog that got deleted or something….Wordpress has been attacked worldwide. It’s some politically motivated thing that is said to originate from China? The government trying to suppress a wordpress blogger? I am waiting for more news.

    • Al says:

      Inferiority to Westerners is also prevalent in Japan. I remember being shown a comic book that satired this phenomenon by depicting how well-educated locals were shoved aside in a company where a Caucasian who had not done anything but flipping burgers was hired to be on a managerial role.

      • bookjunkie says:

        That is quite prevalent in Singapore as well I think. Some years ago there were a lot of complaints in the forum about our national airline about stewardesses ignoring locals and giving westerners the star treatment. I have not quite experienced that myself thank goodness 🙂

        • Al says:

          Sad, isn’t it? When people start complaining, it is also bad PR for the company.

          But, to be fair and objective, I find SQ’s service top notch 🙂

          • bookjunkie says:

            That’s so sure because I don’t fly any other airline but Singapore Air if I can help it. The best part…Krisflyer points which can get you a free flight.

  6. Sibylla says:

    With all due respect, you’re actually referring to two different things here.

    To become an expat means you are helicoptered in by an MNC, where you will probably enjoy a standard of living far beyond what you could hope to have in your home country. Being an expat by definition means you will end up materially better off, often *much* better off.

    To migrate simply means to leave your home country.

    I recently met a young expat couple who had mid-level exec jobs in an MNC. Home was a boring British small city where all the shops close at 5pm and the night time entertainment consists of being drunk (looting optional!). They lived in a small, cramped terrace house as is typical of much British housing.

    The MNC transferred them to Singapore. They now live in a 3-bedroom apartment off Orchard Road. The company is going to give them a grant to help them get a car. Of course, the rent on their glitzy apartment is paid for. They’re looking forward to a luxury lifestyle with home help and frequent holidays, and they expect to be able to put the extra away in the bank as well.

    The reality of being a normal migrant is not like this.

    I’m a Singaporean quitter who with my other half, gave up well-paid jobs to move to the UK. Because both of us were stupid enough to have only worked for Singapore companies, we found it hard to get jobs because our skills were not considered transferable. When one did get a job, it was at a level far, far below what he had done in Singapore.

    Taxes are much higher, and on top of that, rent swallowed up a huge amount of take home pay. At the beginning we could only afford a miserable, cramped old place which no Singaporean would ever dream of living in. In fact, when our parents came to visit, we were almost too ashamed to let them into the house. The parents were shocked at how small and cramped the place was; to them, it was a throwback to 1960s-era tenements and hovels. And then they found out how much the rent was and there was a near-collective heart attack.

    Thing is though, life isn’t just about material well-being. We wanted for nothing material in Singapore – and because we did not have a car or a maid, we had higher disposable income than many of our contemporaries. But you can have lots of money in your pocket and still be absolutely miserable.

    Thing is, the grass is not always greener on the other side. Materially, we were much better off in Singapore. But even if the grass may not be always greener, the flowers are more colourful, they change with the seasons, and there are no ants, mosquitoes or snakes hiding in the lallang.

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