Off to Singapore? Better know a little something about the people and the area before planning your trip, lest you embarrass yourself or an associate. Throughout the Orient showing signs of upset, outrage, aggravation or even slight irritation can cause the other to “lose face” – a serious concern. Once someone has lost face the chances of him doing business with you – having anything to do with you again – are slim.
Keep business appointments on time since leaving someone waiting on you is a large insult. Arrive slightly late for social events to keep from looking greedy. Nine to five is the usual business hours although some places will open earlier or stay open later. Since the weather is warm most of the year in Singapore jackets are not required at most business meetings but wear one, just to be on the safe side, then remove it when you see others have. Slacks, long sleeve shirt and tie are appropriate. For women, going without hosiery is acceptable in all but the most demanding offices. Especially sheer blouses or plunging necklines are not see in a positive light. When going casual avoid shorts – knee-length or otherwise.
Names can be difficult in this region. Although each person has their birth name some prefer a shortened version of it. Others adopt an English name making it easier to do business with westerners. Most people will not be offended if you ask them to pronounce the name by which they would like to be referred. Calling someone by first name is acceptable, in a business situation, if the person is your junior in business. For someone who is a senior in business with you refer to them with a title and their last name. Use professional titles if you know them.
There’s no reason to have business cards and paperwork in any language other than English, which is widely spoken. Present cards by holding it with both hands to give to the recipient. Give one to each person present rather than one for the group. Accept business cards, or anything handed to you, with both hands. Receiving the card then tossing it aside immediately is considered rude. Never write on the associate’s card either.
Each member of the group must take a liking to you or the business deal could nose-dive. Personal relationships play a large role in business deals. How the group views you is very important so don’t sit with legs spread apart or cross your legs during business meetings. Stand when an elder leaves or enters the room. Speak quietly and don’t flail arms around while talking and demonstrating.
Avoid talking business in front of non-company spouses. It simply isn’t done even if you are meeting a business associate for dinner. You may be asked to remove your shoes for dinner depending upon the type of restaurant. Or, you may simply see others doing it and should follow suit. Do not slurp during dinner as this will offend the others. Never stick chopsticks vertically in a rice bowl. This symbolizes an offering of rice to the dead. It is a kind gesture for one of the residents to scoop food, with utensils, from his plate onto yours. Thank the person for this but don’t do the same. Leaving tips on the table or handing them to the server is not the proper way to handle things in Singapore. Instead give an amount over the amount due and tell the person to keep the change.
Make eye contact with those you are speaking with but staring or averting the eyes is rude. Do not pat a Chinese associate on the head or shoulders. This is bad luck for them. Do not move or kick things with your feet. Feet are seen as unclean and using feet for anything will be greatly disrespectful. Never pound your fist into your hand – an obscene gesture in these parts. Pointing with forefinger or middle finger is strictly taboo. If you must summon someone do so with palm down and fingers curling towards you.
Never correct your elders or argue disagreeably with them in front of others. Laughing loudly is not seen as a positive thing especially in a business meeting. The word “no” is rarely used in the Singapore culture; learn to read between the lines. Other answers like “we’ll see”, “maybe”, or even “yes” could still mean no.
Presents, in a business setting, are often seen as a form of bribery so give gifts to all or none. Gifts should be inexpensive and work-related, such as pens. Don’t be surprised if the recipient refuses to take the gift. In this culture it is often seen as good manners to decline the gift several times before accepting it finally. Upon acceptance of the gift from the recipient thank him or her for accepting it. The gift will usually not be opened in front of the giver.
When invited to a dinner do not bring gifts of food. This could imply that you don’t think the host or hostess has enough for everyone. During the Chinese New Year give gifts of money, in a red envelope, to kids and service personnel. The bills must be new and in even numbers. Eight is a lucky number in this culture but the number four is seen as a wish of death or something sinister. Avoid giving anything in sets of four or anything bearing the number four. Never give clocks, white candles or straw sandals – all connected with the idea of death.
Muslims who live in the area will be offended if you attempt to give them anything with alcohol in it, pork or pigskin items, stuffed dogs or anything featuring a dog, or images of nude women – even if it’s an art piece. Indians in the region will appreciate gifts of things in odd numbers rather than even.
Obey the law when in Singapore or you’re likely to find yourself arrested. Laws are strict but crime rates are low. It will pay you to brush up on regional laws since even chewing gum in public can get you in big trouble. And, you’re not likely to get any preferential treatment just because you’re a foreigner. Many a visitor have been arrested, prosecuted and even served time in Singapore prisons because they weren’t aware of the laws.