Culture of Singapore

Singapore culture has a strong influence of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures.
Singapore culture has a strong influence of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures.

Thanks to its important historical significance as a trading point, its huge mix of different ethnic and cultural populations, and its two-hundred year history as a British colony, Singapore's culture stands out from its Southeast Asian neighbors. Westernized, highly developed, and considered an essential city for business, Singapore offers a taste of Southeast Asia that's modified by Western involvement.

For over two centuries, Singapore was a small part of the British colony of Malaya – one of the few major British settlements in Southeast Asia. The British turned Singapore into a major trading port, leading the way for its huge shipping industry that exists today. This history of trade has been a key part of Singapore's history – much of the country's current prosperity can be linked to its history.

After World War II, Singapore became an independent city-state, and started attracting a great deal of immigrants from nearby countries. The large amount of Malay immigration created ethnic areas like Bugis, while immigration from China and Taiwan created neighborhoods like Chinatown, and built much of Singapore's famous export industry.

Likewise, immigration from other British colonies during Singapore's period of British rule created much of the island's culture. Indians make up a large portion of Singapore's population, and culture and food from the subcontinent is one of Singapore's most visible characteristic. It's safe to say that, thanks to its huge immigrant population, Singapore is a unique melting pot in Southeast Asia.

Food is a huge part of Singapore's cultural identity, and many of the city-state's best dishes arrived from other countries. Laksa, Kuay Teow, and other dishes were brought into the city by Malaysian immigrants, while Chinese dishes – which are a staple of Singaporean fast food – were brought in by immigrants from China many decades ago.

Beyond the types of food that are served in Singapore, much of the island's eating culture has been brought in from overseas. Hawker stands and outdoor food courts reminiscent of their counterparts in Malaysia and Thailand are found on almost every busy street corner, while traditions like Chinese New Year remain an important part of the Singapore event calendar.

This multicultural nature extends beyond Singapore's culinary scene and into its religious culture. Buddhist temples and monuments can be spotted around the city – signs of a religion that's widely followed in Singapore by the island's Chinese population. Hindu shrines and temples can be seen throughout the city, particularly in Little India, where the city's five percent Hindu population resides.

Despite its incredibly diverse population, Singapore's political and legal culture is very influenced by the city-state's time as a British colony. The island prides itself as a fair and balanced center for businesses, and its low taxes and business-friendly environment have made it rich and prosperous. Unlike other nearby cities, which mix business and culture, central Singapore has a very business-oriented feel to it.

Singapore's primary language is English, and almost all residents speak the language fluently due to mandatory teaching in schools. However, most Singaporeans don't speak English at home; the more frequently used languages are Chinese and Malay. Singapore is proud of its multilingual culture and goes out of its way to encourage it; all street signs are written in English, Malay, and Chinese.

While the concept of 'face' still exists in Singapore, it's less pronounced than in neighboring and nearby countries. The Chinese community in Singapore still values social face fairly highly during business engagements and professional contact, but for the most part, Singapore's social system is merit-based.

With its vibrant immigrant culture, true obsession with consuming and enjoying food, and diverse mix of ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds, Singapore is a unique melting pot in Southeast Asia that would enchant even the most seasoned cultural anthropologist. Despite its small size, this city offers cultural opportunities and interesting customs far beyond what most visitors expect.