As a Singaporean who has been studying and living in the UK for the past 3 years and counting, and who has over the years spent here, taken more than a passing interest over the progression of British immigration and multiculturalism and the current backlash to them, I feel a need to reply to the Simple Singaporean’s response to the Brit in Singapore.

Simple Singaporean:

Brit in Singapore:

Jun Jie (His post started it all.):

To begin, I wish to say that I am perfectly able to relate to being a foreigner residing in a foreign land, especially one filled with a heightened xenophobia.

In the UK, multiculturalism is increasingly viewed as a failed construct, and there have been greater calls for the migrant population in the UK to be curtailed. Notwithstanding this, there are also small pockets of the British public (Mostly white British.) who are unwilling to accept this irreversible change to their social landscape. This follows with isolated (I stress on the word Isolated.) acts of racism and bigotry perpetuated by those who are too narrow minded to embrace migrants who seek to contribute to British society. This is the social landscape that I am currently a part of, and I do hope that Singapore does not progress in that direction.

With this, I will like to come to the defence of Brit in Singapore, expatriates akin to him/her, and the French students.

Like the French students who came to Singapore to study, I too started a new phase of my life studying in a foreign land. Since the time I arrived in the UK, I have picked up an insatiable appetite for British culture and her way of life (I am a passionate anglophile.), and I am happy to say that I have integrated acceptably in the UK.

However, I did not get to where I am today immediately. Rather, it took me a while of mingling with the locals in my city, socialising with my British friends (Some of them graciously invited me to their homes to experience their way of life while others made the effort to address my lingering questions about the British way of life.), and closely following British media to get accustomed to this concept of ‘Britishness’.

Such assimilation could not have happened in isolation, and had it not been for my British peers who had guided me along the way, I would not have achieved such a satisfactory level of integration. It was definitely not a given that I could have integrated this quickly (At this point, I will like to point out that I still feel I am not fully integrated.). Neither then, should it be a given that the expatriates can adapt to our way of life effortlessly too.

Simple Singaporean, you claim to have ‘integrated’ in the UK during your 3 short months there (In, of all places, touristy London.). However, what you claim to have achieved is alas, only the tip of the iceberg.

Where your claimed ‘integration’ is concerned, I would firstly like to point out that the Brits do not always have English breakfast and orange juice every morning. That would certainly cause health complications. There is also more to British cuisine than a good old fry up.

Secondly, the meal times of which you described do not seem too different from the meal times we Singaporeans observe, and so, should not have been hard to follow.

Thirdly, there is more to British meal times then just Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, with some Brits preferring to have meals like elevenses and afternoon tea in between.

Fourthly, only Brits in certain parts of the UK refer to dinner as tea.

Moving on, some of the habits you used to demonstrate integration are not proof of it at all.

Reading a road map/directory in a foreign land as a tourist is certainly not proof of it. You did it out of necessity, and not out of choice.

By saying that you took your turn to pay for your drink despite being female, you are implying that you do not have to do that in Singapore because of your gender. While I have been away from Singapore for a few years, I certainly do not recall queuing being exempt in our country.

Moreover, you were lucky to have had your British friend with the ‘exceedingly understanding heart and the exceedingly responsible heart’ to educate you on the finer points of UK life during your time in touristy London. The French students who came to Singapore to study however, are unlikely to have known any Singaporeans prior to their arrival here. Their studies take place in their French school in Serangoon, thus limiting their interactions with Singaporeans further. Furthermore, their parents might also be too busy working to sufficiently educate their children on Singapore’s social etiquette.

It is to the French students’ credit however, that they are willing to spend time in that coffee shop. The coffee shop is a Singaporean institution, but it is one that is mostly patronised by heartlanders, the everyday folk of Singapore. Singaporeans earning a very high salary need not partake in this institution. They need not shop at the neighbourhood shopping malls we regularly frequent. They certainly need not mingle with the heartlanders of our country. The French students and Brit in Singapore, among other foreigners, however, are attempting to do those things. This is despite them being completely capable of mingling exclusively with their expatriate communities. I believe that these acts constitute some level of integration, and they warrant merit.

Simple Singaporean, you say that through the years of you growing up, you and your family have learnt to watch Indian and Malay dramas on TV channels, and that you have even worn their traditional attire to formal events. If it has taken that many years for you and your family to embrace what has always been present in Singapore society, how then, can you disregard Brit in Singapore’s efforts to embrace Singapore’s culture in what must have been an even shorter amount of time?

During your short but eventful stay in London, you must have travelled out of central London to parts of London with high percentages of non-whites. East London is a prime example of such an area, and in those areas, the immigrants make far less of an attempt to integrate. Rather, many choose to mingle exclusively with their migrant communities, refusing to partake in the British way of life. With this as a comparison, I hope you will be inclined to agree that the expatriates seem to be doing far better.

You quote your British friend, saying that he ‘felt he was responsible to have kept you informed of his culture’. Truly, it takes two hands to clap, and we cannot expect these expatriates to feel their way in the dark till they eventually grasp what it means to be like a Singaporean. Like the example set by your British friend, we should extend a helping hand out to them and engage them in Singapore life. Besides, if we are capable of standing on the wrong side of tube escalators (Yes, I have made that mistake too.), I am sure we can forgive a few young French students for their misplaced behaviour.

Junjie rants, ‘If our gahment doesn't want them out, at least educate them to blend into part of our friendly culture’. The government can only do so much in terms of education. Ultimately, it is up to us Singaporeans to shed our inability to accept these expatriates and embrace them in our daily lives. I believe that we as Singaporeans need an education on tolerance too.

As mentioned by you, true integration in multicultural Singapore involves being tolerant about the idiosyncrasies of others. If that is the case, you should be advising Junjie not to ‘confront’ the French students with strong words such as ‘the French students are ignorant of our culture’ and ‘the invasion of these Caucasians’.

Such words take the expatriates efforts to integrate and Singaporeans attempts to embrace these people a step back.

Indeed, with the recent furore in Singapore over the increasing number of immigrants coming to our shores and the increasing rants about rude Caucasians in Singapore surfacing, Brit in Singapore should be commended for stepping up to highlight that not all Caucasians (Ang Mohs, if you prefer that term) willfully disregard the social norms present in Singapore.

Personally, I find your claim of him/her being small minded baseless. In fact, by recounting his/her efforts to integrate, Brit in Singapore has demonstrated a level of openness that Junjie, who ‘feels so alien in the country he used to call Home’ lacks. By recounting his/her efforts, Brit in Singapore has also demonstrated his/her attempt to preserve social cohesion; something that was first tainted by the French Students’ actions, but was further undermined by Junjie’s inflammatory post.

Simple Singaporean, if being constructive is the aim, perhaps, rather than criticising the foreign presence, Singaporeans should instead work towards extending a level of graciousness to all ‘foreigners in this homeland’ and seek to involve them in our society.

To illustrate, my family was acquainted with a German expatriate couple working in Singapore several years ago. We befriended them and did our best in showing them the Singapore we were proud of. They have since left Singapore, but we remain in constant contact with each other till this day. They are now good friends with my parents, and my family has even visited them recently while on holiday in Germany. Our German friends have also returned to Singapore for visits on at least 2 occasions. There are no prizes for guessing who were present to show them around

Simple Singaporean, you say that foreigners do not know their place in our homeland. I do hope however, that the reply of Brit in Singapore and my response to your article serves to reassure you that not every foreigner is integration adverse. Many, like Brit in Singapore, do wish to get involved and contribute to our country. Also, since he/she is open to conversation, you may wish to meet him/her over kopi at a coffee shop one day. That will be a positive step in 'fostering social cohesion and harmony, and I am certain that you will find him/her a friendly and decent individual.


A Singaporean student in the UK.