Dos and Don’ts

Temper: Don’t get openly angry or lose your cool in Singapore or anywhere in Asia for that matter. Shouting at someone in front of others is considered a “loss of face” and won’t accomplish anything.

Pointing: Never make obscene gestures; pointing at someone with your index finger is considered rude.

Chopstick Etiquette: Chopstick etiquette is important. Never cross another person’s chopsticks when you are reaching for something. Never rest chopsticks in a bowl or on a plate; always place chopsticks in a rest, or on a separate plate; to place the chopsticks across your bowl or plate shows that you are still hungry.

Burping: A gentle burp shows appreciation of good food. Don’t be surprised if there is considerable smacking of lips during a meal and burping at the end to show the meal tasted good.

Handshakes: Malaysian men and women do not shake hands. A nod of the head and a bright smile is a polite greeting between people of the opposite sex. If between men, don’t be surprised by the Malay’s light touch; Muslims usually exchange light handshakes.

Phrase Book

“Singlish” is a local patois of English mixed with Chinese syntax. Words from Malay and one of the southern Chinese dialects, Hokkien being the most common, are also used just to make it confusing for foreigners. The writers of the local culture and humor website,, have compiled a list of most “Singlish” words and phrases, from A to Z. Here are some of the most common terms.

Ah chek: "Uncle", a generic name used to address an older man. Pronounced ah check.

Ah mm: Generic name used to address an old woman. Pronounced ah-umm.

Boh: When placed before any word, it turns it into the negative. The Hokkien equivalent of "not" or "un."

Corright: The proper and correct Singlish pronunciation of "correct," illustrating how Singlish often combines two related words, creating a new word with improved potency. Often used as a response when the truth is glaringly obvious.

Don'ch: The correct Singlish pronunciation of "Don't."

Lah: Used as a full stop or ending. “Are you coming, lah?” Pronounced la.

Meh: A Singlish tag which accompanies questions. Adds a slight tone of incredulity. "So it's like that, meh?" Pronounced meh.

Saht: The local equivalent of “cool." Pronounced Sot.

Shiok: Denotes extreme pleasure or the highest quality. “This soup is really shiok, man!” Pronounced she-awk.

Talk cock: To speak rubbish or nonsense. Despite seemingly obscene connotations, the use of "cock" is actually fairly benign. It has become the de facto Singlish way to describe something as being nonsensical or sub-standard; the local equivalent of "rubbish" or "junk."

Wah lau: The most common polite variation of "Wah Lan," which is an expression used in much the same way as "oh my goodness" or "wow." Pronounced wah low.


About Singapore

  • <p>Photo: Raffles Hotel</p>

    Singapore City Guide

    Get travel tips, see photos, take a quiz and more with National Geographic's Ultimate Guide to Singapore.

  • 350019.jpg

    The Singapore Solution

    How did a sleepy little island transform into a high-tech powerhouse in one generation? It was all in the plan.

Take a Nat Geo Trip

Select a destination or trip type to find a trip:

See All Trips »

Join Nat Geo Travel's Communities

2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

  • Picture of a volcano on Reunion Island

    Who Will Win?

    Browse photos of nature, cities, and people and share your favorite photos.

Take a Nat Geo Trip

Select a destination or trip type to find a trip:

See All Trips »

Get Social With Nat Geo Travel