S’poreans asked to chew on their manners

Tamara Thiessen

The Sydney Morning Herald

At the Tuen Mun rail interchange in Singapore, hundreds of iPhone-infatuated commuters appear to be as oblivious to fellow commuters as they do to the sign strung before them: ”Value Life Act Responsibly”.

It is the kind of behaviour-regulating message that is thrust down their throats daily, though some observers are cynical about their effectiveness. “This is campaign city,” a marketing specialist says. “There’s a ‘Smile’ campaign, ‘Be on time to weddings’ campaign, a ‘Courtesy’ campaign … there are just too many campaigns.”

In a country where people are regimentally law-abiding and clean, happiness and civility are also deemed to be in need of outside enforcement. Visitors to Singapore know they will be greeted by spick-and-span public spaces, hoovered grounds and streets free of chewing gum and spit; yet many say there is no such assurance of finding good manners and a caring society.

In a letter to The Straits Times Sabrina Chen said that ”achieving true kindness boils down to having one characteristic which is missing among us: initiative. Singaporeans lack the initiative to care”.

Under slogans such as ”Kindness rocks” and ”Be a smile champion”, the Singapore Kindness Movement has been campaigning relentlessly for a more benevolent society. The movement’s second State of Graciousness in Singapore Survey, found ”S’poreans” had conducted themselves better on public transport over the past year, amid hefty state-waged campaigns to improve consideration among commuters.

But half the respondents were negative about behaviour in public, on the roads, at work and at home, said the movement’s general manager, Teh Thien Yew. “Levels of indifference and unhappiness are still high … we are all concerned about graciousness in our country.”

Some foreign workers in the city have few kind words about Singaporeans’ manners. “They are the rudest f—ing people I have ever seen; they need some basic training in civic awareness,” said Paul Stapleton, an IT manager from Sydney. “They don’t feel that anyone else exists outside this tiny island.”

The resounding verdict points to a Singapore rigorously controlled at the expense of humanitarian values. So will more state initiatives such as the Singapore Kindness Movement, whose patron is the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, reap change?



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