Singapore Files: The Tissue Culture

October 15, 2008 / Culture / 8 Comments

One of the strangest sights you’ll ever find in Singapore food courts is the rows upon rows of pocket tissues obnoxiously placed on empty desks or seats. If you’ve never been to Singapore, you’ll probably think these tissues are for your use.

Not in a million years.

These pocket tissues, occasionally replaced by umbrellas, are used to reserve seats, so that people may scour for food without worrying about seat availability. It’s an interesting way of making reservations. But more importantly, it’s very reflective of Singaporean culture and mentality. Part of Singapore’s culture is centered around kiasu-ism. Kiasu means “to be afraid to lose” in Hokkien, a Chinese dialect. It’s often used a derogatory term by other Asians to describe the few Singaporeans who engage in inconsiderate, sometimes petty and overly self-centered actions.

Contrary to popular regional opinion, I think kiasu is not a bad mentality to have. Having been working in Singapore for two months, I can proudly proclaim that the kiasu mentality have paved the way to success for the company and for the country. In the name of kiasu, we worked tirelessly to be absolutely prepared. We would over-prepare for everything, and work through almost all possible worst case scenarios. Without that kiasu element in our genes, the first F1 Grand Prix in Singapore wouldn’t have had such raving reviews.

Come to think of it, pocket tissues are pretty useful – be it for running noses or running corporations. But we should perhaps exercise some restraint when it comes to other uses like reserving tables. After all, being called kiasu for the wrong reasons isn’t exactly something to be proud of.

New Category: The Singapore Files

So this is the new category I promised. It’s called ‘The Singapore Files’. I think I might be stoned to death by some blindly patriotic Singaporeans, but I’m just a repatriated third culture kid offering my honest opinion on my country’s culture. It’s not a 100% accurate reflection on Singapore’s diverse culture, but it’s probably a little more objective and a little less hostile.

So are there any quirks with your home culture? What do you like (or not like) about it? Do share!

  • here we use jackets to reserve seats/tables. Though there’s a good chance that when you come back, it won’t be there anymore. Tissues would never work, they’d just end up in the garbage, lol.

    Any quirks with American culture? Where do I start?

  • Koreans are little too obsessive about food. They practically force you to eat even after you decline or say you’re full. They think skipping a single meal will kill you. I’m too westernized.

  • Hi dear, thanks for the comment at 🙂 I don’t really agree with reserving seats with packets of tissue paper. This is something I really don’t like about Singapore culture haha. I can take up that seat and just tell them that I thought the tissue paper was left behind by the previous patrons? I doubt they will force you to get up 😛

  • LOL, I see just about anything to reserve seats… If I see tissues, I’d assume that they just left it, like Lissy said. LOL.

  • Ivy

    @Simply Precious: Hahahahaha!! Yeah! That’s what I thought at first too.. then I realized what it meant after a while.

    You know, I still can’t access your site. T__T Do you have a feed URL by any chance?

  • That’s pretty weird. I would never think that the tissues were placed to reserve tables. Most likely I would think that they were used by someone and the person forgot to discard them.

  • Reservation by tissue is a common practice in Singapore. I’ve never quite understand why someone as flimsy as tissue packs can be used to deter full grown adults from taking that seat. And I’m a Singaporean…

    So,if you’re a third culture kid, what’s your first and second culture?

  • Filipinos actually do that, too, but not with pocket tissues lol. An umbrella or something not valuable/worth stealing. I used to do that at my college Starbucks hangout if I got there before my friends and had to reserve a table. I’d leave a book or some reading materials on the table and carry everything else to the bar and order my drink.

    So azn, lol.