When exhibiting overseas, it is important that exhibitors learn about the customs and history of the country where they wish to exhibit.
Singapore is a constitutional republic with English as its official language. The unicameral legislature established its independence from Malaysia on Aug. 9, 1965, a date now celebrated as its only federal holiday, although its cosmopolitan population typically celebrates many cultural and religious holidays. Singapore has a population of approximately 5.4 million, which comprises of about 74 percent Chinese, 13 percent Malay and 9 percent Indian with the remaining a mix of others, including many western expatriates.
Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam was elected to a six-year term in 2011, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has held the appointed position since 2004. Its 87 members of Parliament serve five-year terms with the next election scheduled in 2016. Up to 18 more seats are comprised of members of minority parties who did not win local elections.
Its estimated 2012 gross domestic product was $325.1 billion for a global rank of 41, according to the CIA World Factbook. Unemployment is at about 2 percent of its 3.6 million labor force, making Singapore one of the most economically as well as socially and politically stable nations in Asia. Its seaport is one of the world’s busiest, and the U.S. dollar still holds value – worth about $1.21 versus the Singapore dollar.
With a majority Chinese population, Singapore is heavily influenced by Confucian philosophy that emphasizes a hierarchical society in which there is a place for everyone and everyone in their place as well as group-based social dynamics. Its group-oriented culture can run counter to individualistic cultural norms in western nations, such as the United States. At all times, respect must be shown to preserve “face” and prevent unintended offense when doing business in Singapore, but its western-influenced business culture typically is more adept at dealing with cultural dynamics than in other nations.
To help facilitate business and cultural exchanges in Singapore among members of the tradeshow industry and others, the World Business Culture Web site advises:
- Singapore business structures are hierarchical and often rely on decisions being made by senior management from the top down.
- People of similar status and rank should deal with those of corresponding levels in Singapore business culture to avoid offense.
- Age is respected and managers tend to be older, so sending young staffers to conduct business there should be avoided.
- Open disagreement is discouraged in favor of resolving differences behind closed doors.
- If something cannot be done, the word “no” might not be mentioned to save face for all. Instead, a gentle discouragement might be offered in lieu of an outright “no.”
- Harmony is critical during meetings and business discussions and must be maintained at all times. Disagreements must be handled with the utmost tact and typically are best addressed outside of meetings.
- It is highly important to maintain the dignity and respect of leaders of other organizations and not do anything to cause them to lose face or belittle them in front of their team members and subordinates.
- Singapore is one of the few Asian nations where gift-giving is not the norm in order to avoid corruption. If a gift is to be given, it must be a modest gift and given to the highest ranking member present.
- Because Singapore is near the equator and often is hot and humid, business attire generally is more casual when outdoors, although a traditional coat and tie are more normal indoors for businessmen.
- Singapore is a modern and advanced society with a generally high degree of education, and many women occupy high positions in government and businesses.
- Humor typically does not translate well across cultural boundaries and attempts generally should be avoided to prevent confusion or potential offense.
Proper adherence to Singaporean culture and business norms will help ensure tradeshow success for those looking to expand their market share beyond the traditional western markets and tap into the fast-growing Southeast Asia markets surrounding the city-state that has a well-deserved reputation as possibly the best place on Earth to get global business done.