The Singapore Wave

I speak quickly. But worse than that, I’m also a bit of a mumbler – AND I’m not talking underpants mumbling for those with filthy minds. Anyone who has received a voicemail from me could probably testify to this… With that said, I think I’ve gotten better over the years, but the reality is, not much has changed.

So imagine my communication attempts with someone speaking English as a second language or sometimes worse, people who speak English as a first language but pronounce their vowels in a completely different way? Welcome to Singapore.

The vowels that seem to be an issue are i and e. For example, the infamous example in Singapore is Ikea. I pronounce it eye-key-a whereas a Singaporean would pronounce it ick-ia. My name always confuses due to the r and e in it, but my favourite of all time is baby powder. One day, while trying to buy baby powder for my husband and seeing it nowhere, I asked an old auntie if she could help. There were a lot of grunts of non-understanding, so I resorted to writing it down at the back of the book I was reading. Ahhhhh baby powderrrrrrrr with an emphasis on the O. I think my version of baby powda was just damn confusing for the old dear.

Last time we lived here, Steve thought it was hilarious watching me communicate with just about anyone – face to face or on the phone I didn’t do too well. I tried really hard though and almost always kept my cool, I just can’t for the life of me work out how to pronounce something in a way that is understandable. Most questions/comments were met with a blank stare, but my favourite is what we termed the “Singapore Wave.” The “Singapore Wave” is when you ask someone for directions, they obviously have no idea what you’ve asked but rather than admit it (and lose face), they wave off in a direction, with a blank look on their face and a half smile, assuring you that this is the direction that must be taken.

Many a time we have headed off in the direction (because what were we to do?) only to ask someone else and get the same response – usually pointing us back the way we came. We’ve walked around in circles a lot I can tell you.

The funniest thing is watching other foreigners react. I learnt a long long time ago, when backpacking in China in 1995, that the worst thing you can do is get upset or angry. If you do I can promise you one thing – you will get absolutely fuck all help. I’d love to be able to teach foreigners reacting badly that this is a sure way to get nothing, but I suppose they need to learn the lesson themselves, and if they don’t learn it, they’re going to have a shithouse time here.

Anyway, how could I get upset with anyone for not understanding me when so often my husband doesn’t even understand me? Well he claims not to, maybe he’s just bloody smart and as many men, only listens when it’s worthwhile?

Off to the shops now. I wonder how many “Singapore Waves” I get today!

Yours, without the bollocks

One Response

  1. ah ah,
    I remember when I used to catch a taxi to get to the Anson Road office, I would quickly shoot off three different variations of the same word – proper English, Anson, Enson Rd. One of the three would always work.
    Yes, Ikea pronounced 'ick-ia' and sounding like a new martial art is the best story, probably common to all foreigners here. I remember pronouncing it the right way – we can now discuss about the 'right' way – and thinking 'why isn't Ikea popular here?! weird!'
    I had an Italian friend who frustrated at his inability to communicate with the cabbie, blurted out 'why can't you speak English?' and the poor cabbie, equally frustrated I reckon, going 'But I am speaking English.'

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