20 Dec 2017


Cindy’s Seven Tips: How to be Authentically Singaporean (Even in a Faraway Land)

I’ve learnt that being true to who I am preserves my sense of identity – it’s how I continue to build my ties to Singapore, even if I’m thousands of kilometres away.

Cindy Tong

It’s been two years since I moved to Germany, and I can proudly declare: I’ve made progress.


In between better familiarising myself with the intricacies of der, die and das, and abiding by the unspoken rule of deutsche pünktlichkeit (German punctuality), I’ve also learnt to sleep on square-shaped German pillows without waking up to a stiff neck, and conditioned my palate to accept a diet rich in dairy and other fatty foods. My stomach used to heave at the very idea of cheese, and look at me now, Ma! I’m feasting on kässpätzle (mac and cheese) at the weekend farmers’ markets and burying my vollkornbro (whole grain bread) with scoops of griebenschmalz (lard with bacon crackling).


I don’t think anybody wants to be that person — the kind who’ll move halfway across the globe and still expect the exact same things as those back home. I’d much rather be the sort of guest that a host feels happy to have, making an effort to understand and integrate into the local culture which comes with the territory. We should know — after all, most of us feel the same way back home in Singapore.


Yet, even if I’ve gulped down maß after maß of bier, and scarfed down giant wheels of brezen (pretzels) in the time that I’ve been here in Germany, it’s the mugs of kopi-c and starchy discs of chwee kway that have had a greater impact on the person I am today. Balancing authenticity with adaptability is a tough line to walk, but as a Singaporean living overseas, staying connected and true to my heritage allows me to pay homage to the Singapore that’s made me who I am today. Here are my seven tips on how we can stay connected to our roots, wherever we are!


7. Never give Singlish up. Speak it to yourself. Yell it in the shower. Slip in some of your favourite words and phrases in between the Deutsch, and seize the chance to explain this colourful language (yes, it IS a language!) to your puzzled friends. Be patient, friends. It won’t be long now before Singadeutsch takes to the streets.


6. Be a food critic. Hunt down all the Asian restaurants in your area and bring your most Singaporean friends along for a stuff-your-face session. Order some dishes from the menu and start discussions about what could be done to make each dish taste more Singaporean.


5. Bring your own Singaporean twist to festive celebrations. This Christmas, the plätzchen (German Christmas cookies) never made it to the table because when there’s a Singaporean in the family, everybody’s having pineapple tarts instead.


This year, our Christmas feast will have no German Christmas cookies - gracing the festive table instead will be a platter of pineapple tarts


4. Have pride. Hang out a flag or a banner of sorts that proudly yells your membership with the red, white, five stars and a moon. I had one strung along the ceiling of my balcony before I moved, and I secretly wished for the day someone would knock on my door and proclaim the same allegiance. No one ever came by, but hey, a Singaporean can always hope!


3. Educate the world about Singapore — and Asia. You’re bound to run into the odd person who’ll cheerfully greet you with a “nihao” or a “sawadeekap” and clasped palms. I used to become too overwhelmed with frustration to do much. But nowadays, I smile back graciously and say that Asia is such a huge continent, and that not every Asian necessarily comes from China or Thailand.


2. Watch Singapore TV. If you didn’t already know, Singaporeans can sign up for an account on Toggle TV and watch local shows from overseas. You’ll need your IC number to sign up, but otherwise, it’s free!


1.  Get connected with your own people. There are plenty of overseas Singaporean groups such as Singaporeans in Germany, Overseas Singaporeans, Singaporean Women Abroad, etc that frequently organise social and networking events for Singaporeans living in the area. A quick search on Facebook should get you connected with the active groups in your area!


Fresh out of the oven: my virgin batch of buttery, homemade pineapple tarts


It’s taken a chunk of confidence sprinkled with a lot of sass and attitude to pull off some of these ideas. But in these two years, I’ve learnt that being true to who I am preserves my sense of identity – it’s how I continue to build my ties to Singapore, even if I’m thousands of kilometres away.


Read the stories of Singaporeans living overseas.