12 Oct 2005

Singapore's Culture Advantage?

SINGAPORE : Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo has said one of Singapore's strength is its ability to observe differences among different cultures.

He said it was this ability to understand differences and respond to differences that gives Singapore the edge in being able to adjust products and services to the customer.

Mr Yeo made the comment in an interview with Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, the transcript of which was made available on Tuesday.

He said the reason Singapore was able to do this was because it is itself very diverse internally and the people are used to it from a young age.

Using an example of a shop-owner in Orchard Road, Mr Yeo said when customers walk in, the shop-owner is able to do a quick assessment and decide if the customer is a Singaporean or not. And if not, to decide if he is a Japanese, Korean, Australian, American or whatever nationality.

Mr Yeo said this ability to be nuanced in their assessment, in their response, was what makes Singaporeans the way they are.

One has to wonder if this observation is really true. Understandably, Mr Yeo is speaking from a financial viewpoint, and how he cites the Orchard Road shop is very telling. If the customer is a foreigner/tourist, it can be assumed he is going to spend more than an average Singaporean. Japanese and American tourists, most likely, are going to spend more than an Australian, perhaps, though this is just an example.

Viewed in this, the way Mr Yeo speaks about the so-called "culture advantage" is very misleading. The culture understanding only extends to gauging the depth of the customer's pocket. Adjusting products and services according the customer? Fellow singaporeans will be shown last season's Prada bags, while the tourists will get a cup of tea and free discourse on the newest designs from Prada.

Also, this highlights a key racial issue: naturally, Singaporeans would treat a Caucausian customer better than a Singaporean one of whatever race. Aside from the financial factor, this only serves to illustrate the colonial mentality, still ingrained within us. Nuanced assessments and responses? The Japanese customer will get a mispronouced, and overused "Ari-gato".

In a country where inherent racism has yet to be conquered, saying we are culturally advantaged is rather rich.

Just another example of 1) How deluded/misleading politicians are, and 2)How inept the local papers are.


jian said...

I wonder if its ever possible to conquer racism.

soci said...

conquer no, but make all forms of racial discrimination under the law unacceptable, yes.

pleinelune said...

But the law can't control what people think, though that may come as a big disappointment for the sg government. One can make it illegal to fire the indian employee based on race, but can you stop him from thinking "bloody indian!"?

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