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I live in Europe. I got opportunities to work in Singapore, but I'm worried about the Asian power distant cultures.

Here why:

Last time I was traveling to Germany for seminars, there was some Japanese businessmen in the hotel.

I noticed that when the Japanese manager was about to leave, his colleagues bowed before him! I also noticed that none dared eat before he made the eat start!

Then after discussing with some Japanese people and making some research, I can see that power distance is common in Asian cultures, which has a huge impact on relocation decisions. And I wonder if its the same in Singapore

My main concern is sacrificial expectations. Here an example in this article about after work drinks and assertiveness . In Japan it's expected to attend after work drinks no matter how frequent they are.

A soft skill! Maybe, but, the consequences of sacrificing my family life to please the boss and get promoted are not worth the success this could bring me

It's not a matter of right or wrong, it's rather feedback I'm looking for from expats who worked in Singapore

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    Definitely NOT suitable for Travel. Expatriates maybe, though it's rather vaguely written at the moment and likely to just attract anecdotes. It's not off-topic here: it's about a workplace -- this isn't just a site for questions about the USA. – Kate Gregory Dec 27 '19 at 23:40
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    @TymoteuszPaul, This question is not opinion-based. It's actually very precise. Either, you've worked in Singapore, or you haven't. Either this happened there, or it didn't. All the OP needs is a "yes" or "no" answer with a bit of background information. I also personally don't see the question as aggressive. Most Japanese expats I've met have no qualms criticizing their work culture back home. This goes for most cultures. No one has any problem spelling out the problems with their own work culture back home, the Americans, the French, etc. It isn't a question that people are offended by. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 28 '19 at 5:18
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    I don't agree, there is huge similarities between UK and France regarding work culture, which is very different from Japan. I worked in both France and UK. – mikmik Dec 28 '19 at 8:30
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    @MakhloufGHARBI There is Brexit, is there Fexit? You are using apple to ask is orange the same? They are both fruits. I live in Taiwan. There is huge diffrenence between two sides across the strait. My advice, talk to people from Singapore, ask them. Don't use Japan as an example. – scaaahu Dec 28 '19 at 8:35
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    He has refined his question. I'm voting to reopen it. And yes @scaaahu, There is a Frexit. It's part of the platform of Russian-backed French right-wing politicians. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frexit – Stephan Branczyk Dec 28 '19 at 10:39
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I understand your trouble, from what I've read, the work culture may vary a lot on where you're working.

If my sources are correct, the population is mostly of Chinese origin, so you should check how they behave at work.

I've found out they are quite rigid, have a strong hierarchical culture and some delicate behavioural aspects, like being extra careful not to raise your voice, raise your hand when asking for permission to talk, etc.

I couldn't find anything about after-work drinks, I did though, read about being usual to leave work on time, unlike the Japanese culture, where workers are expected to work extra hours, and not doing so is seen as being lazy.

I recommend you to search for blogs and youtube channels where people share their experience moving to Singapore, it's a great source of information. Here are some articles I've found on this subject, hope it helps. Good luck!

https://www.smartresumeservices.com/singapore-work-culture/

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/sick-leave-without-mc-companies-say-no-abuse-spike-in-absentees-11012406

https://www.boredpanda.com/ceo-question-commitment-employees-work-hours-chris-mcclinch/

https://www.guidemesingapore.com/business-guides/immigration/get-to-know-singapore/guide-to-singapore-work-culture-for-newcomers

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    -1 guesses from Internet research instead of expertise. Not sure why OP accepted it instead of waiting for the answers with direct experience to come in, as they have. – mxyzplk Jan 22 '20 at 14:36
  • Upvote for that - why was an answer beginning "from what I've read" accepted? – Mawg says reinstate Monica May 19 '20 at 18:18
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Tl’dr:

I am a European who has worked for half of my adult life in Asia – in Hong Kong, mainland China, Japan and just short of ten years in Singapore – plus a few years for Asian companies in Europe. Of course, when working in Asia, I also visited other Asian countries often for tourism, as my purchasing power was high.

And I envy you !!

Go! Go now, and you will never, ever, ever regret it.


Full (probably too long) answer:

I noticed that when the Japanese manager was about to leave, his colleagues bowed before him! I also noticed that none dared eat before he made the eat start!

Then after discussing with some Japanese people and making some research, I can see that power distance is common in Asian cultures, which has a huge impact on relocation decisions. And I wonder if its the same in Singapore

Power distance is probably present in most cultures, you may not have noticed it in yours, just as we don’t normally notice the air that we breath. It may well be present, but manifest itself in different ways. Just out of curiosity, you might want to discuss with those same Japanese people if they have noticed it in your culture.

However, the allure of Asia, to me, is the diversity of its culture. If you blindfold me and transport me to the high street of any European city I would have great difficulty of telling them apart, or even knowing which country I am in. They tend to have the same shops, often the same architecture. I speak a few European languages and when working I prefer to use (or learn) the native language if I can. I also spend a lot of time in bars, talking to people. I find that they, and my work colleagues, are not particularly different from one European country to the next. They are culturally similar.

Whereas, I find each Asian country to have a unique and very distinctive culture. Japanese seems very distinct from mainland China, which is still very distinct from Hong Kong, which has the remnants of its British association. Hong Kong is surprisingly different from Singapore, despite them both being ex-British colonies, both islands with roughly the same population densities and roughly the same population, and both with some of the world's busiest ports.

Singapore, is turn, is vastly economically different from Malaysia, from which it gained its independence only 55 years ago. Plus, it has more Chinese population. Malaysia differs from neighbouring Thailand, which is different from poorer Laos, which perhaps somewhat resembles Cambodia net door, which is different from Vietnam which is becoming industrialized and still has some lingering French colonial heritage. In terms of business, South Korea and Taiwan show that deferential attitude of which you spoke (“power distance”), plus the after work socializing (binge drinking) which I saw in Japan, but never had to take part in …

Perhaps because I worked for a major European company and they imported their corporate culture? Maybe not, as a German friend in South Korea has to do the drinking thing. And, when I worked for a major Japanese company in Germany, there was some “power distance”, but only among the Japanese. Their managers were intelligent enough not to expect it of the locals.

While I worked for a local Singaporean company, you could work for a European multi-national, if you are very concerned, but I see no need for that.

Singapore is wonderful. Singapore is safe, and clean. Singapore is more “first world” than Europe or the USA.

I have been in hospital all 3. Singapore was like a 5 start hotel. Europe was acceptable, and USA was like a budget motel with 5 star prices. Singapore has a great education system, so a great workforce. It has a superior infrastructure.

You definitely do not want a car. They are hideously expensive, so there is no gridlock, like Hong Kong. But the government compensates by providing more than adequate, air-conditioned, bus & train services. But you don’t need to call a taxi, as one will pass by every few minutes and can be flagged down for little more than the cost of public transport.

As I said, It is extremely safe (world’s 2nd lowest murder rate), with newspapers often reporting that police have nothing to do (compare crime rates with USA). European females have no fear of walking around during the hours of darkness, even after midnight. It is very common to see schoolchildren of all ages outdoors doing homework in the evenings. Safe, safe, safe.

As to “power distance”, the predominantly Chinese population might lean a little that way, but they had over a century of British influence, plus other cultures on the island (ethnic Chinese (76.2% of the citizen population), Malays (15.0%), and ethnic Indians (7.4%)) have tempered that. I will admit that there is a reluctance to criticize, or even ask questions of, management a few levels above one, but no one bows to anyone (not a Chinese thing) and there is no enforced socializing.

Singapore is “Asia 101”, so expect new experiences, but no frightening cultural shock. Now, go (and don’t forget to invite me for a visit ;-)!!


Sorry it’s so long. And please don’t hesitate to ask more questions

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    As being an Asian myself, I have no choice but an upvote after reading through the post. You seem to know even more than I do. Thank you for clearing the misunderstandings the OP had. – scaaahu Jan 22 '20 at 9:10
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    Lolx! Thanks very much, and I am looking forward to seeing your post about Europe ;-) – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jan 22 '20 at 9:34
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Let's be reasonable, bowing before the CEO and waiting for him to eat are customs or rituals. Work places in every country and industry have their own customs, rituals, and formalities, and it also varies heavily from company to company.

Fulfilling various customs, rituals, or formalities is definitely not the same as sacrificing your life for these companies. You can surely fulfill these customs without any other obligations on you. Think about it, it takes you almost no time to fulfill such a custom or ritual. You have nothing to lose by bowing before the CEO and potentially a lot to gain, by showing him your respect as a good employee.

If in a western country you will be greeted by the CEO, and you refuse to shake his hand (maybe you want to avoid germs), that would be foolish. You would be losing a potential future ally or mentor. Similarly, no effort at all is required to bow before the CEO. I would do jumping jacks if I were in some other country, knowing that I would gain good relationships with people with the power to influence my career as a result. It is advantageous to see the big picture.

I know that this question is particularly about Singapore, but due to how you phrased it, and it shows concern, I want to address the "hidden question behind the curtain" that is observable here. Knowing local customs in the work culture there is a soft skill. If you have good soft skills, you make gains in your career. Whether or not those customs are actually relevant or correct is not the case. You can't change the world but you can change yourself to have success in it.

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    I came across this interesting article scmp.com/week-asia/lifestyle-culture/article/3043657/… I can see that the concern is deeper than a simple bow. Being assertive is regarded as wrong by japanese culture – mikmik Dec 28 '19 at 7:33
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    In this article I can see that there is a concrete sacrificial side with after work drinks for example. In Japan it's expected to attend, no matter how frequent they are. A soft skill! Maybe, but, the consequences of sacrificing my family life to please the boss are not worth the success this could bring me – mikmik Dec 28 '19 at 7:44
  • @MakhloufGHARBI Please edit your question to reflect that this is your main concern. – Galaxy Dec 28 '19 at 8:10
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    @Galaxy, It's always been part of the question. "In Japan it's expected to attend after work drinks no matter how frequent they are. A soft skill! Maybe, but, the consequences of sacrificing my family life to please the boss and get promoted are not worth the success this could bring me." The same goes with Singapore. Singapore was also the main part of the question, but your answer fails to answer that main part as well. In my opinion, your answer should have been posted as a comment, not as an answer. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 28 '19 at 10:55
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    I don't see how this answers the question. The OP isn't asking for career advice or a lecture about what to do 'when in Rome'. They just want to know what the culture in SG is like so they can make an informed decision for themselves. That said it might be a better fit on Expatriates (unfamiliar with the rules there). – jcm Jan 11 '20 at 1:44

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