Signs of Singapore

When you come to a new country which is multilingual and English speaking, where the number of languages most people speak is at least two, if not more, you tend to think, at first, that you understand signs and what they mean when they are in English.

Until you realize that you don’t, quite.

After six months in Singapore, it’s still hard for me to know when Singaporeans are serious and when they are tongue-in-cheek, when it’s a genuine mistake in translation and when it’s simply a different usage of English (from what I’ve been used to) and when there is some history behind a term I’m totally unaware of because of which I just didn’t get it.

I’ve passed by this sign for a restaurant at a beautiful mall in Bugis. I thought I’d take a picture of it today. There is a picture of a whole skinned chicken next to it.

At the Bugis mall
At the Bugis mall

There are signs for sales everywhere. This kind of humour is something I’m more familiar with:

At Bugis
At Bugis

The construction taking place all over the island is accompanied by a ubiquitous term that I wouldn’t have used quite the same way but I’m getting more and more used to it– “business as usual.”

“Business as usual” signs are everywhere

Sometimes there are signs where I think there is an issue with translation when it isn’t an issue at all.

Dare I try Item #7? Spotted in Chinatown and lost in translation.
Dare I try Item #7? Spotted in Chinatown and lost in translation.

The caption is from an older post but I found out later that this is a dish invented by a husband and wife duo and not what it seems like at all.

Other occasions show signs for more practical reasons but they still seem unfamiliar (to me). These cutouts of cows representing various professions of people here on the occasion of fifty years of Singaporean independence are in many places. But also accompanying them is a sign:

I’m sure that as I spend more time here, either this list will become longer or shorter depending on whether I spot more and more signs or whether I get so integrated that I stop seeing them.

For those of you who are not familiar with this part of the world, I’ll leave you to decipher the following sign:

On the MRT train

20 thoughts on “Signs of Singapore”

  1. Thank you for sharing such an informative article about singapore signage. Crazy Art Singapore has developed into a one-stop hub specializing in visual advertising production. Founded in 1999, Crazy Art has worked efficiently with countless design & build firms in the commercial interior sector and has proven to be a trusted partner in all aspects. We provide nothing less than exceptional service and problem-solving for our partners.


  2. As a local, I am at times amused by these signs. Although the majority of her citizens speak at least two languages, with English as a first, their proficiency vary – often with hilarious results, as is evident in the pictures 😊


  3. I was just recenly in Bangkok and I posted a couple like this on my facebook page. If I could post them here I would. One was instructions for opening the hotel safe – google translate I’m sure. Too long to post here. The other was a sign that said, “Beware of your belongings.”


  4. Durians are a fruit that, though delicious and popular, have a very intense and generally unsavory odor, especially while opening them. I’m assuming this sign is there to prevent the offensive odor in that area.

    Still hilarious.


Comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s