Foreigners must value Singapore

Singapore needs foreigners. You know it, I know it, and they (I mean, foreigners) know it. This country’s size, its abysmal fertility rate, its economy which nevertheless punches far above its physical and demographic heft — these are facts of life in Singapore. I would be the first to say: “Let us be a home to those who come here in search of better opportunities than they enjoyed in their countries of birth. They help us, we help them, and the world becomes a better place.” I am not a xenophobic nativist by any means. My consultancy is a globalised enterprise. I cannot afford to be a xenophobe.

However, I would add that immigration works both ways. Singapore adds value to the lives of its immigrants (because they would not have come here otherwise). Hence, they should in turn add value to the life of Singapore and Singaporeans. I am certain that they make their mark in vanguard economic sectors such as the tech industry where Singapore needs the best brains from anywhere to compete globally. I am not certain that they do so in sectors such as the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry, where service standards are crucial in attracting and retaining loyal customers.

I like to dine frequently at some of the best hotels and restaurants in Singapore. I have observed the decline of service standards in several of them over the years. Almost invariably, the culprits are foreigners who treat customers as if they are doing them a favour merely by existing in their midst. Two iconic hotels, my frequent haunts, have not escaped this imported fate. In one hotel, a European functionary behaved with an improbable pomposity that would have been internationally laughable had it not spoiled my Singaporean day. In the other hotel, a South Asian appeared to embody the fiction that this country’s service standards were an extension of his. Since they are not, I came away baffled by the thought about where my country’s fabled standards are headed. I hope not in the direction of second-tier European countries or third-tier Asian nations.

I am speaking of some of the best hotels here. Imagine what the state of play might be in other F&B establishments down the road. I prefer to not find out.

Look, as I have said before and assert again, I have nothing against foreigners. I am a foreigner in every country but Singapore. I travel to many of those lands for business or leisure. I delight in the collegial companionship of professional colleagues and friends. I never take them for granted. That is why they remain colleagues and friends. I would expect foreigners who make a living in Singapore to treat this place and its residents similarly. That is all.

Foreigners must add value to the economic and social flow of Singapore’s social life. No one is asking them to bow profusely, let alone to prostrate themselves at the feet of Singaporeans: That is not our culture. What they should do is to understand that this country, whose hotels and restaurants employ them, exists because it serves the world through globalisation. In the spirit of the same globalisation, foreigners here should be willing to serve.

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