India vs Singapore

I have spent around 3 years in Singapore and lived for many years in India. This is a summary of the cultural differences I observed.


India is a pervasively low-trust society. After many painful experiences, most Indians have learnt not to trust strangers and are usually very guarded and suspicious in commercial transactions. Promises made are often broken and the interactions can resemble a short-term zero sum game.

On the other hand, Singapore is a very high trust society where you can usually trust another person to show up, do their job and not rip you off. This allows more strangers to co-operate and increases the dynamism in the economy.


Information is considered a free flowing thing in India that nobody thinks about regulating. There are very few checks on the spread of information (an exception is hate speech) and the problem is usually that there is so much chatter everywhere that you need effort to sift through the signal from the noise.

On the other hand, there does seem to be legal and cultural barriers that prevent something similar in Singapore. Overall, the vibe is as if someone has suddenly reduced the chatter by several notches. It feels like educated Singaporeans don’t share their opinions as much.


Indians usually don’t plan for the worst, they are slightly optimistic in their outlook and only prepare very well for the known threats.

On the other hand, there is an unmistakable sense of paranoia in the Singapore culture which has perhaps contributed to the emergence of a militaristic society. This may be because of the size of the country and because it’s surrounded by slightly envious neighbours.


Although Indians will dislike people who are clearly unethical and those who commit major crimes, breaking small rules is celebrated in India. There are mythological epics where the heroes break rules to defeat villains and where the message seems to be that the ends justify the means. In modern times, the struggle of the valiant and clever entrepreneur against the socialist bureaucratic state is often valorised.

On the other hand, Singaporeans can be almost dogmatic about following rules. In fact, some also do social policing to ensure even the smallest of rules are obeyed. Singaporeans seem to trust that their rules are there for a good reason and actively “police” their society to punish non-compliance.


Accumulation of wealth is considered a worthwhile pursuit in India. However, apart from some very specific contexts, open display of wealth and status is frowned upon and the cultural pressure is to be stealthily wealthy. Many luxury brands have failed to make inroads in India even though there is a large enough population that can afford these items.

On the other hand, Singapore is a very materialistic and consumerist culture. There seems to be a lot of social pressure to not just be doing well but also showing it off.


Educated Indians are very interested in abstract discussions, reasoning and thinking about things that cannot be sensually perceived. Some may enjoy it as an end in itself. This is not only true for modern times, but also true for historical periods when India was a land renowned for philosophy and inquiries into the nature of reality.

On the other hand, Singaporeans are a very pragmatic people and show little tolerance or appreciation for intellectualizing or abstract discussions. They ground their discussions in tangible goals that are focused on real objects. I would guess that Singaporeans would not appreciate philosophy a lot due to the abstract nature of arguments.

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