Kiasu in Singapore

Kiasu is a hokkien word that means ‘fear of losing.’

Drive nearly anywhere in Singapore and you are likely to encounter kiasu. Need to get in line to checkout at the very busy Giant? You may see kiasu. I have to admit that because I drive nearly everywhere, I feel that I encounter this quite a bit, and embarrassingly, I have started to take up with the habit.  Get ahead or get eaten alive!

The phenomenon is quite bizarre especially since I was taught growing up, and when learning to drive that so much of your daily behavior is conducted and measured even by looking someone else in the eye.  Yet, that’s the complete opposite experience I’ve had here. Drivers cut you off or refuse to let you in, yet they also refuse to look you in the eye.

Winning is primary … being last is not acceptable.

According to Wikipedia :

The root of this approach was (for a period) actively encouraged by the Singaporean Government, largely out of necessity, through the early 1970s. The Government declared that they would make a success of Singapore through hard work and commerce, and that if you wanted to get ahead, it was up to you. A positive aspect is that the state is not looked upon as a universal provider, and that drive and energy took Singapore through a social and environmental transformation, and turned it into the massive centre for commerce that it is today.

Kiasu is such a widely accepted word that it is officially listed in the Oxford English Dictionary!

BookJunkie talks about it a bit … and we also recorded an episode of it.  Don’t mind our ridiculous shrieks in the background, we apparently found it quite funny to watch this man creep forward EVERY time the Husb snuck forward a bit, while waiting at a red stop light.


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  1. […] reason I happen to be a bit snarky behind the wheel is due to my driving habits in Singapore. The kiasu method of life is a bit mind-blowing and it is definitely a get ahead or fall behind mentality. I refused to be […]