Things in Singapore that feel illegal but aren’t

When was the last time you saw someone do something and immediately thought, “Sure kena fine.” There are just some actions that we see on the daily, that feel plain ol’ wrong. Given some of our baffling unique laws, it can feel like some things in Singapore are illegal but actually aren’t. Or maybe the government just hasn’t accounted for them yet.

1. Sitting in the priority seat on public transport

We see you pretending to be asleep or deeply engrossed in your phones. Sitting in the priority seat on public transport continues to be hotly debated, like whether black or white carrot cake is better. The only difference is that the former argument can lead to some nasty videos online.

Things in Singapore That Feel Illegal But Aren't - priority seatsPriority seats are supposed to be reserved for the elderly, the differently-abled, the pregnant, and the injured.
Image credit: SGTrains

On the flip side, some differently-abled people may not have obvious physical distinctions and might be mistaken as free-riders, getting the brunt of commuters’ rage. For either side, it shouldn’t be anything to lose your mind over, considering you will probably get a seat at some point even if you have a long ride.

As a rule of thumb, if no one is sitting on the priority seats, go ahead and sit. However, should you be conscious and see someone who might need it more than you do, offer it to them. Some people are nice enough to let you have your seat, and sometimes you can just sit on the MRT floor, though that also feels illegal.

2. Sneaking full meals into movie theatres

What's The Most Ridiculous Food Item You've Snuck In The Cinema? | Eatbook KPO | EP 49
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What's The Most Ridiculous Food Item You've Snuck In The Cinema? | Eatbook KPO | EP 49

Let’s face it, movie theatre food is expensive. So, sneaking snacks into the movie theatre isn’t a new feat. You can’t be jailed or fined for it; at most, they might ask you to throw your food away.

This opens up a world of possibilities. Why stop at just chips and drinks, when you could sneak in a whole burger meal or cai fan order? You can even try turning every movie into a Nom Nom Cinema experience by hiding different courses in different jacket or bag pockets.

Let’s just pray they don’t start installing bag scanners at theatres.

3.  Standing on the right side of the escalator

Things in Singapore That Feel Illegal But Aren't - standing on the left side of the escalator
Singapore etiquette says stand on the left and give way to people walking on the right.

If we had to narrow down living in Singapore to 2 rules, they would be:

  • Rule No. 1: Do not stand on the right side of the escalator.

The majority of the culprits of this “crime”, aside from tourists, are usually couples who can’t let go of their hands for even a few seconds and those who are glued to their phones. Though there are no illegalities for this, society has taken it upon itself to punish the heathens by elbowing and pushing through them – rightfully so.

4. Watching videos at full volume in public

Despite the abundance of parks and nature reserves in Singapore, it’s still hard to have a moment of peace with the sound of nature. Why? Because some bodoh is blasting some subpar music at full volume. Just because you’re too lazy to go clubbing, doesn’t mean the animals and trees want to join your party.

This has even led to fistfights in the MRT when some commuters decide to make all the riders do a joint screening of their videos and doomscrolling.

Earphones were invented for a reason, we’ll even help you out by giving you a list of the best value wireless earphones in Singapore. Just please stop.

5. Chewing gum

Things in Singapore That Feel Illegal But Aren't - chewing gum
Image credit: iShopChangi

Probably the biggest misconception about Singapore is that chewing gum is banned. To reiterate, the sale, importing, and manufacturing of gum is banned but chewing it isn’t. No police officer is going to come bashing towards you when they see a stick of gum – it’s not that deep.

But what’s the big deal about chewing gum anyway? Especially when we have delicious alternatives like fruit chews and mints that won’t jam up MRT doors, ahem ahem.

6. Stealing a chope-d table

Things in Singapore That Feel Illegal But Aren't - chope table

If you’re trying to steal a chope-d table, you are just asking for confrontation. It may be tempting, especially during crowded lunch hours, but breaching this unspoken understanding could lead to a gnarly food fight.

The silver lining though, is if they’ve left just a scraggly tissue packet and there are no witnesses around – toss it away and get ready to gaslight, gatekeep, and girlboss. Sometimes in very confusing hawker centres like Lau Pa Sat, you can hope they get lost and are unable to make their way back to you.

All in all, no one wants to be scalded by bak kut teh, so even though it isn’t illegal, refrain, and just spend the extra $0.20 dabaoing.

7. Drinking on the bus

Things in Singapore That Feel Illegal But Aren't - drinking on the bus

Image credit: Land Transport Authority

You’ve likely had the glaring “No Eating or Drinking. Fine $500” sign above you on the MRT before, and thought the same MRT rules apply for buses. Well, plot twist – no, they don’t. Not eating or drinking on the bus is simply a recommendation to keep things clean, but there isn’t an impending fine or anything.

In any case, it isn’t like buses are the most convenient places to eat anyway, but if you feel like you’re about to die of thirst, by all means, drink up. So next time, ignore the 164 eyes ogling at you quenching your parched throat and grumbling stomach, but also don’t overdo it with a whole Mala bowl.

8. Saying “no” when asked to donate to charity

It’s just another day of you walking to the MRT and suddenly a uniformed individual appears out of thin air, clipboard in hand. Not all surveyors are scamming you; some of them are doing great volunteer work, but when you’re in a rush or your social battery is zero, you just want to mind your own business.

You know you’ll have a pit in your gut when you ignore their existence, but what’s worse is rejecting the volunteers after hearing them out. If you feel guilt-tripped, you can check out ways to donate in Singapore without having to deal with awkward conversations.

9. Not using indicators when turning or changing lanes

Things in Singapore That Feel Illegal But Aren't - not using indicator

Wah, one would think after all the classes and stress it takes to get your driver’s license, this simple action would be embedded into the brains of drivers, but no. Of all the things on our list, not using indicators is truly the most fine-worthy, considering that it leads to accidents and traffic jams.

For the non-drivers, imagine you’re strolling down the street and a crossroads is coming ahead. The person in front of you shows no indication of which direction he’s about to take. You can’t overtake them because you might bump into them if they choose to turn and if you’re both planning to continue ahead, you’re stuck behind them.

Let’s say you decide, okay I’m just going to go ahead, leading to you to bump into the fella who ends up taking a sudden turn. Now imagine that with cars – not so pleasant, is it?

10. Using testers or trying samples without buying anything

Things in Singapore That Feel Illegal But Aren't - sephora testers

We all go gaga over free samples and testers at grocery stores and fairs, like trying unlimited mooncakes at Mid-Autumn Festival fairs. What usually follows is a nervous laugh and a BRB excuse when vendors ask us to buy the products.

But don’t feel too guilty as that’s the whole point of samples – you try it and only buy it if you like it. And hey, it’s a life hack when you have the munchies.

Some people can toe the line of taking it too far, though, like doing a full face of makeup from testers which is honestly kinda gross. Others can be quite ingenious, using perfume testers for an evening pick-me-up or before a date. Well, you do you.

11. Leaving the office on time

Things in Singapore that feel illegal - leaving work on time

Sweat trickles down your eyebrows as you watch the seconds of the office clock count down in slow motion. If you get up, does this mean you’ll lose your promotion? Lose respect of your peers?

Singapore has always been known for its grinding, hyperactive workplace, leading to unhealthy practices and work burnout. The first sign of these is feeling super paiseh when it’s time to clock out.

Even without a boss breathing down our necks, or colleagues giving us the side-eye, it’s almost ingrained to automatically OT. It’s not like you’d be getting great overtime remuneration if any at all, depending on how stringent the policy is. So, just clock out and don’t look back … until you have to clock in the next day.

Don’t be a social rule breaker even if these things aren’t illegal

Some of these things have a good reason to feel illegal, while others really need us to reflect on ourselves and what our society has come to. There are far more pressing things to be upset about than someone drinking bubble tea on the bus. So, live and let live.

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