Opinions · Singapore

Why All Runners Should Know About These 10 Taboos in Singapore

by On Nov 2, 2016

We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

Why All Singaporean Runners Should Know About These 10 Taboos

Taboos are insidious. They creep up so stealthily, many people don’t realise that old superstitions govern the way they live, think and react. Are runners immune? Hardly. But thankfully, some runners are out to vanquish taboos — often in dramatic ways.

Consider Kiran Gandhi. She ran the London Marathon without wearing sanitary products to show the world that menstruation taboos must be eradicated.

Her radical demonstration made headlines and reminded the public that superstition belongs in the past.

That’s why all runners should know more about these 10 social taboos!

Taboo #1: Queue cutting.

To put it plainly, it's offensive to any Singaporean. This cultural taboo has roots in society’s propensity for order and rule-following — both traits runners must possess if they are to earn the respect of competitors.

People who cut queues are offensive for more reasons than just bad behaviour, so if you see an ill-mannered person cutting into the race pack pick-up queue or during food/drinks collection, subtly remind them to wait their turn.

Taboo #2: Spitting in public.

This isn’t just a cultural taboo but a distasteful sanitary offense that can be punishable by a fine of up to $1000 because spitting is no different than littering. Historically, this taboo’s roots are mired in the past when it was considered uncivilized and uncouth to exhibit disgusting behaviour within public spaces.

As a runner, you are morally obligated to set an example on the international running stage, so just because others do it, you don’t have to follow suit.

Why All Singaporean Runners Should Know About These 10 Taboos

Photo Credit: 123RF

Taboo #3: Speaking Loudly and Behaving Badly.

Ask Singapore runners what offends them most and people who speak loudly and behave badly in public tend to be their first responses. These social taboos are as offensive in intimate settings as they are in marathon crowds, where only the officials have permission to shout above the din to deliver instructions, maintain order and inform runners of route changes and last-minute directives.

Prohibitions against speaking loudly have roots in early cultural behaviours that were so serious, offenders could be shunned by the community. If your running buddies flaunt this taboo, do them a favour and speak up.

Taboo #4: Talking Bad About Your Nation.

Would saying terrible things about Singapore in public put you in a bad light? You know the answer. Being critical of one’s country is egregious behaviour in any society, but in Singapore, this taboo is particularly offensive since it makes the speaker appear ungrateful, ill-mannered and even unpatriotic.

Once upon a time, a Singaporean ignoring this taboo could get into serious trouble. These days, any runner can bring shame upon himself and his nation if he bashes his homeland, so if you overhear a team member do this, take him aside and remind him what’s at stake in the eyes of the world.

Why All Singaporean Runners Should Know About These 10 Taboos

Photo Credit: 123RF

Taboo #5: Being A Racist.

Racism in Singapore has deep roots despite the nation’s vast ethnic and religious mix. Racial tensions have been a constant for hundreds of years as this land was repeatedly conquered and subjected to influxes of migrants, thus old superstitions remain deeply ingrained in families and social circles.

Sadly, the taboo of maligning other races is too often ignored or dismissed. As a runner, it is not just your moral obligation but your duty to fight prejudice so our community of runners speaks out with the single voice of tolerance.

Taboo #6: Minding Other People's Business.

Given Singapore’s social climate, you have probably observed the taboo of never inserting yourself into other people’s business in a nation that prizes keeping one’s opinion to oneself. But as a runner, aren’t you obligated to stand up for others who are treated badly?

This taboo's roots go back generations, so if you're timid about speaking up because this behaviour is second nature, finding out where this taboo originates could free you. Enlightened runners know that there is a time and a place to express opinions, particularly if those opinions defend those who aren't able to speak for themselves.

Why All Singaporean Runners Should Know About These 10 Taboos

Photo Credit: 123RF

Taboo #7: Cleaning Public Toilet.

In the heat of a marathon, it can be difficult to remember taboos that one wouldn’t think twice about elsewhere. Case in point: public washrooms at race venues should be treated no differently than those on public streets. How is it that otherwise law-abiding citizens use loos during the race and don’t bother to flush them?

This selfish act shows a complete disregard for runners who will use the facility next. As a runner, you can help eradicate what's becoming an accepted practice by reminding others that sanitary standards mandated throughout Singapore apply to sporting venues as well.

Taboo #8: Showing Your Feet.

The taboo against showing one’s feet goes back too many centuries to count. For runners who have been brought up to believe the superstition that portends bad luck if one so much as points to feet, or shows the soles of ones feet, it’s time to leave the past behind, especially when you're running. But this isn’t just about luck.

As a runner, you owe it to your compatriots, competitors and yourself to keep your feet covered for health and safety reasons, not to flaunt taboos. Cuts, bruises, abrasions and chafing can short-circuit a run, at which point, runners will be showing off their feet—to medics!

Why All Singaporean Runners Should Know About These 10 Taboos

Photo Credit: 123RF

Taboo #9: Revealing Your Skin

In the past, modesty rules were so entrenched, there was a time a woman showing too much skin could be put to death. Those days may be gone, but using discretion when choosing running garments are not. Morality laws are restrictive for religious and decency reasons, particularly since Singapore’s Muslim population is sensitive to immodest dress in public.

If a runner wants to set a fashion trend in Singapore, there are ways to do that without setting off a firestorm of disapproval and ridicule, not to mention the fines of up to $2000 and three months in jail associated with this taboo.

Taboo #10: Eating on Public Transport

Runners who take public transport to and from race venues frequently know that it’s taboo to eat and drink when using Singapore mass transit systems, but runners who only use public conveyances on occasion may not know that snacking while riding these vehicles could land them in trouble.

Singapore’s MRT declared all public transport no eating or drinking zones in 1987, levying $500 fines for offenses, so it's wise to respect this eating taboo for many reasons. Sure, you’re hungry after finishing your race, but since even gum chewing onboard public transport could get one in trouble, get off the bus if you must satisfy your appetite.

Are there taboos you wish to add to our list? We invite you to weigh in. Your taboos can be serious, funny, bizarre or unbelievable, and we promise to believe you if yours falls into that last category!

Nathaniel is a disciplined casual runner and a lover of bananas. As a columnist for RunSociety, he is always on the lookout for exciting and controversial topics that touch the heart of the running community in Singapore, often adding in his funny observations. He has embarked on a mission to start a world class running group in Asia.

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