SINGAPORE (AP) - The annual campaign to make Singapore's 3 million people more polite
ended Saturday and was immediately followed by another drive to get them to be punctual.
An estimated 200,000 people invited to wedding banquets, national day celebrations
and festivities involving the year's seventh full moon will be urged to be on time.
Tardiness is not yet a criminal offense in this island republic and the national
punctuality working committee can only prod for timeliness.
"Being on time means being considerate," said committee chairman Toh Weng
The campaign Mascot is a cartoon rooster grinning at his wristwatch and giving a
Previous drives made little headway in changing a deeply ingrained habit that seems
oddly out of place in this otherwise hyper-efficient city-state.
Business and industry are not unduly troubled by latecomers. School classes and sports
events keep to the clock. Traffic jams are not tolerated. The subway runs on time
and most flights departs from Changi International Air Port on schedule.
Tardiness at banquets is usually attributed to Chinese tradition, a belief that older
and more important guests were expected to make an entrance after the others.
Arriving late is a snobbery sustained even by the humble, who may be forgiven for
assuming that others will be late, so there is little point in being on time, lamented
the Chinese language newspaper Sin Chew Jit Poh in 1977, after it mounted an ineffectual
campaign to eliminate such behavior.
The habit was reinforced over the years, even among non-Chinese, as people became
secure in the knowledge that he meal would have to be served after most of the guests
A booklet on local etiquette, subtitled "what not to do in Singapore and how
not to do it," sponsored by the American school warned:
"If invited to a wedding dinner, it is not considered polite to arrive on time
as this may be taken as a sign of greed. It is best to arrive about 20 to 30 minutes
President Wee Kim Wee kicked off the campaign which includes a punctuality jingle,
prizes for those who arrive early at some functions and reminders on invitation cards.
Meantime, officials will assess the results of the 15th annual courtesy campaign,
a 500,000 Singapore dollar (U.S. $300,000) drive to persuade Singaporeans to mind
Earlier courtesy campaigns used posters, films, ads in newspapers and magazines to
portray behavior. The publicity this year stressed discourtesy as examples to be
Surveys have shown that setting aside July as courtesy month has made some progress.
"There are signs that we are slightly more courteous now," said Foreign
Minister Wong Kan Seng, but he acknowledged that much remains to be done.
Few places use elaborate public campaigns as relentlessly to change behavior and
raise civic consciousness. They have been a way of life in Singapore for more than
Some, like the courtesy drive, are hardy perennials, dealing with basic habits and
culture. October was first declared "speak Mandarin month" in 1978, an
effort to wipe out regional Chinese dialects in favor of the official tongue.
Others have a shorter shelf life or focus on problems of the day. The police launched
a drive in 1989 to halt abuse of emergency phone number 999 because one call in five
was of the nuisance or non-emergency variety. The save-water drive is revived whenever
Some campaigns fizzle. The mostly Chinese population ignored the call to "eat
more wheat" in 1967 when there was an impending rice shortage.
Others were so successful that they have been reversed. family planners urged parents
to "stop at two" in 1978. Birth rates dropped from 3.5 percent in 1960
to 1.2 percent in 1980, and the government now encourages families who can afford
it to "have three or more."
By the early 1980s, the proliferation of government and private sector campaigns
inspired one jaded newspaper columnist to suggest a "take your campaigns seriously