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#trending: American expat in Singapore explains why she first found 'wait awhile' confusing and rude

SINGAPORE — When it comes to being told to "wait awhile", Singaporeans appear to have a deep understanding of what that means. So much so some of them have taken to "schooling" an American expatriate after she "got so offended by this phrase" when she first moved here.

An American expatriate in Singapore talked about why the phrase "wait awhile" initially offended her when someone said it to her here.
An American expatriate in Singapore talked about why the phrase "wait awhile" initially offended her when someone said it to her here.
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SINGAPORE — When it comes to being told to "wait awhile", Singaporeans appear to have a deep understanding of what that means. So much so some of them have taken to "schooling" an American expatriate after she "got so offended by this phrase" when she first moved here.

The American, who goes by the name of Alison, posted a TikTok video last Sunday (July 17), in which she says: "When I first moved to Singapore, there was a phrase that really confused me.

"I went to check in at the doctor's office and the receptionist said, 'Wait awhile'.

"And I was, like, rude."

She then goes on to explain, for the benefit of her countrymen: "Here (in Singapore), 'wait awhile' means 'wait a minute' or 'wait a few seconds'. So don't worry, they're not being rude."

Since Alison posted the video, it has received more than 279,400 views and more than 400 comments.

Some Singaporean viewers were confused by her discovery, asking: "How is that rude?"

Alison then replied in the comments section: "For me, it sounds like you'll be waiting a long time (when you say ‘awhile’).

“We just don't say it this way so it was confusing to me. But now I get it."

One TikTok user pointed out that "wait a minute" does not mean "a minute" either.

However, another user said: "It's not about definition, it's about how it's used. (The) same word will be used differently in different countries."

At the same time, many people were amused by the nearly opposite interpretation of the phrase, remarking that "wait awhile" is "quite polite".

They then offered their own examples of legitimately "rude" phrases used in Singapore:

  • "Be offended when it's 'wait long long'..."
  • "Rude is 'wait, hor', 'wait, lah', 'can wait or not'."

A top comment, which had more than 2,200 likes, stated that how the phrase is delivered makes a difference: "I think you missed the accent... it's usually, 'Wait awhile, ahhhh'."

Others agreed wholeheartedly: "Any sentence that ends with 'ahhhh' gets +100 points for politeness, okay."

People also discussed how "wait awhile" may be a direct translation of "deng yi xia" in Mandarin or "tenggu sekejap" in Malay.

Since her move to Singapore, Alison has been picking up on the sights and sounds here and sharing them with her followers on TikTok.

Last month, she put up a video of fumigation being carried out in her neighbourhood with the caption: "I had no idea this would be such a big part of my life when I moved to Singapore."

Fumigation is commonly carried out in residential areas in Singapore to prevent the breeding of the Aedes mosquitoes that spread dengue fever.

However, non-Singaporeans who saw her video had no idea what the "fog" could be. In the comments, their guesses ranged from "vaping" to "burger smoke".

Last Saturday, she also posted a video titled "10 reasons why Singapore is the best place to live", followed by another video detailing 10 reasons why it is the "worst".

"I had to balance out my last video," she quipped in the caption.

However, although the “worst” video hit 2.4 million views, the “best” one was viewed only about 187,000 times. Many TikTok users who did not see the “best” video went on to flood the “worst” video with negative comments.

After being discouraged at first by the online negativity, Alison later had her "faith in humanity restored" by a Singaporean couple picnicking at Marina Barrage who "let (Alison’s) kids crash their date and paint with them".

@alisoninasia

People in real life are amazing. As is Singapore ❤️

♬ Clair de Lune - Johann Debussy

The TikToker maintains: "People in real life are amazing. As is Singapore."

Undaunted, she has continued to regularly post videos about her life and experiences as a foreigner living here.

In a video posted on Monday, she again shared a moment of confusion she had when conversing with residents — this time over the word "giddy", which she says often means "happy or excited" in America, but "dizzy" in Singapore.

For Alison's followers, it appears that "it's fun to learn about how different words are perceived in different countries".

Related topics

trending TikTok language culture waiting time wait awhile polite

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