Had your makan? Alamak! Cannot la!

I was only a few days old in Singapore and someone asked me “Had your makan?” I was completely clueless about what she meant. I come from India and in Hindi ‘makan’ means ‘house’. Of course I knew that’s not what she meant. Well for all those out there who doesn’t understand Malay or haven’t lived in Singapore, ‘makan’ means ‘food’ in Malay and it’s a common word in Singapore.

So, folks, welcome to Singapore – the melting pot of multiple cultures.

Makan or packet??

Next time you are at the hawker center/ food court, the first thing the lady at the counter will ask you is ‘makan’ or ‘packet’? ‘Makan’ is also an accepted answer for ‘eating/ having here’ and ‘packet’ is ‘takeaway’, just in case you were wondering what it means.

Nevertheless, English competency here isn’t bad at all, although you are at the heart of South East Asia. On most occasions you won’t face much language barriers as people speak pretty decent English. But there are a few interesting nuances – mostly from my own observations.

The Singlish accent (Singaporean English accent – much like Hinglish in India) makes it a ted difficult to communicate with them – but not utterly impossible and sometimes will tickle your funny bone too.

Singaporeans do speak very fast and eat up their alphabets! So next time they tell you – ‘Come to Pakway Stree’ – what they might actually mean is ‘come to Parkway street’ (just a random example). As you can see, they tend to eat their ‘R’ and ‘T’ so ask them to repeat, if you don’t understand. They are quite friendly people.

In the la la land of can and cannot!

Singaporeans love to say ‘ la’. They add / can add ‘la’ as suffix to almost any word. Like ‘Confirm me la’, ‘so cute la’. It’s just a way to juice up their sentences says this website>>>

But the 2 words that take away the whole cake are – ‘Can’ and ‘Cannot’ – in my opinion the favorite words of Singaporeans. There is no ‘ok’ ‘yes’ or ‘no’, simply ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ – as direct and to the point as you can get! So when you ask them – Can you pick me up from office? The answer would be a definite ‘can’ or ‘cannot’!

Finished already!

What intrigues me is the use of ‘also’ and ‘already’ in almost all their sentences. For example, ‘this one also can’ or ‘that one also can’ when they are given two options to choose! Also, I often wonder why there is a sheer absence of verbs and prepositions in regular/ informal conversations – not always though. So when I heard someone saying ‘I go first’! I was dumbfounded! I had no idea what the lady meant. I said to myself… then who’s going second and who’s going third? Are we queuing up somewhere? Gradually, I figured out that they mean is – ‘you carry on, I’ll leave now’.

Last time is never the last time

Another word is ‘last time’ like ‘last time I was there’, ‘last time I worked there’. Last time could be anything – 10 years ago, 1 week back. Plus, it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘he/she was just there’. ‘Last time I was there at this office’ could actually mean when she was ‘working there’. So you get my point for one last time?

The other favorite words are Double confirm (it’s a mark of ultimate guarantee, especially when they are trying to convince you about something). Another word is ‘Correct’. They pronounce the ‘Co’ as used in ‘Corporate’! So if you say something right they will appreciate it by saying ‘correct’ that too with a tone that resembles a school teacher.

Singapore is a melting pot of Indian, Chinese, Malay cultures, so don’t be surprised if you find a Chinese lady saying in surprise ‘Aiyyo’ or an Indian saying ‘Alamak’ (meaning Oh No in Malay) .

And when you order tea / coffee at a coffee shop tell them whether you want Teh or Kopi – Teh ‘meaning’ tea and Kopi meaning coffee. Well there is another way Singaporeans use the word ‘meaning’ generally with a question mark at the end, especially if they do not understand what you are speaking. They will simple ask – Meaning?

There are many other nuances that I have come across in my interactions here, and I have actually started using some of the lingo ‘already’.

Meaning – It’s not that bad la. Aiyyo! I can also can!


About nilakshi

Needless to say, I am a writer. Here on my blog you will find from the most mundane to the most interesting facets of life. My writings are a reflection of my experiences of everyday life. I love to write travel blogs, and anything and everything that catches my eye. You are all invited to comment, criticize, debate, and discuss on the topics.
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5 Responses to Had your makan? Alamak! Cannot la!

  1. Very interesting….great observation!


  2. priyank says:

    Thanks Nilakshi for all the info ..its really very helpful and interesting to know…keep it up..


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