How Much?

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On my first day at new office in Singapore, during the lunch with my new team, the first question was “How much are you making?” Continued to more similar questions… What package are you on? Company pays for your housing? How much? What did you get for your relocation? Airfare? Hotel? Moving? And on and on. I was stunned.

Among expats, this surprising experience is “welcome” ritual to Singapore. The interpretations of these questions vary from person to person. It was nothing but rude to me. Then I asked other expats friends. In their response, it is part of benchmarking. If local colleagues find out that their expats or non-local colleagues are earning more, they go straight to HR very next day.

Really? That is the only reason? Later I learned that they often ask “How Much” on pretty much everything. For example, your new possessions such as new shoes, dresses, purses, etc., before complimenting how your new dress suits you, how much was it?

Another similar incident when I moved into a new apartment and invited my friends, local and international, a local friend goes immediately how much my rent is. I answered within my budget. She seemed to let go yet 30 min later, again. So I asked why she is persistent asking and told her that she is making me uncomfortable. Yes, I did. She used to live in the U.K., she should know British don’t ask this question. According to her, it is practical to know “how much”. Why? Are you currently looking for an apartment? I don’t think so!

Once I told a local colleague of mine who used to live in the U.S. for 20 years that I am shifting to new apartment, of course, how much? The bottom line is this question, right? I’ll say it’s in a Singaporean gene! Oh, it is not event “May I ask how much it costs?”

Recently, I ran into internationally exposed Singaporean who runs a green business, one-of- a-kind in this tiny island. In his opinion, this question is emerged from Singaporean’s insecurity.

Singaporeans ask this question a lot. A lot! So, how do you respond to this sort of questions? Obviously you do not want to give out your number. The followings are my advice.

  • On local package
  • Affordable
  • Cheaper than expected (Yes, they like the term “cheap”)

Still…if they will come back to you with the figure like is it over $1,000?

I think the average is $500. I saw the cheapest was around $2,000 in the building. And so on. After all, whether benchmarking, a practical reason, or their insecurity, they love the number. Just throw some number to end this nonsensical interaction.

Thanks for stopping by.


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