UNLIKE English-speaking Singaporeans, those who speak Mandarin do not fret about the language that immigrants speak or do not speak. They are more worried about the difference in culture.
But both groups have the same concerns about the competition posed by immigrants in schools and the job market.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted this at the Nanyang Technological University forum when he was asked to compare the attitudes of these two groups of Singaporeans. His response in four simple words: 'Same same, but different.'
Explaining, he said: 'Same same, in the sense that whether you are English- or Chinese-educated, you will be concerned about competition, concerned about change in the society, environment, concerned about jobs, what's going to happen when your children get into the workforce.
'But different in the sense that if you read the English papers, you find a lot of letters from people raising this question about not being able to be served in English. If you look at the Chinese newspapers, you will not find a similar attitude.'
But while Mandarin-speaking Singaporeans did not fret about language, he said there was some discomfort when it came to culture: 'Singapore Chinese are sensitive when they meet Chinese Chinese. The accent is different, the way they speak and socialise is different.'
Mr Lee noted however that he did not want to give the impression that there were nothing but difficulties in relations between Singaporeans and foreigners.
Stressing that there were bright spots too, he used the Singapore Indian Development Association's Project Read as a case in point.
The 11-year-old project was set up to promote reading among children from low-income families. Each week, volunteers would spend time with these children and read to them. Mr Lee noted that of the 140 volunteers, 20 per cent were non-citizens. 'They have come to Singapore and they have decided they are going to be engaged,' he said.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.