I’ve travelled a fair bit and there was one incident in South Korea that I’ll never forget. I was at McDonalds and like any Singaporean, I stood up and prepared to leave after wolfing down my food. Next thing I knew, all eyes turned to stare at me. I did a double take: “Why, what did I do?!?!”

Then I realized that most of the diners clear their trays and clean up after themselves after eating. (By the way, plastic cups were used instead of disposable paper ones, for CSR reasons I suppose)

Back in Singapore, messy tables are such a common sight here that we sometimes forget how dirty and uncivilized it must look to a pair of foreign eyes; how many times have I had to scramble for an answer when my visiting friends ask me “are you telling me it’s too hard for you to get up and put your dirty dishes away once you’re done eating???”.

Not only is it unsightly, it attracts pests of all shapes and sizes and puts extra strain on the work of cleaners whose job is to keep the eating areas clean, not to be everyone’s maid (come to think of it, maids shouldn’t have to do this either!).

And before you go calling me a snob or an environmental freak, just know that there are lots of companies like the HourMaid cleaning service that are working hard to change this. Have a look at “Keeping Singapore Beautiful”.

In fact there are quite a number of initiatives being tested out to curb this post-dining habit: from fining ungracious diners to encouraging them to change, there are a few concerned citizens out there looking for ways to get Singapore to be a real “clean city”.

Because let’s be honest here: Singapore is more a “cleaned city” (where a battalion of cleaners picks up after everyone) than a “clean city” (where people make a conscious effort to not make things dirty).

Don’t get me wrong, my intention is not to berate us, but to show how picking up trays could further courtesy, cleanliness, and efficiency in eating places.

Think about it: how many times have you walked around the hawker centre with your tray full of delicious food but haven’t managed to sit down to eat because the tables are filled with litter? It’s not that the cleaner isn’t doing his or her job quickly or efficiently, it’s that it’s humanly impossible to clear so many trays in so little time!

That’s why if we all get rid of the “it’s someone else’s job/problem” mentality and pick up after ourselves we’ll not only be able to enjoy our meals better, we’ll also make cleaners’ lives much easier.

So how about it, let’s clean up after ourselves next time, yes?

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