Chope! Sorry, seat taken…
If this is your first time visiting a local coffee shop or hawker centre in Singapore, you might be scratching your head when you see empty tables everywhere but yet none of your Singaporean colleagues or friends could find a table for lunch.
Well, if you look closely enough, the tables may not exactly be empty.
Take the above table for an example. You may see just a lady occupying a table, and there are seven seats available right? Wrong! Do you see that there are something placed on five of the stools? These seats are “choped”!
Nope, there isn’t any spelling mistake. “Chope” is a Singlish verb, which loosely means “reserve”. And by adding a “d” at the end of the word, we instantly turned it into past tense!
“I’ll chope the seats here; you go buy your lunch first.”
So, what are the items usually used for “choping” spaces? They can range from as small as a packet of tissue paper, to as prominent as a full-sized umbrella.
Basically, you can use anything to “chope” a seat. As long as they are not valuable (else you risk theft), not too insignificant (else you risk it being thrown away), and not too big (else you’ll inconvenience the other users).
People do not use their mobile phones, wallets, watches, jewelries, etc. to “chope” the seats; these are just too valuable! While a pocket-sized packet of tissue paper is commonly used for “choping”, a piece of tissue paper won’t do – it’ll be deemed as trash and thrown away by the cleaning uncles and aunties. And of course, ten big cartons of tissue papers is a no no as well. (OK, I’m exaggerating…)
Other than tissue paper, usable items could include umbrellas (whether full-sized or compact is fine), name cards, water bottles (but not mineral water bottles), hand creams, lip balm or even a friend who is seated among the “choped” space. This is not an exhaustive list, ‘cos if you change the location to a free-seating concert hall or a camping area, for example, you can be creative with what you can use.
In most cases, a friend is indeed the best for “choping” space; he/she can help fend off potential threats to your space by saying “sorry, this is choped,” and “sorry, that too.”
Back to the coffee shops and hawker centres, the next question would be: where do you place the items for the “chope”? You see in both pictures that the items are placed on the seats, however some people do put them on the tables too.
You will have to be more selective about the items if place them on the table. Let’s say you saw a group of people leaving a table and you rush to grab it before anyone else does, but the used bowls and plates are still there (one of the few bad habits of Singaporeans is not cleaning up after themselves). At this time, should you place a packet of tissue or a name card on the table to “chope” the space, the cleaning uncles or aunties may just clear the table for you while you are away, including the items meant to “chope” the space, thinking they are merely trash. Then, another group of people may just take your seats, as they don’t see it as “choped” anymore. So, it’s still best to place them on the seats in this case.
It’s always reassuring to have a friend who can guide you through the places and local cultures (so you don’t “gatecrash” into “choped” tables unknowingly).