5 Things I’ve Learnt From Malaysian People While in Malaysia

This was our second visit to Malaysia, and it was a lot of fun returning to a place two years later to see if our impressions were different this time around.

Malaysian peopleIt became clear to me that many of my past experiences from the country had more to do with myself than anything else.

Last time I found it hard to decide whether I liked the country or not: sometimes I wanted to get away from it asap, other times I loved it.

This time I had a better idea about the place, but one thing that hadn’t changed, was that it’s still a country which I found hard to define.

There are so many culture mixes here that it’s hard putting a finger on what and how Malaysia is – but here are some things I’ve learned about the Malaysian people during our time here:

1. They openly show emotions

Malaysian peopleUnlike in Thailand, the Malaysian people didn’t seem hesitant to show negative emotions, and didn’t at all avoid confrontations.

When you questioned something you got a straight answer and an honest opinion from them, whether it was a taxi driver, restaurant waiter or street worker.

It was all very straight forward, which we really loved.

They weren’t afraid of asking for your opinion and thoughts, and actually wanted to hear what you had to say about their food, culture etc.

They were also very open to show positive emotions, and would crack a joke with you without thinking further into what they were doing.

2. They point with their knuckles and thumb.

This was something we had to get used to doing as well. Nobody points with their index finger in Malaysia, it’s considered really rude, but thumbs and knuckles are pointed everywhere.

3. They are talkative

So many words, so little time – the hawkers are experts at counting up everything they offer while you pass by.

But it’s not just the people trying to sell you something who talk a lot, the Malaysian people seem to simply like conversating with people in general.

While in many other countries salesmen only talk to you until you have bought (or denied) something, here they continued talking about other things even once they understood that you wouldn’t buy it.

Taxi drivers more than happily shared their thoughts about the city, government and people, shop keepers made jokes, and people on the street started conversations.

4. They stare

The Malaysian people are not afraid of coming on too strong and stare freely, even when they know that you know that they’re looking… They’re not being rude, just curious. The stares are not judging, so after you get used to it, it’s not very awkward anymore.

5. They’re multi cultural and have no private space

Chinese eat Indian curries, Indians eat Arab food and Arabs eat Nyonya food.

In many countries the people separate themselves and only hang out with their own “peers”, while here they seemed to hang out with anyone no matter religion or origin.

Another thing I noticed was how they didn’t mind sitting down at a strangers’ table in a restaurant and eat – talking or not talking to the one sitting in front of you, it was not a big deal.

This is something which is very different from my own culture, where it would take a lot for two strangers to share a table at a restaurant.

Have you been to Malaysia? What impressions of the Malaysian people did you get?

12 Responses to 5 Things I’ve Learnt From Malaysian People While in Malaysia

  1. amber May 5, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    i dislike my own country

    • Sofia - As We Travel May 10, 2011 at 4:50 am #

      Which country is that Amber? and why do you dislike it so much?

  2. David @ Malaysia Asia May 5, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    Interesting take on this topic. However, coming from a foreign traveler, it does have it’s different viewpoints. Firstly, we should have met so I could give you a different perspective of the people here. Secondly, as a Malaysian, I would share that there are the introverts, extroverts and also the fence-sitters but this depends which area you are in. A very subjective point of view but it’s all good for the sake of travel writing.

    • Sofia - As We Travel May 6, 2011 at 7:47 am #

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the topic.

      Of course I see the people there differently as a tourist than they see themselves, which I think makes it so interesting and fun to visit.

      These are the impressions we’ve had from spending about one and a half month all together in Malaysia, and of course people are different but this was our general experience of the country and its people.

      It’s a shame we didn’t meet so you could also share your ideas and show us other sides of the Malay people.

  3. Anthony May 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    The hardest thing about SEA countries is the constant staring all the time. Sometimes you feel like a movie star, but also you just want some privacy as well! We found it hard to get used the hand signal for “come over here” They face their palm down instead of up like we do in the west and move their fingers towards you. This gesture is generally the signal for go away for us. This was confusing in the beginning as we thought people kept on telling us to piss off, but they were being friendly and asking us to come closer because they were showing us something.

    • Sofia - As We Travel May 8, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

      Yeah, the hardest thing about the staring is when you want to stare at them (out of curiosity), and they stare back at you for the same reason 😉

      You’re right about the ‘come here’ gesture, it took some time for us to get used to that too.

  4. Chenklsdv May 7, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    What a funny impression and somehow feel a little bit strange for malaysian like me. Anyway multicultural society didn’t cause many conflicts in daily life, but actually underlying big crisis of the future development of this country!

    But I hope u like Malaysia. Especially u can get some good & reasonable e&e products, which u can bargaining in english!

    • Sofia - As We Travel May 8, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

      Thanks for highlighting the other side of the multicultural society.
      We loved Malaysia, would love to return a third time and head for the islands.

  5. huren spanje May 11, 2011 at 5:41 am #

    Sofia your blog seems to be interesting,as i found a different stuff here….Learning new things from a destination and sharing those here is the best thing you have done here….

  6. Ryan Johnson July 20, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    My name is Ryan. I went to Malaysia last year. It is a beautiful country. The people there are very friendly. I completely agree with  the staring point you have mentioned. 
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  7. Malaysia Travel Guide July 21, 2011 at 12:38 am #

    Hi, Sofia, glad to know that you like Malaysia and we welcome you again.  I am not too sure if staring is normal.  In fact, I consider it rude, unless it is follow quickly with a smile and nod.  Yes, you are very right about the eating Culture :)  The Chinese & Indian eats anything and everything!  The Malays, being Muslim only confine to Foods that is Halal.  Table sharing is a norm, specially in popular food joint, where there are so many people with so little table. haha

  8. Shahroll August 4, 2011 at 4:39 am #

    Hello Sofia!
    Welcome to Malaysia! And glad to inform you if you come again at Malaysia, will guide you the great place in Selangor, which is one state in Malaysia. Come again ok? =D