August 3, 2008

#26 Defying Ethnic Stereotypes

“I am not your typical Malaysian but a mixture of the American lifestyle, Chinese diligence, Italian romanticism, German efficiency, French sophistication and Japanese looks...I’m interesting to say the least!”.

The above statement (reader submitted profile description from a social networking site) is a cultural barometer of how Malaysian people view themselves. While Malaysia may predominantly consist of Malays, Chinese and Indians, it is apparent that Malaysia’s diverse heritage and influences are also inclusive of adopted foreign affectations.

A defining and crucial facet of a Malaysian person is his or her cultural and ethnic landscape. While one may be born of a particular ethnicity, they may not ascribe to its culture in entirety. In fact, it is most desirable to refute any traces of your ethnic heritage and integrate more exotic aspects into your character. Let us examine the following conversation:

Victor : I met this girl at KLCC last week. I think she’s quite special.
Frank : Really. What’s she like?
Victor : Well she’s of Chinese descent but she’s not your typical Chinese person. She dresses like one of those girls on The Hills. She doesn’t speak a word of Chinese, only English because she studied in the US and she doesn’t even have a Chinese name.
Frank : Ah I see, so where is she from then?
Victor : I thought that was clear. She's Malaysian.

While it may be confusing to foreigners how rejecting home-grown and inherited values can be cool, it is very clear cut to Malaysians. To assist those of you who are confused, here is a simple equation:

Malaysian person – Inherited ethnic influences + Arbitrary foreign elements = Heightened social status.

It is as simple as that!
Sometimes, the Not-Quite-Malaysian (NQM) will be rebuked by more patriotic citizens about their non-local stance. The transcript you are about to see is an example of how to deal with such criticism:

Neil : You’re hardly Indian. You don’t even speak your mother tongue!
Matthew : Oh quite the contrary, I am more in touch with my cultural heritage than most Indians. While I may not speak Tamil, I am familiar with India’s historical development, varying caste systems, the Indian Cultural Revolution and the Indian Diaspora dilemma. So you see, while I may not fit your rudimentary definition of “Indian”, I am more Indian than most!
Neil : You're quite right old chap. I'm terribly sorry. But tell me, why do you live in England then?
Matthew : Why the bloody hell not? It is my motherland after all.

After such examples, your clarity and identification of the NQM should have improved exponentially. However, if you are still having trouble identifying NQMs, please study the Seven Statutes of the Not-Quite-Malaysian:

1. Thou shalt not speak your mother tongue (if you do, feign ignorance)
2. Thou shalt reject all ethnic traditions and customs (only Christmas is allowed)
3. Thou shalt dress in foreign inspired attire (not necessarily fashionably)
4. Thou shalt spend time in foreign country (at least a year)
5. Thou shalt develop and maintain foreign accent (you are allowed to combine different elements)
6. Thou shalt only embrace foreign influences (music, art, movies, books)
7. Thou shalt claim you are “A citizen of the world”

Perhaps now you comprehend why Malaysians are so conflictedly rich in culture. This is why they follow British English rules, watch American TV programs and speak in Australian accents. It also explains why some ethnicities dress like they were transplanted from South Central, are avid fans of Japanese culture (future post) or only eat Western food. Besides the personal satisfaction that Malaysian people derive from such efforts, it is also to make you, the foreigner feel at home. So next time you see a Malaysian person doing a spastic impression of Justin Timberlake, you should feel honored that he is trying to make you feel comfortable in your strange surroundings.

Take the time to digest this information. For a true blue Malaysian, this can be overwhelming at first. But once you have realigned your perception and liberated yourself from domestic trappings, you too can be on your way to becoming a proud and worldly Not-Quite-Malaysian!


Wayne. said...

Pure win.

s kim said...

tell me are you ever optimistic? haha.
no seriously.

B.H. said...

Wayne- Who lost then?

Skim- I am positively pessimistic that I once was.


starwish said...

The Seven Commandments thingy was ingenious.

Rachelle said...

Wow, hilariously true entry! XD Hats off to you, good sir.

B.H. said...

Starwish & Rachelle- Thanks very much but I can feel my head expanding.


matthew said...

i donno wat to say?????????

Ashleigh said...

I'm a banana Chinese!!! AND I used to live in US too.. Sigh.. I've got a double whammy.

Grace said...

"5. Thou shalt develop and maintain foreign accent (you are allowed to combine different elements)"

This one I fail lah.. I can hardly fake any other accent successfully even if I wanted to. LOL.

But well said! :)

B.H. said...


Authenticity of the accent is not important. The fact that you have one will suffice. After all, Malaysians are fond of piracy.


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