October 26, 2008

#44 Mobile Malaise

This post ties heavily into #25 but it's crucial that you understand how cell phone etiquette (or lack of it) is an important part of Malaysian culture.

The presence of cellphones has permeated Malaysian people's sense of being to the point that it is virtually an ancillary appendage. Regardless of age or gender, Malaysian people remain inseparable and dangerously dependent on what has evolved from a communication device into an expression of character.

The value of this character however, is a matter of taste. If you're fond of having your conversations interrupted by an intrusive but upbeat ringtone that inspires a sudden case of Tourette's, you might find such nuances appealing. Or if you're eager to drive with a heightened sense of caution because the driver of the car in front of you is prone to gesticulating wildly while conversing or texting with their one free hand, then yes, you will find such behaviour entirely charming.

When possessed by the cellphone's intoxicating influence, Malaysian people also seem to speak louder, be more inquisitive and express a plethora of emotions. Be prepared to hear the phrase "Where are you?" or "What are you doing?"as soon as you answer a call from your Malaysian friend. They don't mean to pry, it's just second nature to them. In any case, your standard response should be either "Busy lah" or "Nothing lah", followed by a succinct but cordial "What you want?".

This mobile misappropriation is endemic and can be easily observed at anyplace and anytime. Some Malaysians develop pathological dependencies on their mobile phones but so far any displays of violence have been contained except for the occasional emotional abuse that telco customer service officers suffer.

So if you're in a club or at a hawker stall or in the cinema, all you need to do to blend in is check your cellphone incessantly and occasionally field a phone call only to tell the caller how busy you are. They will understand, because they're doing the same thing.

Thanks to Alicia Goh for the entry suggestion.