The Malaysian Stereotypes
I have just came back from an 11 days vacation in Malaysia, I went there with my sister and brother, It has been also helpful that throughout the past 5 years, I’ve had few Malaysian acquaintances, friends and colleagues in Dubai who helped me paint a more complete picture of the Malaysian scene.
So here i am, ready to write about my Malaysian experience and ready to discuss the Malaysian stereotypes from the perspective of a non Malaysian.
Before we start
There are few points that I will be referring to during this blogpost, so this section will section will help deliver the context of the observations I will be presenting through this stereotypes post:
The first 4 days of our vacation were hell on earth. On the very first day of our trip, we went to Suria KLCC, we quickly walked through the mall, passed by the Symphony lake, explored the KLCC park, then decided to go to Aquaria KLCC. The aquarium was not bad, just not something I would travel half way through earth to see, we took few photos, bought some souvenirs and then we sat in the food court to have a quick lunch.
We got up to leave and then I immediately realized that we were screwed as i heard my sister’s worried voice…
“oooh shit, where is my bag?”
It was our first day, we didn’t have the chance to drop our stuff in the hotel’s safe. My sister had 300 USD, around 600 Malaysian Ringets, her credit card, her debit card, her sim card and worse of all, her passport. It sucks to lose your money and credit cards, but it is an absolute disaster to lose your passport especially while you are in a foreign country.
I will get back to the details later, but long story short; that day and the next 3 days, we had to go to two police stations, the Lebanese Embassy (twice) and to the immigration in Putrijaya so that we can get my sister’s temporary travel document ready.
Why is this relevant to the Malaysian Stereotypes you may ask? The incident doesn’t reflect badly on Malaysia or Malaysians, tourists are always susceptible to preying eyes and there is no place on earth that could guarantee the safety of its own people, let alone the safety of its tourists as well. We don’t even know if the thief is Malaysian or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how the incident was handled by the mall’s security and the police. The only upside to the whole experience that I can think of is that it has given me a deeper exposure with people, law enforcement officers and government employees that I wouldn’t have had to deal with had the passport not been stolen.
Back to our topic, the Malaysian Stereotypes. The remaining section is the melting point of:
- My personal observations
- Malaysian stereotypes written (Blogs) or filmed by Malaysians ( Youtube), I will include it all throughout this post
- Historical background especially in regards to ethnic origins, languages, religious affiliations and government neutrality or should I say (racial discrimination)
Malay vs Malaysian
Oh one more thing, if you are not a Malaysian, you have to read this mini section so you won’t get confused. I will not get too technical, but Malaysians fall into 3 main ethnic groups ( a lot more if you consider small minorities). These are Bumiputera (the Malay Race), Chinese Malaysians, and Indian Malaysians. So if I say during the next sections Malay, I mean Malaysians from the Malay race, so this excludes Malaysians from Chinese or Indian origin. If I say Malaysian, it means any Malaysian citizen from any ethnic group.
In the video below, a lovely Chinese Malaysian girl discusses Malaysian stereotypes and touches on the Malay vs Malaysian confusion as well. Her Channel’s name is ManStirKnee.
The three main ethnic groups have many things in common. All speak Malay, live in the same country, share the same passport and probably have, during nearly a century of coexistence, developed similar habits and behaviors. On the other hand, all three races look different, still speak their mother tongue language, carry on their different traditions, practice their own religion and finally, thanks to the Malaysian government have different rights and privileges. That is why most Malaysian stereotypes are of racial nature.
So now that the boring introductions are out of the way, lets get started:
Muslim or Malay Women’s appearance
Malay people have darker skin than the average South East Asian and have an average built compared to their Asian peers. It is interesting that Malays look so different that their northern (Thai) or southern (Singapore) neighbors. This is the kind of evolutionary and ethnic topics that intrigue me, how did we as humans evolve to look the way look?
Aside from the well known hijab or head scarf or tudung, what do Malay girls wear?
Very colorful and not so fashionable clothes. Here is what i mean:
On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being very liberal (topless girl on the beach in France) and 10 being extremely conservative (clothes forced upon Saudi women, black from head to toe), what do Muslim Malaysian women wear?
The girls in the photo above would probably be considered very conservatively dressed about an 8 over 10.
I would say that the average Muslim Malaysian girl’s clothes are around a 5 or 6. What would a 5 look like? Well that is a tight jeans, tight shirt, with a tudung or a headscarf. That’s basically half way between complete conservative madness and complete freedom. The scarf covers the head and hair (as per Muslim sharia laws) yet shows the beauty of the girl’s body without revealing any skin. A strict Muslim would usually wear an abaya or a long dress to cover the curves of a girl’s body like the girls in the photo above.
Non Muslim Malaysian Women Appearance
Needless to say, Chinese Malaysians look Chinese (though China is huge and that could vary greatly) and Indian Malaysians look Indian; so lets move on to the fashion and clothing.
User: Fadzly Mubin
Fashion keeps changing, season by season, year by year. So this merely represents my observations during my last visit, so please feel free to correct me, i wouldn’t be surprised if I’m far off from the truth on this point, especially if you are reading this lets say 2 years after i publish this article.
Skirts are very popular in Malaysia. Usually short, not too short, just the perfect balance between elegant and sexy. I think i have seen the cutest skirts in Malaysia. Aside from wearing a Jeans, especially for girls wearing tudung, I think dresses / skirts were the most popular among the more liberal population. Shirts are usually half sleeve; I saw very few sleeveless shirts and most of those are covered by a jacket ( probably because of extremely cold Air Conditions or simply fashionable reasons?)
Then there is the “always wearing slippers stereotypes” which was mentioned in ManStirKnee’s video. I must say that I haven’t noticed anything unusual in regards to women’s footwear. Did I miss that?
If I were to judge Malaysian men by the behavior of the taxi drivers… I would have nothing good to say about them, luckily, i won’t do that :).
Just like many Muslim majority countries, Malaysia struck me as a male dominant society. As to Malay men in particular, It is not uncommon to see men or even young boys wearing the kind of hat religious Mulsim men wear.
Here are few stereotypes about Malaysian men that I found on the web but have no personal experience in validating its correctness:
- very religious (possibly true for Malays)
- Indian Malaysian men act like thugs and modify the engine of their car to make it noisy ( I doubt it, seems uncharacteristic with the Indian Population in general)
- Indian Men drink a lot ( also I doubt it, I find it uncharacteristic of their behavior)
- Guys on motorcycles wear jackets in the opposite direction (true I guess)
- Chinese Malaysians like to gamble (discussed later)
Here is a Malaysian stereotype video mentioning the drunk Indian stereotype. Is it true?
There is no way on earth I could experience this within my 11 days stay in Malaysia (as I had no dates with anyone), but here is what Malaysians say about each of the races:
Malays are always late, Chinese are 5 minutes early and Indians wouldn’t even show up. Naturally, Malays and Indian Malaysians argue that Chinese Malaysians are not punctual as well and that the “on my way” syndrome is spread nation wide. What do you think?
Almost all videos and links I have posted here touch on this topic, so this must be the most common stereotype about Malaysians.
So this is quite common, ManStirKnee’s video touched on that as well. Some Malaysians go further to blame traffic Jams and accidents on Indian Malaysians. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is true (as Indian Expatriate drivers in Dubai “drive” me crazy), however, I think this stereotype is applicable to all Malaysians.
In my experience in Malaysia, almost every taxi I took crossed at least one red signal, so I would say that this stereotypes is true.
Live on Trees
Obviously not true. Even the “Orang Asli” or aboriginal tribes, who are minorities, live in the forests but not on Trees.
Chinese Malaysian Gamblers
In my experience, I have noticed that many Asian cultures, in general, have addictions to many forms of gambling, such as Casinos, Cock Fighting… etc… While in Genting Highlands, a beautiful resort that is 1700 meters above sea level and is famous for its Casinos, I couldn’t help but notice that more than 90% of those in the Casinos were:
1- Older than 50 years old
2- Were not from Malay or Indian origins. That means that the great majority were either tourists or Chinese Malaysians.
We gambled a total of 10 Malaysian Ringets (2.25 USD), we obviously lost it all in the only game we understand, the slot machine :D.
Next day while discussing our experience with our new Malay friend in the tour desk of our hotel, she was shocked that we were allowed into the Casinos. She said, assuming that were Muslims, the security there checks every ID of every visitor. If you are a Muslim, you wouldn’t even be allowed in.
So wait a minute, here we are, one of the forms of discrimination of the Malaysian government. If you not a Muslim or you are not a Bumiputera, please go ahead and spend all your money in our casinos.
On another note, this means that those from Indian descent would be permitted to use the Casinos (most are non Muslims), but still wouldn’t. That just shows that those from Indian descent are more purposeful, assertive and smart about how they spend their money unlike those from Chinese descent.
So this is where this stereotypes come from and I won’t blame the government for this one, I blame the people.
Chinese Malaysian Business Men
It is a well known stereotype in Malaysia that Chinese Malaysian are very successful in their businesses. Malays, as shown in the video below, attribute such a success on the Biritish Colonial influence which conditioned each of the ethnic groups into a certain profession.
I personally believe that attributing the Chinese or Indian descendants success to Colonial conditioning as utter bullshit. Maybe the Chinese and Indians are just smarter and more hard working than their Malay peers?
Malays are controlling government jobs
This is more of a fact than a stereotype. I’m not a historian nor an expert in Malaysian affairs, so let me sum up this Wikipedia article for you in my own words. Since 1970, The Malay race or the Bumiputera have been granted extra privileges and rights over their fellow citizens from non Bumiputera group. Such privileges make Chinese Malaysians, Indian Malaysians and all other minorities equivalent second grade citizens in their own country (even after 3 or more generations). These rules were introduced to defuse inter-ethnic tensions following the extended violence against Chinese Malaysians in the 13 May Incident in 1969. Such privileges include but are not limited to:
- Educational privileges such as: admission to government educational institutions, qualification for public scholarships, marking of universities exam papers, special bumiputras-only classes prior to university’s end of term exams, for positions in government, and ownership of businesses
- Companies listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange must have 30% bumiputra ownership of equity to satisfy listing requirements.
- Housing developers are required to provide a minimum 7% discount to bumiputra buyers of these lots.
- A basket of government-run (and profit-guaranteed) mutual funds are available for purchase by bumiputra buyers only.
- Projects were earmarked for bumiputra contractors to enable them to gain expertise in various fields.
- Approved Permits (APs) for automobiles preferentially allow bumiputra to import vehicles. Automotive companies wishing to bring in cars need to have an AP to do so.
I personally noticed that almost all those working in immigration, in the airport and in law enforcement were Malay.
The Lazy Malay
Its all over the web and its a very common stereotype. Let me just remind you, we are not talking about Malaysia as a whole, we are talking about the Malay race.
It is one of the funny jokes that runs in Malaysia. Example, on this Reddit thread, one guy said… If you are standing in one counter and its going slow compared to the other two counters… you would say something along the lines “this guy must be a Malay”
Is it true? I think it is. To know why I think so, please read the section about the Malaysian Sherlock Holmes.
The Savvy Indian Malaysians
The Malaysian stereotypes video above touches on this topic. It presents Indian Malaysian favorably in their dedication, hard work and their ability to achieve excellence in their respective professions.
Malaysian Islamic Influence
Malaysia stands at the intersection of multiple cultures and religions. However, with around 60% of the Malaysian population practicing Islam, the identity of Malaysia is unambiguous.
I think we have the Arab traders to blame for this, they are the ones who brought Islam to the region. Hold on a second, did I just say “blame”? Let me explain my self. I am Lebanese, over 50% of the Lebanese population are Muslims. I’ve been exposed the to the tolerant, moderate and friendly Islam and on the other hand, I have seen the fruits of extremist religious groups and ideologies. Muslims are my friends, my classmates and my fellow country citizens; they are wonderful individuals, but their tolerance towards extremists is scary.
As I was walking through the cities and rural areas of Malaysia, I couldn’t help but think; this is not what I expected form a South East Asian country. Malaysia has lost its identity to a foreign religion. It has lost much of its freedom to Islam. If you observe carefully, you will notice that Malaysia now has an identity crisis. It is trying to maintain its Islamic tradition while catering for its tourists. For more about this, read the next section.
Malaysia received around 24 million visitors in 2014, making it the 11th most visited country in the world. I was talking to a colleague of mine, he is Muslim. He said “I loved eating in Malaysia, i didn’t have to worry about what is Halal and what is not. I didn’t have to worry about being mistakenly fed some pork without my knowledge.” Here are few of the reasons why Malaysia has been successful in attracting millions of visitors every year:
1- Muslims love the fact that they can go there and be who they are: wear whatever they want ( Muslim complaint clothes) without being judged and eat what they want without worrying about non-halal food.
2- Malaysia is trying hard to please everyone. This is not only visible in the actions of the Malaysian government but also in private institutions. It almost seems like they are trying too hard. Example: as you walk in the malls or hotels in Malaysia in late November, you can’t help but notice Christmas trees and Christmas themed songs or even dances almost all day long.
3- Most Malaysians speak English, this is extremely helpful for tourists. In fact most Malaysian speak at least 2 languages. If you look at the signs at the airport, don’t be surprised to read Malaysia, English, Chinese and Arabic.
4- Malaysia could be expensive if compared to Thailand or Vietnam or Philippines, but is pretty cheap compared to high income countries.
Identify the thief
So here we go, the thief had some help. His friend, holding the phone and pretending to be on a phone call, was probably giving him verbal instructions as to how safe it is grab the bag and go. Lets all agree, If the thief didn’t know how useless the Malaysian police is, he wouldn’t dare such an act with the presence of surveillance cameras.
The Malaysian Sherlock Holmes
You have probably watched 100s of detective movies and seen how law enforcement units start investigations from little or no evidence, using finger prints, witnesses, motives, camera footage, tracking phone call, transactions… etc… Well not in Malaysia.
Life is not a movie, true, so here is a real life example for you. If you have read some of my posts, then you would probably know I live in Dubai. In Dubai, If you drop your wallet or forget your phone in a restaurant, it is almost certain that someone would find it and do an effort in returning it to you. This has made most expatriates careless to the point of leaving their valuables on the beach, going for a swim to come back and find it untouched. Why is that? It is because of the efficiency of law enforcement in this country.
I am sure the Malaysian police has better things to do than to pursue a few 100 Ringgits, but its not about recovering the loss of a tourist, it is about catching the bad guys so that the bad guys won’t strike again. It is about the perceived image of the police and law enforcement, because once that image deteriorates, things will spiral out of control into organized crime, drugs, theft, murders, rape and worse.
My dear Malaysian readers, I am going to tell you about the careless, lazy and shameful behavior of your police enforcement units.
After waiting for hours until we received the police report, which we desperately needed for the issuance of a temporary travel document, we were advised to go and meet Mr. Malaysian Sherlock Holmes who was going to catch the bad guy. Me and my brother were advised to wait in the lobby as Mr. Sherlock Holmes took all the details from my sister. In his office, were two other ladies, both Malay and wearing a head scarf. Mr. Sherlock Holmes wanted to get to work as soon as possible, so he suggested that he takes my sister to the mall, to get more details from her and from the mall’s security staff. He offered to drop my sister back to the hotel once the “investigation” is done. Awesome! impressive! it was already 7 PM and Mr. Sherlock Holmes was going to work hard at night.
However, as soon as my sister mentioned that she wanted either me or my brother to come along, Mr. Sherlock Holmes decided that its better if we go ahead to our hotel and then he would contact us in the future once he concludes the investigation. We obviously got no call the next day, nor the next 10 days we stayed in Malaysia. So as the story turns out to be, Mr. Sherlock Holmes was just trying to hit on my sister and as soon as we came into the picture, he knew he was getting nothing out of her and decided to bailout.
Yes, Malay are lazy, the law enforcement in Malaysia is a joke, and even by having security footage inside and outside the mall, no efforts were done to catch the thief. If you are a detective, what more could you ask for? You have got the thief on camera along with his friend, if you follow through you might even have him riding a taxi or even better driving his own car or motorcycle. You can easily drag him from his neck to the prison where he belongs.
According to ManStirKnee’s video, Malaysians love eating and usually have up to 6 meals ( breakfast, brunch, lunch, teatime, dinner, supper).
As a tourist, I found a huge variety of food and cuisines and mostly found that food was pretty cheap and tasty.
Concluding the Malaysian Stereotypes
Alright, so that was too serious (probably boring? Sorry!)… You might have come here for a quick laugh and that is why i’m going to end this post with these two funny videos to lighten up the mood.
Do Malaysians actually communicate without using “real” words? Is it true? Do they love Durian that much?
The next video is the Malaysian Cinderella story. The message it gets through is that Malaysians are always late ( we already know that) and that Malaysian girls put a lot of Make up ( really? I have to disagree with this one). Nontheless, I think the video is funny, so that is why I posted it here.
Please leave a comment, I can’t promise to reply, but I do promise to read it and approve it (if it meets the standards of this blog). My observations might be accurate, or not even close to reality, that is why your comments are valuable, to set things right If it isn’t already. I hope I didn’t offend anyone, but in case I did, please get your ideas through in a civil and respectful manner, especially to other readers (I can handle some abuse, but I can’t allow offenses against those who read and post in this blog).
Oh well. quite interesting observations. But please consider one fact. Malaysia is a country with many different areas, cultures, habits, foods and so on and on. I know Malaysia since 40 years, and its also changing rapidly. Durian for example is eaten a lot in the southern parts of the peninsula. But on Borneo and in the north, I rarely found it. And people and livestile is very different. In some parts, especialy Northeast of the peninsula, you hardly see a woman in public, while in other parts, they dominate the streets and public areas. Especialy the way to dress. In some parts all covered up, and in other areas, like Penang, Malakka all in short pants and miniskirts.
That is very interesting. Thank you for your input and for sharing your experience and observations. I am guessing that the Northeast has a Malay majority and very few Chinese, please correct me if i am wrong.
I was looking at this demographic table on Wikipedia and as I expected Penang and Malacca have a higher than average Chinese presence. I honestly believe that, despite the racial discrimination history in Malaysia, the Chinese and Indian Malaysians are the beating heart of Malaysia.
Maybe I am a bit biased towards Chinese and Indians Malaysians because 1- I love freedom, 2- I don’t approve of the racial discrimination practiced against them in the last 5 decades. Moreover, if history can tell us anything, its that these groups had better standards of life for good reasons; they worked harder and eventually became the group possessing superior education and economic conditions and that is worthy of everyone’s respect.
Malaysia is split into the peninsular and East Malaysia…about the racial discrimination, it is somewhat true to a certain degree. Some peninsular Malaysians think that East Malaysians (the states of Malaysia in Borneo) live on trees and there is no electricity or water. In my experience, when I went to KL for a school competition (I am from Eat Malaysia), the people stared and treated us differently, in other words….they treated us like…idiots? We have a different dialect and it was very noticeable. Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia is separated by the sea.
Bumiputera does not only apply to Malays. Bumiputera also applies to the natives, for example, the native tribes. However, not all bumiputera gets privileges. I can say this for sure… Muslims and Malays are given priority when it comes to privileges as there are some bumiputera who are neither muslim or malay.
I also agree that those who had been discriminated have a better standard of life because they really do worked hard. Many have migrated because of the discrimination too. So, there are brain drains….it is a pity. Many talents contribute to other countries because of discrimination.
Discrimination exists in all countries, but maybe to a less degree in some countries.
I have been to Malaysia. I noticed that despite Muslims being 60 percent of the population according to statistics , Malaysia is multicultural. Malaysia has go Hinduisim from Indian immigrants as well.
I heard Chinese people speaking Chinese and I knew it from their accent.
Malaysia is part of south east Asia and I think it is part of IndoChina, being a mixture of both Indian and Chinese culture.
I COMPARE THIS to my country Lebanon , which is also multicultural. It has many different religions and has been influenced by both Middle Eastern and European culture being on a strategic location where many cultures meet and intersect…In Lebanon , you can see in almost everywhere , Middle eastern or Arabic food like knaffee, Turkish food like kabab and shawarma , European food like Greek salad ( where white Cheese is mixed with olives and vegetables ) and Italian Pizza and Lazania where it is cocked at houses . Food is one example of cultural influence but not all
such an interesting blog. So wanted to know much about this country before actualy experiencing things in malaysia. 😄 Thankyou so much for such detailed well explained and lively article. Loved every bit of the explanation. *thumbs up*