We’ve been living in Kuala Lumpur for almost half a year now. Well, Jeroen hasn’t really, he lived most of the time in Singapore in hotels. We have been living abroad for at least half a year and now we start to experience the differences compared to the Netherlands. A list of the most striking Malaysian habits.
It took some getting used to and sometimes it’s still a bit crazy, but before you enter a house you always have to take off your shoes. Everyone does this here! Even though you’ve been walking around in your warm, sweaty shoes all day and you’re coming to someone’s house for the first time, you still have to take off your stinking shoes and leave them at the front door. This does not only apply to houses, but you also take off your shoes at the beauty salon, during a job interview (yes, that’s quite uncomfortable) or at furnishing shops. How crazy we thought this was in the beginning, we are now almost used to it and have applied this rule in our own apartment. Whoever comes in, even if it’s the sultan of Selangor, the shoes go off. And for real it saves a lot of sand and dirt on the shiny tiles.
This is not happening everywhere, so we don’t really know when to do this and when not to do it. But often during the checkout in the supermarket, the cashier touches her elbow before she takes the debit card or cash. When you get your card back, the cashier touches her elbow again. I think they do this to show that they take care of your money.
Hand on the chest
This has already caused some uncomfortable moments on several occasions, but if I had done some research, I could have avoided these moments. It all started when my mother and I went together to the Malaysian embassy in The Hague for some questions. A Malaysian man helped us and after the conversation, we wanted to give him a hand. Instead of a handshake he put his hand on the chest and nodded. We nodded back and left the embassy. Then we moved to Kuala Lumpur and an agent showed us several apartments. This man gave me a hand while introducing, so you can imagine I was confused.
Then it could be even more uncomfortable. I had a job interview with two men and a woman. I give the woman a hand, the man a hand as well and when I want to give the other man a hand I got rejected. This man put his hand on the chest. I still don’t know what his name is, because the introduction was skipped right away. So, now what? It’s not customary for a Muslim man to shake hands with a woman. A handshake actually only occurs between two men. Not everyone in Malaysia is Muslim, so that’s why some men give a handshake. Well, next time I’ll go for the nod.
We found out that we have taken over this as well. “Shall we have dinner tonight?” “Can, can.” This means that we can certainly go out for dinner, but we can also stay at home and cook for ourselves. It’s quite vague. But actually, by doing this you cover yourself. ‘Can, can’ often happens in a restaurant when you ask for example if they can serve the dish without shrimp. If the server responds with ‘can, can’ then you know that it remains to be seen whether you really get that dish without shrimp.
Applying via Whatsapp
Whatsapp is very popular here and is used for everything. In the beginning, we noticed this when we went looking for an apartment. Through a website, you could view different apartments and each time the mobile number of the agent was there. If you wanted to view an apartment you could send him a message. Ideal, because it goes a lot faster than an email that ends up in an unwanted mailbox and then it will take an eternity before you get an answer.
But Whatsapp is not only used for viewing apartments, but it is also a handy tool for applying for a job. At first, I wrote application letters and then I didn’t get a response to them. Now I send an app saying that I’m interested and ask if the position is still available. Within a few hours, I’ll get a reply. Whatsapp is very easy going, so from now on appen ‘lah’ 😉