Friday, September 24, 2010

Intercultural Behavior

This an exciting topic for me since I am from a multi-cultural country, Malaysia. One of the intercultural situations that I think most of you might be interested is the Malay's eagerness in receiving 'donation'. This sounds ambiguous. Let me give you a specific example from my past experiences.

It was in 2007 when I was sent to serve army for the country. The camp was named 'Padang Hijau', which means green land in English while the dorm I was allocated to in the camp was named  'Delta'. That was a huge dorm with capacity up to 30 people. In Delta, we had about 20 Malay, 4 Chinese and 1 Indian trainees. What happened was that Chinese trainees brought a lot of storable food but Malay trainees kept taking food from Chinese. In fact, when they saw our food, they would come to us and request the food. Specifically, for my case, a few of them asked for Milo drink from me. I gave them some packets. A few days later I found that the whole sack of Milo had become empty. I swore I didn't drink the Milo at all. Well, why didn't they help me throw away the plastic bag? =.= However, I felt that I was quite lucky because my parents didn't buy me as much food as my other Chinese friends did. One of them bought 3 months stock of snacks but the luggage went empty within 3 days. (Hahaha...)

Frankly, I was quite upset with the situation. However, the Malays trainees were indeed friendly and caring to all of us. In particular, they respected our religion and believes. Besides, they would lower down their volume in conversation when they found Chinese trainees were sleeping. Since it was all of them kept taking food from us, not just a few of them, it showed that their action of requesting food from others was nothing more than a culture.

Hmm... you might think that they were from some poor families. Tell you what, some of them possessed some electronic gadgets that I couldn't afford to buy while some of them played instruments like guitars and they did own the instruments. In addition, they could afford the cigarettes which were smuggled into the camp and sold at a very high prices. In short, the reason that they requested so much food from Chinese trainees was not because of their financial problem.

It really surprised me but increased my cultural sensitivity. Their action might be annoying but it is common to their race. I was not so sure whether my observation was accurate but thereafter, someone told me that Malays appreciate and like to receive any offers from others. My experience in the camp might be giving you a negative impression of them however, this kind of altitude is indeed noticeable on them not only on physical desires, but also spiritual desires such as loves, cares, trusts etc and not just food.



  1. Hi Min Hau!

    I like what you have commented in my blog. Yeah, I do agree that serving in the army can really help us to increase our cultural sensitivity. During my time in National Service (which every male Singaporean will have to go through), I have to share my bunks with people from other races, including Malays and Indians. I did notice that Malays tend to like to "help themselves" with gifts shared among in a group. Initially, I did not like their mindsets, but I decided to ignore it eventually, since they are also very friendly and fun to hang around with. As you have mentioned, I believe Malays may have this cultural mindset to accept and appreciate offers given by others. This is just my guess.

    Well, see you in class next week!

  2. Thanks Hau and Riyan for your experiences. I really don't know this. Although I am trying to thing that action is a kind of cultural difference, it is frankly hard for me to accept haha. If Hau came to tell them that he would like to share his food, then they took it. It is fine. But, Hau said nothing. In this case, this is not a kind of "offer", isn't it?

    I stayed in NUS hostels during my first and second year. Every semester I lost some of my food stored in the fridge in the kitchen. If you passed by kitchens in PGP, RVR, it's very easy to find a note with extremely rude words such as "Please don't steal my food. Buy it by yourself...", or even "motherf**king"... from someone who is totally out of mind because of his missing food.

    Certainly I don't know who did. I also do not blame Malay friends. However, your described "culture" makes me a bit confused...

  3. Hi Riyan and Hong, thanks for your comments :D.

    Yeah, Hong the action you described was stealing food but not receiving an offer. However, the difference here is that Malays would ask and get approval from you politely first before they take your things if you did not volunteer to offer them so. If you deny, they won't take your food; if you agree, they might finish all your food unless you stop them. I hope this will clear your doubt.

    So, food missing in your case has nothing to do with differences in culture. For my case, I knew who took whose stuffs. If next time a Malay goes to your room and request your food in the fridge, you may answer 'yes' but add 'just take one only, don't take more than one'.

  4. hi Min Hau, i also never know this, i mean the Malay people can be so direct to ask for food or something. what i want to say is , this is really impolite according to Chinese culture. fortunately, i never have such experience. if i were you, i would be very angry. and i think it's necessary to let them understand your feelings.

    well, we talk about inter-cultural behaviors, and we all know that we should respect other cultures; but sometimes, i think it's also necessary to make our own culture or feeling understood. Effective communication takes two, right? so i do agree that you suggest to add "don't take more than one" after say "yes".

  5. Hi Hau,
    I haven't realized that phenomenon because I am the kind of person who usually "provide" food to others. Thanks for sharing the stories.

    By the way, I like the songs in your blog because I think Kevin Kern is a great musican!!

  6. Hi senlin, thanks for sharing your feeling with me on this issue :). Yeah, I was a bit up set indeed at the beginning. However, it is okay because it is not their fault but an influence from their culture.

    Hi cosine, wow~ you are so nice, always provide food to others.
    Thanks for appreciating the musics. And yes, Kevin Kern is really a great musician!! I like to listen to all his musics!:)

  7. This is a very interesting description of an astute observation. You describe it in great detail, Hau, so we have a photo-quality snapshot of you on your bunk, dishing out the next to last teaspoon of Milo then sitting there with an empty bag. Very funny!

    I appreciate your sensitivity to the issue as well, which I cen sense in your tone. However, I would be careful about making statements such as "it is common to their race." That might be misconstrued as an overgeneralization. It is always better to qualify such statements with phrase such as "most" or "many." Even if there is one person who would not do that, then you should take care to not say everyone does that.

    There are also a few language problems here:

    1) the altitude actually applies >>> ?
    2) a negative impression on them >>> a negative impression of them
    3) However, the Malays trainees were indeed friendly and caring to all of us. In particular, they respect our religion and believes. >>>
    However, the Malays trainees were indeed friendly and caring to all of us. In particular, they respectED our religion and beliefs.

    Thanks for your effort with this entertaining post!