Saturday, May 29, 2010

Living In Malaysia: Skin Tax

This is the first of a series of notes about living in Malaysia. Love it, hate it, whatever, this Saturday Living In Malaysia series is just one opinion. You can leave brickbats and comments in the comment section.

Today Elaine said to me, "You know what really annoys me? I go to this restaurant for years and get nothing extra but the first time I bring an orang puteh (Malay for White Person) there, a real blonde, blue-eyed woman, she gets served quicker than me AND she gets this extra water melon. It's just not fair!"

I am orang puteh, hell, even my NAME is Whyte!,and I have lived in Malaysia for 14 years. What Elaine says is true. We do get served before others.

Some think it's a hangover from Colonial times - although I don't really see how on earth someone can hold on to this 50 years after the end of that time. I think it's because Western people tip and Malaysians don't.

Anyhow, if there's a crowd, we tend to get served first. But what Elaine doesn't see is the bill. Orang puteh also get to pay double, triple and even more. Unless I stick to my favourite stalls at my wet market, I have to pay double what the others pay - and that's after being a regular customer there for 8 years.

My other friend Emanar tells me she was asked to pay RM8000 for some plumbing when her orang puteh friend was in the house instead of the RM1000 the job was worth.

I call this "skin tax". Now ask yourself: do you want to be served first, and pay double or what?


bongga said...

It has nothing to do with the colonial era complex. It's the all powerful cash. We think that orang putel are ATM machine on legs! See how the salesgirl throw themselves at Arab shoppers!!

BeadedTail said...

If the orang putel know they are paying more, can they say something? It all sounds so unfair to have such differences but yet I guess some would say we have differences here in the US too but I think it's more subtle.

Katnip Lounge said...

I experienced discrimination for the first time when I went to Hawaii. Being Haole (white) is to be served later, slower and with more surliness than the "Locals" or Asian folk. It's an eye-opening thing to be on the short end of the stick...It's something I learned on holiday that I try to remember whenever I deal with people.

Pam said...

Wow! I wouldn't want to be an orang putel at all. Of course if you go to the Bahamas you'd be treated better than the locals.

Ellen Whyte said...

Beaded Tail: it depends. Sometimes I just say, "Hey, I live here and saya tidak gila (I am not crazy) so let's be reasonable, ah?" and then it's OK.

But sometimes I just get fed up and walk away. Like at my local market where I've been going 8 years. A few weeks ago I tried a new stall selling fruit and was quoted something silly like 5 times the price for bananas. I walked off without a word and my vegetable girl immediately wanted to know why. When I told her, the other customers started saying "Malu!" which means SHAME, and they all told the fruit man off. This is quite common IF you're known as a local. But I still won't buy from him because I hate cheaters. Instead I go to Mrs Mak, a nice Chinese lady who has a super fruit shop and whose son is now using me as a sounding board for his colloquial English.

BUT if I'm doing something unusual like buying furniture or getting a contractor in to fix something in the house, I ask a friend to come and stand next to me while I get quotes and arrange the contract.

Ellen Whyte said...

Katnip: As a rule of thumb, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis tend to treat women that way in Malaysia. Esp Chinese and white women. It makes everyone really mad!

A Bookaholic said...

haha this happens to me all the time too! honestly, i don't really care, as long as I'm served. if not, i'll juz 'hunt' for another waiter and ask him/her to serve me! haha

thr was this time, i was at Hard Rock Cafe KL, and the bar tender was being so friendly to the orang puteh next to me. but when it came to serving me, his face changed. i asked him, 'what happened to that friendly smile of yours?' I think he was caught off guard and didnt know what to do. so he juz smiled and got my order. n continued to smile even after that haha

Naddy said...

yes u are right about the part where orang puteh or omputeh for short, have to pay extra. all foreigners in a foreign land have to face that dilemma like i did in surabaya a few days ago.

ps: about the wedding, i've o nly gone so far as buying wedding cloths for dress and regitering at the religious department.

Angel Simba said...

Where we live in the US, we think contractors quote more for a job if you live in a more upscale neighborhood - they will try to get whatever they think they can get you to pay.

Interesting to learn about cultural things in other countries.

Cezar and Léia said...

I don't know what to say here...but I think it's sad ...I could feel the same as your friend about that restaurant, it's for sure!
I need to confess that people here where I'm living , generally are very kind BUT sometimes you need to face some prejudice , I mean because I'm not from "Europe".
I'm sad about it...
This post is really interesting, thanks a lot!
Have a great Sunday
Léia ( and purrs from Little Luna)

Cheyenne -Millie said...

It would be difficult for sure! We did not know it was that way in Malaysia. One of mom's friends used to live there.

Cat-from-Sydney said...

Aunty Ellen,
Not just in Malaysia, neigbouring countries in the region practise this skin discrimination thingy too. It starts as soon as you board their national airlines.... purrr...meow!

The Creek Cats said...

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~CovertOperations78~ said...

Blame the politicians too for playing up the "what will tourists think of us?" sentiment. So tourists and whiteys get all the clean toilets and good service and the rest of us are just chopped liver.