Saturday, November 27, 2010

Living In Malaysia: Being Polite The Mat Salleh Way

If you live in an orphanage in Malaysia, you have to be grateful.  The idea is that you live off charity, so you should be jolly well abasing yourself.  This culture can make communication very difficult. 

There are a bunch of us who pool our money to buy one of our local orphanages groceries, trips to the beach, plus a birthday cake and present for each kid.I was volunteered to be the buyer/organiser/accountant.

As the kids are so drilled into "be grateful", you get the answer, "anything, Auntie Ellen" when you ask them what they'd like for their birthday  (they're the only people who are allowed to call me Auntie; more about that some other time).

I tell them, "Don't be grateful please.  It gives all of us at the Fun Club a lot of pleasure to see you happy, so it should be us who are grateful to you." 

That's subversive talk to it gets me a grin.

Then I say, "And I'll be buggered if I go shopping for a pink top only to find out later your favourite colour is blue!"

That get's them laughing and then they open up a bit more but usually it's still pretty much like pulling teeth.

To my surprise today the two girls whose birthdays are coming up were quite happy to chat without being prompted.  One wants a blouse, pink with short sleeves, and the other wants an adventure/mystery novel. 

As we were talking, one of the new boys listing in whispered, "Ayoh so rude!  Just say anything, lah!" to which the older girl replied, "I am not rude!  This is polite mat salleh way!"  (Mat salleh being an affectionate term for white people.)

Isn't that cute?  I bet those two will be CEOs of multinational companies by the time they're 35.  Plus, I've got them birthday presents they're going to adore.

10 comments:

Cat-in-Sydney said...

Aunty Ellen,
It's also very annoying when we take people out for dinner or lunch and when we ask what do fancy eating, they'll always reply: anything-lah. When deep in their heart they want to sink their teeth into that juicy spare ribs at Chili's. sigh.....Mama's been told numerous times that she's an abnormal Malaysian as she speaks her mind. So how? purrr....meow!

Pierro said...

I enjoyed reading this today. How wonderful that there are good Aunties to pull these wonderful gifts of God out of their shells and let them just be the Mat Salleh way!

bonkbonk meowmeow

Whisppy said...

You are a very sweet Mat Salleh, Auntie Ellen. How come you never ask me what I want for my birthday? I think it is probably coz I don't call you Auntie Ellen.....I've got to start. :p

Katnip Lounge said...

The culture you live in is fascinating...kids here have NO reserves on what they want, even my daughter and son, who are in their 20's!! Maybe because they're Mat Selleh...LOL!

pee ess: did you get my reply about the guest post?

Khyra And Sometimes Her Mom said...

That is furry furry nice!

Thanks fur sharing!

Hugz&Khysses,
Khyra

Sharon Wagner said...

That is an inspiring post. Thankyou!

Më| §zë said...

hm... we kids have been told numerous times, if we want something, we gotta get it ourselves; when someone is getting it for us, it's up to them to get what they want for us. that's been ingrained in us since we were young. i dunno, or is it that we just are afraid to speak up for what we want?

Dianne said...

how cool of you to do this
and you're right, the joy of helping is so wonderful

Neri said...

i totally agree with being polite the mat salleh way :D.

~Covert_Operations'78~ said...

It makes things so much easier when people are specific about what they want or need, isn't it? After all, you DID ASK, so how could it be classified as rudeness? Plus they're asking for perfectly sensible and reasonable presents -- not Sony PSPs or digital cameras or iPADs. Yes, answering questions when asked IS polite, Mat Salleh or not! Those kids are great, by the way. Best bunch of kids ever. Would love to meet them again.