I went to the 7-11 next to Kusar pub the other night, and I wasn't really concentrating on the matter at hand. Yes, blame the vodka.
Anyway, my mind registered that the sales girl was wearing a tudong (headscarf worn by Muslim women) so without thinking I spoke in my horrible Bahasa (Malay for "language").
Me: Satu paket Pall Mall hijau, sila (a packet of green Pall Mall,please)
Me: Pall Mall hijau.
Me: Bisa bebahasa Melayu? (do you speak Malay?) Satu paket Pall Mall hijau, sila!
I learned my bahasa in Jakarta, Indonesia. Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia are very similar as they both come from a dialect spoken in east Sumatra. But there are some nasty differences.
For example, in Bahasa Indonesia you have:
bisa - "can"
boleh - "may"
harus - "must" as in the sense of a religious obligation
mesti - "must"
In Bahasa Malaysia you just use boleh. I should have said, "Boleh bebahasa Melayu?"
Affronted by my question, my tudong girl whips back in very nice English, "You should not learn from your maid!" She assumes that I am one of the millions of people in Malaysia who have a cheap 24/7 maid from our neighbour.
"I learned my Bahasa in Jakarta," I say loftily. "And I forgot that Malay is much simpler than Indonesian. No bisa, harus and mesti here. Just Malaysia boleh!"
Malaysians tend to consider themselves far superior to their neighbours and for a second there is total silence. Thing is, I know this girl, and she has a good sense of humour.
Slowly she deciphers my shocking accent, and recognises that the implied insult to the national language is balanced by acknowledgement of the popular national catchphrase, Malaysia boleh!
Caught out, she falls over laughing and calls her friend over to tell her what I said.
It's fun to have a giggle but there's one problem: from now on she's going to speak nothing but Malay to me, and I bet she'll correct my accent too!