9 Common Mistakes Most Malaysians Make When They Meet Someone for the First Time

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Malaysians share many things in common. Whether it’s our love for nasi lemak, rooting for Lee Chong Wei, or how we always end our sentences with lah, we all have something in common which makes us uniquely Malaysian.

Sometimes however, we share common bad habits too. Some of them are mistakes we tend to make when meeting someone for the first time. Whether we notice it or not, we don’t often make the greatest first impression on people.

In this article, I talk about a few of these bad habits. Consider this chapter 1 of Kemahiran Hidup – Hubungan Silaturrahim 101!

1. Punctuality

Angela, a sub-editor, thinks the number one sin most Malaysians commit (not all, she stressed), is punctuality. Whether it’s 5 or 20 minutes, they’re always late. It’s a mistake because this shows that they don’t respect other people’s time. Hey, other people have plans later on too you know!  It’s not just rude but terribly inconsiderate.

Writer’s note:

This ‘Malaysian time’ phenomenon has been widely accepted, even among non-Malaysians. 

You see, from my personal experience, we were once involved in a BBQ party that was supposed to start at 8 pm. However, both locals and foreigners decided to come much later, citing ‘Malaysian time’ for not being punctual.

If you can’t avoid being late however, there’s always the phrase ‘on the way’ and also ‘traffic jam.’

Source (Imgflip): https://imgflip.com/i/23yzig

2. Asking personal questions too quickly 

In her line of work, Angela interacts with lots of people. On some occasions, she was asked personal questions too quickly!

Among the questions asked were about her profession, marriage status, and if she had any kids.

Angela added, if you really want to get personal, these questions can STILL be packaged nicely and asked indirectly. You just need to size them (the people you just met) up first. 

Writer’s note:

We get it. Sometimes there’s a long awkward silence, and the ‘go to’ topic to break that silence is to talk about those personal things. Qualify them by asking something like ‘what industry are you in, if you don’t mind me asking.’  

If they didn’t elaborate, or talk about other topics, then talk about yourself until they feel more at ease. After all, if you’re willing to ask, then you should be willing to share too!

3. Speaking a language in the presence of someone who doesn’t understand

As a Malaysian Chinese who was English educated, Angela usually initiates conversations in English. However, on certain occasions, those people (salesperson for example) spoke back in Mandarin pulak!

So how? Angela is then forced to apologise and ask the other person to converse in either English, Malay or Hokkien, which are the languages she can speak.

This is a common experience for her, where people assume things based on appearances.

Source (Imgflip): https://imgflip.com/i/23yy2q

 Writer’s note:

Not only should you reply in the same language to the person you are talking to, but you should also make sure that in a group, everyone understands and can speak the same language. 

For example, if there’s a few, or even a single foreigner among your Malaysian group, be more considerate and speak English lah. If you don’t like watching a foreign movie with no subtitles, that’s exactly how they would feel too!

4. Giving nicknames

Last but not least, Angela was also given a nickname, which she was very uncomfortable with. You see, we might be very comfortable with our buddies, giving them lousy nicknames, but that’s because they are ALREADY buddies.

With someone new, you need to build rapport and establish a long-term relationship first before getting to that level. In short, be friendly but have boundaries too.

Source (Imgflip): https://imgflip.com/i/23yyky

5. Inappropriate tone and (6) Distasteful jokes

Speaking of names, even a real name can be a source of discomfort. Hani, a Singaporean, faced this situation in Johor Bahru. She wanted to buy honey at a ‘kedai jamu.’

Long story short, the seller makes a joke about the similarities of her name and the name of the item she’s buying (Hani buying honey). Not only was it not funny, but the tone he used made her uncomfortable too. Maybe a Brad Pitt would’ve been able to pull the joke off, but an uncle at a jamu shop, maybe not so much.

Writer’s note:

Basically, it’s not only what you say, but how you say it.  Practice the right tone, for different situations, for different people.

Also, sometimes, a joke might sound funny in our head, but as soon as it leaves our mouth, we realize it’s not funny and potentially offensive too. So unless you’re a professional stand-up comedian, go easy on the jokes ok?

Source (Imgflip): https://imgflip.com/i/23yyuk

7. No eye contact and (8) Not smiling

This story is so spot on, we’d like to quote it verbatim (although she prefers to remain anonymous).

“When I meet someone for the first time, I’ll smile and extend my hand for a handshake. I would expect the person to at least reciprocate with the same courtesy. But I’ve met some people who won’t even look me in the eye and smile when they return the handshake. They would be looking downwards or around them.”

How rude!

“Also, they’d do anything to avoid your glance. Their faces are unreadable and unsmiling. That’s just super odd, as well as a little rude. I don’t know why they wouldn’t look directly at me when I’m directly in front of them. I do my best to make them feel comfortable and it’s not like I’m interrogating them or whatever, so, hmm.

Dunno what’s their deal, but for me at least, that’s off-putting. I find myself more likely to carry on a conversation with (and eventually becoming friends with) people who are more open and confident and generally just courteous.”

Source (Imgflip): https://imgflip.com/i/23yz4p

9. Interrupting conversation

Mirza, an event executive, got the shock of his life when he was told by his boss on his second week of industrial training.

“You know what’s your biggest problem? It’s so annoying you might not notice it, but you like to interrupt conversations all the time!” 

Mirza thought his boss was just lashing out at him. But when he started paying more attention to himself, he noticed he really does have a tendency to interrupt when other people are speaking.

Writer’s Note:

Please learn to let others finish their sentence before you give your own opinion.

So there you have it, these are some of the common mistakes Malaysians tend to make when meeting someone new. Keep these experiences in mind when you are at a party with new people, or any other occasions lah. It’s important to be polite so you can make new friends, and avoid offending other people.

Do you have some stories you like to share or tips for other Malaysians to improve? Share your experience below, and help fellow Malaysians improve their interpersonal skills!

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