Minta Maaf-Column

Good manners; not a generally widespread commodity anywhere. Universally it seems people have trouble just being considerate to one another. My personal pet peeve is at the Wigmore Concert Hall in London where the foyer is permanently populated by old biddies. These mothballed hell’s grannies walk straight at you, en masse, looking through you and advancing in a kind of Zimmer-frame game of chicken; and if you don’t move pretty damn sharpish they will trample you mercilessly underfoot; I think they bus them in!

As we all know the Japanese and the Brits seem to apologize all the time. It’s “I’m dreadfully sorry but…“ or “sumimasen” this and “sumimasen” that, all day, every day. Ah! But do they really mean it? Being British, and having lived in Tokyo, I tend to feel both parties apologize as a kind of knee-jerk social nicety, masking general embarrassment. It’s a bit like the irritating American habit of saying “Have a nice day!”, constantly, and always with robotic and total insincerity; one can imagine as you plummet from a 30 story building, engulfed in flames; and as you pass each window you will hear someone say “Have a nice day”, “Have a nice day”. Maybe ending with a “Ya hear” as if superficially concerned about your basic attention span.

Now here in Malaysia we have our fair share of courtesy misfires. Where to begin?

“Lifts” do I hear you say? Why can’t the people in the lift be allowed to get out first? What is the panic? Do folks think the lift doors are going to start munching up passengers that don’t get in quick enough, chewing up little children like sticks of celery? Or is the lift about to go supersonic and blast out of the top of the building, taking tardy passengers and the remains of little kids with it? Whatever the reason you will often find your egress impossible. You could be stuck in a lift for days going up and down like a human yo-yo. A friend advised breaking wind as a novel form of revenge. This works best if you turn to the most attractive girl (or boy) in the lift and say, in a stage whisper, “it’s alright, I’ll pretend I did it!”

Shopping has serious courtesy failings. I don’t mean the usual World Wrestling Federation smack-down at sale time; I mean a normal day at the sales counter. There you are, calmly waiting for the elves in the credit card centre to verify your Visa, when someone comes bustling up and, slapping down a gigantic pile of novelty T-shirts, demands service.

Now this wouldn’t be too bad but the sales girl (or boy) immediately leaves off attending to you and starts toting up the T-shirts. And should you draw the salesgirl’s (or boy’s) attention back to you, she (or he) will get confused and most likely retreat into a state of partial paralysis, forgetting their name and where they live, and the T-shirt lady (or gent) will stare indignant daggers at you. And, generally you cower in shame and apologise as if you have been caught out as the phantom lift wind-breaker.

In fact this lack of courtesy applies to any queue. I really dislike the general ignoring of the ‘queue here’ signs. These folk who walk blithely in through the exit line and slap down their T-shirts, when good souls like myself have been queuing for several millennia. They are rotters in the extreme. And to make matters worse, they are again fully entertained by the counter staff.

Entschuldigen sie bitte, I must return to the buffet. Excuses for cutting the buffet line are many. The perennial “my England not so good” is always an old faithful. “I’m only taking some cakes,” is not bad. But my favorite and most recent excuse for ill-manneredly breaking into the queue was, “I’m getting food for the Tan Sri”; it’s a doozy. And at big functions. Amid dozens of tables laden with mounds of rubber chicken, I have sat like a stunned rabbit while people chat away in full voice, giggling and laughing and paying no heed to the senior government minister or Sultan or the like who is making a possibly profound speech. (Given the speeches are often so tedious they could reduce the Incredible Hulk to tears, one can try to forgive but…. manners should prevail). And, last but by no means least, are the dreaded mobile telephones. Here there is no area where the mobile call can be ignored.

At dinner, in the cinema, in the middle of a lecture; even in the middle of a performance by the beloved Malaysian Philharmonic. What is it that makes everything so damn desperate that the phone cannot be turned off? Are we expecting the third world war? Is there a tsunami coming? What is it? I actually overheard a woman, on a plane, refusing to turn off her mobile because she was instructing her maid on what was the best kind of shrimp to get for supper! That’s not just bad manners, that’s stupid and dangerous!

So there you go. You will notice I did not mention courtesy on the roads.That might take up the whole page (or indeed the whole magazine). Perhaps another time, duì bu qì,


So until then, “Have a nice day….ya hear”.

Source: The Expat December 2010, article by Paul Loosley
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