Friday, 4 February 2005

No-lah, we're not thaaaat British!

HOW often have I had to bite my tongue to remarks such as "Oh, if you've been here for 25 years and have bought a house, you must be British!"

Such simplistic assumptions! But I always managed to assert my Malaysianness in that truly Malaysian style: "No-lah!" If buying a house and being on British soil for yonks can qualify you as a citizen, then Mohamaed Al-Fayed with his magnificent world-famous street corner shop at Knightsbridge wouldn't have a problem, would he?

These days, it is almost impossible to switch on the telly or read the newspapers without listening to or reading someone's opinions about who is British and who is not. Yet the question is not as simple as it sounds. Even if you're white and speak with the best BBC pronunciation, it still wouldn't guarantee you the status.

But then again, our corner shop newsagent, a Mr Patel (for almost always a newsagent in Britain is a Patel), is proud to admit that he is British. He calls me Mrs Van, for even after all these years, his Indian tongue still twists the letter W.

In my own household, the question of being British was raised, I think only once.

"Am I British, Mama?", questioned our youngest, who was then 10. He asked because his British-born best friend who was of Indian origin told him that he was entitled to a British passport as he was born in London.

We put his confused mind to rest by telling him that because his parents are Malaysians, he and the rest of his siblings are Malaysians even if his sister spoke and behaved like an Arab.

Making Britain our adopted home was never part of our initial plan but back in the Eighties, getting a job was easy and becoming a permanent resident wasn't so difficult.

The thought of changing our citizenship never entered our minds even at a time when it meant that we had to queue up behind the signs that for a time said "Aliens" or "Others" at the immigration.

To borrow a phrase from George Mikes (pronounced Me-cash), the author of How to be a Brit, I came of age in Britain four years ago. But how much of my Malaysianness have I retained and how much of Britishness have I adopted during all these years?

I remember a remark made by someone I had not met for a long time. He said: "After all these years away, you still have a thick Kedah accent"

To be frank, had I stepped off the plane all kitted with gloves and hat like the Queen Mother and spoke like her daughter, I would still get the critical treatment - I would have been termed as angin or putting on airs. So one can never win, can one?

And how British can one get when I still can't understand why lunches are called dinners and dinners, suppers. Why is it that children go to public schools which are actually private? Why is it that anything that is served is "luvly" even when it tastes like the dog's dinner which is actually lunch?

Why is it so important that milk is poured in a cup before the tea, and plates are heated up before being served? Such riddles, I believe, are meant to confuse foreigners enough and make them leave British shores. Diehards, however, stay on to try and solve the mystery of Britishness.

It's impossible, however, to stay this long and not get some Britishness rubbing off on you. Some you really have to learn the hard way. For example, I've stopped using the two-finger sign when ordering, say, two pounds of grapes. The first time I did that, the fruitseller said: "Same to you, luv!" and
proceeded to serve the next customer.

I've learnt to queue patiently for a bus, a taxi, a sales counter and even toilets even if I was bursting to go! It is a no-no to pick and choose your own fruits as you would at Pekan Rabu or at a pasar malam, and the same goes to speaking to a sales assistant who is serving someone else.

I've learnt to stand on the right of escalators to allow others to walk up or down. I'm also becoming used to a "potluck" meal that actually means you going empty handed to finish off whatever's in the pot of the host and not, as in Malaysia, to expect it to be an occasion to bring your own.

And when a man says, "Shall I play mother", I know that he's dead serious about his role to pour the tea and serve the cakes and nothing more than that!

As immigrants, legal and illegal, still come teeming to this land of opportunity where the streets are supposedly paved with gold, the British too have improved their knowledge of geography and about the population of the world that are arriving at their doorsteps.

In earlier days, I have been called an Iranian in Scarborough, a Filipino in Brighton and a Thai at a garden party in Buckingham Palace. Now, not only do they know where Malaysia is, they have even learnt to go native and share dishes at Malaysian or Indian restaurants. The amusing way Britishers used to tackle their ethnic meal was quite individualistic - they just plonked whatever was theirs wholesale onto their rice heap.

And YESSSSS!!!! Recently, we went home and took possession of our brand new smart card IC! Our son now carries it proudly in his wallet!!


atiza said...

People thought I was Hongkies last time. Never Malaysian.

Kampong_Boy said...

tapi kan kak teh...some people go there for two weeks only already claim that they are british... cakap omputeh berabuk... lepas tu sibuk la cakap Malaysia ni itu la ini la tak betul...
*hmmm* some people....

Lollies said...

Ooohhh this is a luvley piece darling, clasp hand and smile.
And I am serious too, tobat pong(?). We can learn a thing or two on this British politeness, fake or not.

P/S: I still do not have the Smart Card. Shame..

Kak Teh said...

atiza: can u imagine that some Afghans think that I look like afghan from the area called Hazarah..and that is funny!
Orang Dagang - I know - met a few. Tak apalah - asalkan bahagia! :)
LollLies - visited yr site tadi...let's talk abt yr interest in Hkt Merong. Am into these as well.

Bustaman said...

It is not the place that makes a man (or family) but it is the man that makes the place, wherever it is.

atenah said...

everybody here expects all the intl students to stay and work here, bigger pay. not me, I cant wait to go back even though i will never reach the boutique garbed level

Kak Teh said...

thanks Pok ku - yes, I totally agree with you.
Atenah: I don't expect big cars and branded goods as well - i have none of those - we live such a simple life, wherever we are.

Nadia said...

brits are so different from Americans..I've lived in the us for almost 8 yrs and still have a lot to learn..but sincemostly i mingle with the international muslims I've learned a lot about them, not the americans per se. though now i'm seeing more american muslims and it's very enlightening to be surrounded by muslims of all culture..the one strong reason why I like to stay here. tp sini my children are considered americans because US punye laws. Law-wisela. and I would like to stay here longer just because i have to pay back JPA and resources for children's educ here bagus esp for homeschooling. plus I think i've gained more knowledge and have my eyes opened here..islam-wise that is. my love is for cultural experiences in an islamic i hope i will go back to msia someday but not so soon..i want to taste living maybe in the middle east just for immersing ourselves to get the arabic esp for the children. since rezeki ada kat mana2..i don't really mind not going back so soon..but..interesting stuff about the brits..though I don't think i'd like the ppl compared to americans which yeah can sometimes be so ignorant...we'll see..maybe after this pegi UAE ke eheheh..kak teh how many children do you have and how old are they now?

Honeytar said...

Yeah yeah yeahhh... my former landlord is also a Patel (& is a British) who is also the tube 'driver' and have a corner shop run by his cousin and a restaurant run by his brother. So they conquer the realty, the tube, the shops & restaurants. Conclusion: Patels rule Britain!

atenah said...

kak teh, your life seems very rich, culturally :)

Kak Teh said...

nadia: yes - you must be quite young syill and can afford to move around. Once children start schooling and then move on to uni, then u are in a can't uproot them. But whatever decision that we have made for them, I pray to Allah that its the right decision. I have four children - eldest 23, then 21, 18, and 14.
Atenah: I think we try to get the best from both worlds and whatever else others have to offer. Yang buruk tu tak payahlah kan?
yes, atiza - the Patels still Rule!!

Kak Teh said...

sorry - I mean Honeytar!! Ish kak teh ni dah buta!

Yasmin's Mummy said...

Been a silent reader of your blog.. very interesting!

Kak Teh said...

Yasmin's Mummy, thanks for dropping by!! I have made a lawatan balas to yr site too!

famyGirl said...

hehehe, i'm trying to imagine how it sounds like when you speak british english with a kedah accent (or vice versa for that matter)

lama tak mai sini, missed you lah kak teh :)

Idlan said...


How come I haven't met a Patel in Lancaster? Our local newsagents is called Haq's; the local halal meat store owner is referred to as Majee. Maybe his name is Majee Patel.

Harith Iskandar once had a joke, about his friend who came back from abroad speaking the Queen's English. So he asked his friend, how long were you in London. His friend replied: 'Transit'.

Kak Teh said...

ala famygirl, bukanlah I cakap English with a Kedah accent. Cakap kedahlah with kedah accent! BUt BUBT my father (pronounced Fathaa) did speak like that. He'd ask: Where's my papaaa? (paper) The weathaaa is kleaaa (clear). And there was this comedian in one of the Malay sit coms, he said: Don't sangka klear wataa no boyaa...!There u go! hehe!
Idlan..aiyah, you must pick a day, when I got my facts wrong. In Lancaster may be no Patel laaa. And you know what? In Bollywoodland as in Southall - the newsagent there is a Brit. How's that for a role reversal?

Blabarella said...

Wow Kak Teh, I marvel at how you've retained your true heritage after all those years away. And your children - they're so BIG already!! It's so refreshing to know someone who is completely unfazed by her surroundings. :)

And *shy shy shy* - I have not even gone to apply for my smart card yet. :p

Tally-ho, I say! *Nose firmly stuck to ceiling*

Kak Teh said...

blabarella, I think the longer you are away, the more you value you culture and you become protective of your values as well. We try our best. Insyaallah!

eva said...

You can take the girl away from Kedah but you can never take Keday away from the girl. Tukar template plak kak teh?

Nadia said...

aik kak teh tukar tenplate? I like the previous one better..more fitting with your area of study I think..ada ala2 culture, heritage, sejarah etc ehehehe
tu atenah tu [pun tgh main2 dgn template dia ..kita dok click2 dah tukar2 hehehe

betulla kak teh..I'm just realizing that kitaorg dah nak kene stable cepat2 dah..thn depan dah masuk third grade dah ada exam dah, nak pindah2 pun your children have been in the UK all this while then?

*hmmm..pondering on an uncertain future* is a never ending tsunami

Mutiara said...

macam somebody said earlier, most american think 'aliens' come here to stay and find jobs. I heard one of my brothers in law say that I married my husband just to get American Citizenship. But at one family gathering I put the record straight. i made an announcement that i would never give up my Malaysian citizenship. I come to live here because of my husband. I don't think i will miss anything american if I ever return home.

Anonymous said...

kak teh,

hi..err..nothing to say, ciao.

Berisman said...

I know Kakteh personally.She is 100% Malaysian.

Kak Teh said...

ya lah. Dok tak duduk..rasa nak tukar template. And I had my youngest to advise me. Somehow, was feeling quite stressed yesterday and I felt like decluttering. So. this looks less of a clutter, tho yes, I agree with Nadia - the last one suits me - very chocolaty- I like chocs! Then - tengok2 pulak, macam DZ's template - Sorry!!!y youngest promised to help me create my own template - that shd be fun.
Eva - thanks. Ya - kalau orang Kedah, sampai ke mana pun Kedah jugaklah!
mutiara - thanks for visiting. Yes, this thing about Malayness, if anyone must know, and you know this very well, kan mutiara - is also a huge debate amongst Malays overseas. Very sensitip!!
Pak Adib - thanks for vouching. Yes, I am, in the words of a friend; Very THE!!

Lollies said...

I wish telekom gives me a fix line so I can get internet access and join your Yahoo Messenger chatting group so we can chat online on Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa. Tapik ak Teh seganlah, I don't have a trained cultured mind... my entry about this only commented on I was fascinated by the word PANJANG NIPIS to refer to handsome or pretty girls.

But I love reading these books. History maybe you can suggest me more.

One more thing Kak Teh pening pasal banyak kaler ke?

Marlene said...

Hi, Kak Tek
I´m still traveling, this time I´m in Rio. It´s Carnival time, a bit confusing, bt very soon I´ll be back home to write something.
When I read about the British, just one question came to my mind : can you imagine how complicated it must be being British?

Kak Teh said...

woman in the well, I am glad to see your comments here - thanks. Enjoy Rio!! In know what you mean abt carnivals - in our youth, we would have enjoyed it more...alas, now its all noise and chaos!! I don't go to the Nottinghill carnival anymore!
yes, it must be difficult for the Brits, have to keep the stiff upper lip and all! hehe!

Anonymous said...

Interested. Keep Blogging!