Common misconceptions and clichés about life in Malaysia

Hello everyone,

Old clichés die hard, as the saying goes... and living in Malaysia can generate lots of misconceptions in the eyes of the people.

What are the most common misconceptions about the expat lifestyle in Malaysia?

What are the most common clichés about life in Malaysia in general?

Did you have a biased view of the country before moving there? What is you view now?

Thanks in advance,


Im not sure if cliche is the right word but the biggest misconception around Asia is that life is cheap, living is very easy, jobs are plentiful and you are happily and excitedly welcomed.

I think what happened is that in an expats dissatisfaction with their home country they paint a picture in their mind of a future ideal. After all, if they are really to pick up and move across the world the reason would be a grand one yes? But having no such experience yet, their imaginations run wild on the positive side to justify or rationalize the move. This beautiful picture becomes solid because if it were not they would finally refuse to go.

Then they come and find out life isnt cheap or easy, nobody cares about you, the local women expect marriage and children and money, jobs are not given to expats first, nobody shares your culture or interests.

On the other hand, money can create whatever environment you want.  If you are rich and not dependent on jobs or people per se, Asia can be an extreme ideal. Money can buy the best of everything, even quasi happiness, and the flavors of Asia, in food, people and everything, are mesmerizing.

Should expats read and research extensively before coming? Maybe not. I have never read anything that was accurate. Usually readings depict Asia and this place as wonderful in so many ways and its simply not true. Whats better is to come and start with an open mind, a sharpened plan and the means to make the plans work and let the rest of it take care of itself.

A better thing to do than reading is examine yourself. Better to watch the movie "The Midnight Cowboy" and bring yourself back to earth which I say in hindsight. I wish I had first, too.

Someone will let me know if i failed to answer the question.

Hi Priscilla,
Thanks for keeping the forum alive.

I knew that Malaysia is a bit like India and also quite different from India before I landed in KLIA2. That's how vague I was. I first landed in Changkat (would you believe) but found it too "expatty" to get a feel of Malaysia. Having moved to Bukit Jalil, I am more in touch with the real Malaysia with a plethora of eating options catering to Malay, Chinese and Indian taste buds. Fortunately, I relish all three although I keep meat/fish off my plate. Yes, Chinese cuisine does have excellent vegetarian items!
I often run in the neighborhood of Bukit Jalil and the clean and green locality is a delight for my runners' tribe.
The public transport is quite efficient but not very intuitive. Hopefully, they'll publish timings of buses for people to make better use of a reliable service.
It's been about a year here in Malaysia and I have liked it thus far, but being away from family has it's own perils. If I head back to India, it'd be because of homesickness and not out of dislike of Malaysia because there's nothing to dislike about Malaysia.

From my perspective, Malaysia is a lot like India. I don't see why Indian regards themselves as expatriates.

Malaysia is indeed a bit like South India thanks to all the exodus from India in the past couple of centuries. India however is much, much more than Tamils and Sikhs that comprise the Indian race of Malaysia. I had no idea of the big Hindu festival called Thaipusam until I came to Malaysia. Only after googling did I realize that it is indeed celebrated in Tamil Nadu in India and hardly outside of it.
From my perspective, the multi-dimensionality of Malaysia is quite different from the multi-dimensionality of India and because there is an overlap of sorts, non-Indian expats may feel that Malaysia is a lot like India.

I understand, but If you compare for example Italy to Malaysia and India to Malaysia what will you see?

Sure. I see your point. Even though I have only stayed in India and Malaysia, I can see that a country like Italy would be entirely different from Malaysia from an Indian perspective. Malaysia is sort of an extension of India whereas Italy isn't. But I was responding purely based on my experience of relocating to Malaysia and you'd agree that I am entitled to my share of views on what I find different here much like the 'usual' expats.

I forgot that an old cliche that needs to end is the word "lifestyle."

There are lifestyle cars, lifestyle restaurants, lifestyle malls, lifestyle condos and even lifestyle entertainment and lifestyle motorbikes, lifestyle clothes and lifestyle people!


What does the statement mean, "it doesnt suit my lifestyle." "I go to that mall to shop because of my lifestyle." What lifestyle is that? "That car is perfect for me, its nice and light and allows me to dart around to and fro for my active lifestyle." What in the world does that mean?

Its so overused its not even understood anymore, nobody knows what it means or may have meant. Its useless and needs to be banned!

Here is another overused cliche that you should understand and take to heart: "gratitude."

As far as I know, the origin of the term was government's use of it decades ago as its rebuttal against races it didnt like. The Malay government said, "the chinese are not grateful," "the Indians are not grateful," etc. This harsh and annoying grating caused everyone else to accuse the government of not being grateful for the hard work of its race. Then they turned on each other, accusing chinese of not being grateful for its hard-working bangladeshi staff, Iban saying nobody was grateful for the east-side oil, etc. Pretty soon, everyone was demanding gratitude while being accused of not offering any to anyone else--which I see and believe as a true fact, actually but thats another story.

So where is the foreigner in this soup? Throughout Asia there is a fear of being looked down upon (which I see as being unfounded most of the time) and to them, this is apparent when you dont show any gratitude for anything. Conversely, when you do show gratitude it eases that fear and you of both can get on with the work at hand, your friendship, etc.

What to do? Show gratitude for everything, everywhere you go. Show it at a police checkpoint, for the policeman who suffers under the sun all day to operate the roadblock, even though he is three seconds away from giving you a summons--or even if he already did. Show it in restaurants for everyones hard work even if the food tasted like crap. Show it when anyone helps you for any reason at all. Say it sincerely with your hand over your heart.

Gratitude costs you nothing and can tear down walls and create miracles. I got important help at the post office, showed extreme gratitude to everyone (i wrote letters commending the staff) and got treated like a VIP king after that. I showed gratitude for police taking a report and they remembered me after that in the most positive way. I never stop. Show it in shops, in temples, wherever you go.

Malaysians are a very sensitive lot, given to low self-esteem. I never met a group with such low opinions of themselves. They crave attention and recognition even if its not warranted. So give them some because gratitude says, "i understand you, I hear you clearly and im on your side." THAT is called a miracle in the making and, god as my witness, you need them here.

Gratitude is an overused and old cliche but of all Ive ever said, this post about it is probably the most important. Take it to heart, it will pay you back in spades. It takes you to the other side from where you are, from the downside to the upside, from the "im frightened, what am I doing here," to the "we are all friends and family now." Thats where you want to go and gratitude gets you there.

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