5 Times I Experienced a Culture Shock in Malaysia – by a European Student

“Come to Malaysia, they said. It will be fun, they said.” And well, it is awesome! The food is just too good, people are extremely nice and helpful, and Kuala Lumpur (where I study) is full of surprises and events happening every single day! However, it is a fact that you may go through a culture shock in Malaysia, especially if – like me- you were not raised in an Asian culture.

Here are a couple of things that made me go “Wow!” during my first month in The Land Of Durians:

*Disclaimer: I’m from Europe and have been living in Malaysia since 4 years. All the opinions are my own and also, you shouldn’t take them too seriously 😉

1. Crossing the crazy street

When living in KL or other big city, you will have to learn the steps of a new dance while crossing the street. Try the “jogging samba”, “speedy salsa” or just run for your life!  The drivers in Malaysia generally don’t stop or even slow down when they see a human being on the road. In the beginning, crossing the street seems pretty impossible, but trust me – you will get better in it with time!

2. Not everything green on a plate is a salad (or even edible)!


I learned this the hard way during my first visit in a mamak. I got served noodles on a plate. But under the maggi I spotted a green leaf, covering the whole plate. “Must be there for a reason, right? Cool, they threw in additional local veggies!” – I thought. I started to stuff it in my mouth… and immediately regretted it. Why would anyone eat such thing? This leaf wasn’t pleasant in flavour, and there was no way I could chew it in my mouth.  Have you ever tried to eat banana leaf? I don’t recommend it.

3. Slow life, slow service


Thinking about a quick lunch with classmates? You should first make sure you understand what “short” is. Food here is meant to be celebrated, and the service… Let’s say, if you’re not too sure how to catch your waiter’s attention, you might end up waiting for your bill for quite a while. Golden rule: in cheaper establishments all the waiters and cooks are “bosses”!

4. There’s such thing as too many choices of food

Seriously, I never thought that you could be overwhelmed by lunch and dinner choices – but living in Malaysia proved me wrong. I was so torn between Chinese/Indian/Malay/Korean/Japanese/Western choices, that choosing a venue for a meal seemed an impossible task. Everything is so good and so affordable (compared to Europe)! So, I came up with my own solution. I found a dice (the one you use for board games) and painted it white. Then, I wrote a letter on each of the sides of the dice. Each letter symbolized a cuisine, and all I had to do was to throw the dice and trust the luck!

5. Speaking 3 languages and mixing them in 1 sentence

“Wei macha, you’re going to drink kopi here or tapao?”- 1 sentence, 4 languages, and it all makes sense! The diversity of Malaysia can be spotted in the cuisine, culture, and of course – language. In the beginning you might be a little confused – you might need to order teh o ais kosong in a mamak, but a xuet cha in a kopitiam – even though it’s basically the same beverage (ice tea). It takes time and practice, but trust me – after a while you will get used to the whole situation and start to enjoy it!


Zuzanna Ch
World traveller, but with the heart stuck in Malaysia.

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