Thursday, October 27, 2011

Culture Differences - My Personal Experience in Malaysia

Everyone that has lived or travelled in Europe knows that even though Europe is a reasonably small continent, so many different cultures exist next to each other. We have the Germans who are punctual and accurate, we have the Italians who are passionate and outgoing, we have the French who are Romantic, and so on and so on.

Although it seemed to me that these differences were very normal, it never occurred to me that in Asia you also have these kind of cultural differences until I lived and travelled here. One example of the differences became obvious to me when I travelled to Malaysia recently to manage an IT implementation project.
Kuala Lumpur
The project lasted for two weeks, and in the middle of the implementation, we encountered a serious problem with a new fiber-optic Internet line in our office. The result of the problem was that there was no connection possible between our Malaysia office and our worldwide network. We discovered the problem in the morning, just after arrival to the office and immediately called our IT business partner who was responsible for the line. They came reasonably quick, but after an hour of two doing troubleshooting, they said:

"OK, it's not easy to fix. Let us first have some lunch and then we will think about how to solve it".

At first I thought that I perhaps didn't hear his words correctly. Did he really want to have lunch now, while the office has no network, and leave the staff here being unable to work? But then I heard that everybody agreed, including the office management, so we went for a 1,5 hour lunch break, and had very tasty Malaysian food.

Still surprised about this action, I thought to myself that such a thing would have never happened in Hong Kong. For the average person in Hong Kong, time is considered to be most precious, and as there is not much free time besides work and sleep, people don't want to spend unnecessary time waiting for something. The same counts for companies as well. If there is a problem, it should be fixed as soon as possible.

The great Malaysian food we had while I was worrying
about the internet line.
For example; The average time that a Hong Kong person spends in a restaurant is about 30 minutes. If the food is not served within 5 minutes after ordering, people start to get annoyed.

Another example is when people are going up and down in a lift, they will press the "close door" button immediately after they enter. They don't have the time to wait for your "lazy" ass to walk in the elevator, so if you are not fast enough getting in, the door will be shut right before your nose and you have to wait for another one.

I have that experience, yes.. a 70 year old lady pushed so hard and quick on the button that I didn't stand a chance...and she looked at me from the other side of the door while it closed in front of me for the last few centimeters..

There are lots of other examples I can make, but I think I made my point, Hong Kong people are always busy, and they do not want to spend unnecessary time. (Which is not a bad thing by the way.) So when I informed our headquarters in Hong Kong that our network connection was broken, and that the whole crew, including our staff, decided to go on a lunch break first, you can imagine how the reaction was. (Luckily the team was able to fix the problems quickly when they returned from lunch.)

During my two week stay I discovered more of these acknowledging moments that the Malaysian culture is quite different from Hong Kong. The pace, the action, everything goes with a certain smoothness, that I have not experienced in Hong Kong, ever. Whatever happens, there is another day tomorrow. And luckily it's always summer in Malaysia!

For people that have not been here, I would say, you can compare it with the Greek doing a project for Germans... then I think you know what I mean..

However,  I must admit, there is a positive side about the way the Malaysian people take on their daily pace of life. They are so relaxed but also friendly and helpful as well. I guess they must have a lower amount of health problems related to stress too. So... I recommend any overworked HK expat or local to stay there a few weeks. You'll feel reborn!

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