Within two days I received negative feedback from four different people, because I fell into many “cultural traps“:
Trap 1: Sometimes Germans tend to be very spoiled. In the end of the fasting month Ramadhan my host family and I went to Singapore for the celebrations. We were accommodated in the apartment of relatives. As there were a great number of guests, I was asked to sleep on the floor. After deliberating very carefully about how I can let our friendly hosts know that it is very problematic for me to get a good night’s sleep on the floor (at six in the morning, after a seven-hour journey) I carefully approached them. Immediately they offered me the couch and I was thinking „that was so easy and everybody is fine“. Think again!
The following day, my host sister ignored me and when I asked her what the problem was, she just replied that I had been very ungrateful. In Malaysia the guest is always king and if he “complains“, it means, the host is not able to satisfy the guest’s needs appropriately. My explaining that it had not been my intention to hurt anyone’s feeling in this case accounted for very little. Trap 2: Declining food offered by your hosts just because you are “full“. In Malaysia you should always eat when you visit someone, because it means appreciation for the effort of the host. This rule is especially important during the celebrations at the end of the fasting month where we visited four to five families per day and all of them prepared tons of delicacies. Trap 3: Trying to increase one’s privacy and trying to be alone from time to time is one of the worst mistakes. Sometimes I went out on my own or politely declined invitations, because I did not feel like meeting a lot of people. As a result, many people hypothesized that I was very selfish and did not care about others. What a hard lesson to learn, but fortunately some of my friends told me what I did wrong. Otherwise I would probably still be asking myself what was going on around me. All these things (I could add some more of these traps) made me reflect. When, before the beginning of my journey, I thought I already knew a lot about Malaysia and how to deal with certain situations, I now have to admit I had no clue at all.
In what respect does this experience help me? It leads me to the development I was searching for at the very beginning of my journey. I am now learning how to interpret certain situations within the cultural framework. A few sleepless nights are, of course, part of the process.
While my cultural learning experience continues, my scientific work is almost done for now. My final presentation attracted a large number of colleagues and the results of my study helped to lead to the idea for a project, which covers the whole country. My report contains data, which should make the responsible institutions think and act. Almost all assumptions we made preliminary were confirmed through my research. Approximately one third of the nine to eleven year old school children in urban areas are overweight or even obese. The children much prefer the TV screen to the ball. International guidelines for physical activity (min. 1 h/day) and screen time (max. 2 h/day) often were not met.
Despite the fact that detailed data is not presented here, it seems logical that Malaysia has to “move” if the country is to protect its population from facing demanding health issues in the near future. First discussions concerning this matter are scheduled. A PhD project at the University of Malaya (within the framework of a larger project at the National Sport Institute Malaysia) is planned.
However, details concerning initiation and implementation are not clear yet.
For now, I am looking forward to five days of holiday, before giving a lecture on “History of sport in Germany” at the University of Malaya on 03.10.2011 (just thirteen hours before my flight back home).
Three months are almost over and I cannot deny that I am also looking forward to go back home for a while after all the fruitful insights I gained in Malaysia.
To be continued…
Best regards, André Müller