The End of Civility?

I had to remind myself many times that this was happening during Ramadan, when we are enjoined to exercise restrain. Did these people then go home and eat since surely their puasa was batal'd?

Marina Mahathir

I grew up in Kedah and Kedahans, while not an overly formal people, put great store on courtesy and manners. Known for being gentle people, we were governed by many rules on how we behaved and spoke, particularly to our elders.

For instance, it was considered extremely impolite to refer to ourselves as 'saya' (I) when speaking to family members (including extended family members). 'Saya' was considered so formal as to be snobby, even arrogant. (The extremely informal 'aku' however was beyond the pale; you only use it among very close friends who are allowed to call you the very rough 'hang'). Correctly speaking, you have to refer to yourself always by name, or at least the diminutive version of it, or, as some very traditional Kedah women would, as 'Che' (pronounced 'Chek', not 'Chay') though this is considered very 'manja'. Thus you would say, "Che tak tau la sapa mai tadi pasai Che tak dak kat rumah." (I don't know who came just now because I was not home.)

Similarly, having to name one's parents posed great difficulties to the well-brought up Kedahan. Our parents' names were sacred, not to be bandied about. Perhaps it was a way of teaching us not to be arrogant about our family and origins. But if asked what our parents' names were, the reaction was often a certain amount of blushing and hand-wringing before a tiny voice finally whispered their names.

This was the way I grew up. And to this day I treat my elders with respect, even when I don't like them too much. I may now find it easier to refer to myself as 'saya' when I speak to someone in KL though I tend to retreat to the English 'I' when I can. Also, even 12 years after receiving my award from the Sultan of Selangor, I cannot bring myself to introduce myself by my title nor sign off anything but the most formal of letters with it.It's the Kedah way and what my parents taught me.

Not to say that Malays from other states are any less polite. We stick to many rules of courtesy. One of those I like is calling someone older than you 'Kak' or 'Abang' or 'Makcik/Aunty' or 'Pakcik/Uncle'.I still inwardly cringe when a young person calls me by my name although I have made it a rule that if they're over 25, they don't have to call me Aunty. And those who do call me Aunty aren't allowed to shout it out too loudly in public. But it's nice when, unbidden, young people easily address you as Kak or Aunty as a show of respect. It also tells you a lot about their upbringing.

Why am I talking about upbringing? It's really been prompted by that video I posted yesterday on the Shah Alam dialogue-turned-fracas. Over the years I have become aware that civility is really becoming uncool. People are rude everywhere, whether on the roads, in shops ( you know, the ubiquitous and automatic 'no stock' without even bothering to look) or on the phone.Most of it is shrugged off as the daily irritations of city life and frankly sometimes on a bad day I can be curt too.