Today, my childhood friend Jo called.

She’d just arrived in California two weeks ago, where her hubby’s been working the last year.

After more than a year of living in two different countries, Jo and Mr Jo were finally reunited. Jo had chosen to remain in Malaysia because she didn’t want to come until she got her own work visa (wives piggy-backing on heir husbands’ H1 visas aren’t allowed to work in the US – not legally anyway).

We talked long and hard, and it felt good to converse in our familiar, broken colloquail Malaysian English. She asked for some tips for her impending driving exam this weekend, and lamented how alone she felt in the big city because Mr Jo. was in LA for work.

“People talk so differently here, and it’s not just the accent!” she commented.

“I know. Garbage, not rubbish. Garbage can, not dustbin. It’s crazy!” I replied.

“You should write a Malaysian’s guide to talking properly in the US!” she quipped.

While I’m not going to write a guide per se, I will blog a little about it since I can’t sleep.

You see, Malaysians are taught to use ‘The Queen’s’ English. Even though we were colonised like 60 years ago and have been independent almost 50 years (2007 is our 50th anniversary), this legacy has managed to stick around much longer, much as a lot of those pesky English things still do in other countries like Australia and Canada.

We drive on the right side of the road. We have all our ‘u’s intact in words like favour and behaviour. We place our fullstops (you call them ‘periods’) after the brackets (you call them ‘parantheses’). And we also drink quite a bit of tea (mainly also because we produce lots of tea).

That said, Malaysians do NOT always use England’s English. In fact, what we speak today is so far off the original thing it’s a whole new deal altogether. Sure, we use mostly British terms. For example, it’s ‘tar’ instead of ‘asphalt’. ‘Reverse’ instead of ‘back up’. ‘Toilet’ or ‘loo’ instead of ‘restroom’. ‘Petrol’ instead of ‘gas’. We also end our sentences sometimes with ‘what!’ (He was not bad looking, what?!) or some such thing.

Once, I used a very common phrase in Malaysia to say that I was taking off:

“I’m making a move,” I’d said. My friends thought it was very odd.

A move?” one lady chuckled.

“That means I’ve gotta go,” I’d explained, feeling like a complete idiot after.

Malaysian English is, in a nutshell, heavily peppered with uniquely Malaysian colloquialisms. We infuse it with a lot of Malay and Chinese words, particularly since our first language is Malay and if one is Chinese, we are taught a certain dialect from young.

As a result, what we call English in Malaysia, is actually a zesty Asian cocktail of English, Malay and any common Malaysian ethnic dialect/language such as Tamil or Hindi. And we call this cocktail Manglish, short for Malaysian English, or as some of us cheekier ones call it, Mangled English, simply because it is a version of English that has been cut open and its entrails spread every which way, with all the wrong parts from other languages callously put in with nary a care as long as this body of language, when sewn up and delivered with spirit and aplomb, works.

Allow me to give you an example.

If you ask a Malaysian for directions, don’t be surprised to get English that’s been repackaged to what may be a totally undiscernible language.

“When you reach the T-junction, turn right and then when you reach the traffic light, turn left. After the flyover, masuk the highway and then exit to Jalan Tembakau. You pass some shops and tall buildings, then you reachlah! Easy, what?!”

Translation to American: You will reach a three-way junction. Take a right and you’ll come to a traffic light. After the overpass, take the ramp onto the freeway and exit on Jalan Tembakau. The shop is about two blocks away, easy peasy!

Notice the difference?

To my Malaysian friends, you won’t know how bad our English is until you go to a country where the language is almost always spoken (if not always written or punctuated) correctly. There is a word or phrase for everything. There are words for these words!

Still, it was good to use Manglish again today with Jo. It certainly was a nice change, without having to think of how to say something in proper American before opening one’s mouth.

Welcome to America, babe!