MY nephew’s daughter spilled the glass of water on the dinner table while the adults were busy helping themselves to the food. He rebuked her for the mess she had made, telling us that she did that at all the houses they visited.
Then, the unexpected happened. His sisters came to the daughter’s defence. They told him that it was okay for the daughter to spill the water.
“Dia bagi rezeki pada tuan rumah (she brings luck for the host),” one of the sisters said. They justified her action by some old wives’ tale.
When his son knocked down and damaged a clock on my brother’s television console, my mother’s classic reaction was: “It’s okay, he’s just a little child.” The children’s minders were either too busy eating, chitchatting among themselves, or pre-occupied with the shows on the telly, instead of keeping an eye on the five children who made up the entourage of 17 people to my brother’s house last Saturday.
We — my brother and I — have been part of a convoy of up to 15 families for Hari Raya open houses and have received huge number of people — grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren and extended family members — at our own home.
We know how etiquette can fly out of the window during these festive open houses. But, we also know that some mishaps can be avoided if some extra care is exercised.
So, what did we do? Did we speak up or did we hold our peace?
We decided to let things slide.
It is only courteous to do so. Furthermore, it is the Hari Raya Aidilfitri month; we had just sought forgiveness from each other.
We didn’t want to upset anyone unlike a celebrity chef’s posting about the conduct of guests and their children at open houses, which did offend some people.
We were actually quite thrilled, reading the posting. We thought he was doing us a huge favour. He posted on his social media account what most of us aren’t brave enough to write or say.
We said a silent prayer that people would actually read it and relate it to themselves.
While some of those who followed his account felt insulted by what he wrote, there were those who opened up to share their own experiences. And there were plenty.
Friends in my age group actually discussed the posting. One friend rightly pointed out that the posting touched on adab (prescribed manners).
“Most people get easily offended when they are told off that they don’t have it, when in fact they don’t,” he said.
As the saying goes, manners maketh man. We are judged by our manners and conduct. Either we have it, or we don’t.
We also talked about the tradition of holding open houses. Their parents, like mine, never hosted any Raya open houses. In fact, we asked ourselves when exactly open houses became a norm. No one could offer an answer.
Our homes were opened to visitors for Raya after the Syawal prayers right up to midnight. If you’re early enough, you'll get to share our ketupat, kuah lodeh, sambal kacang and rendang. We will also serve you Johor specials such as harisa, air beyh and halwa maskat. And there is the usual spread of Raya cookies and cakes.
Beyond the first day, you’ll be served coffee, tea and the Raya cookies and cakes. No special dishes will be prepared, although there are kitchen helpers that can help our mothers whip something up.
And there is no one special day that we invite all our family members and friends to gather at our homes.
Back then, Syawal visiting was all about forging silaturrahim (bond of friendship and/or relationship) among family, friends and their children. Before we go visiting, our parents would warn us to behave when at other people’s houses.
In fact, we are mostly “seen but not heard” during our visits.
“Remember what our parents used to say? When we do something bad, it is their names that we tarnish,” another said. That statement alone had put fear in most of us.
These days, open houses defeat the silaturrahim purpose. We have heard of hosts apologising to their guests for not being able to sit down with them as there were far too many guests to attend to.
There are also “touch and go” guests, who attend open houses for the sake of tunjuk muka (showing face) to the host because they have other open houses to attend on that particular day.
It is all about the food and drinks (you get more special dishes at one open house than the other), how much is in the Raya packets for the children, how big the open house is and who the VIPS are. Children are let loose to run riot throughout the house or venue of the event.
We wonder if this Malaysian tradition can stand the test of time as there is increased grumbling over it. Well, we conclude that it will continue as there are people who still enjoy doing it.
FAUZIAH ISMAIL is a United Nation’s Journalism fellow and Wolfson College Cambridge press fellow. She has 30 years of experience as a journalist, half of which with the Business Times