Image via says.com
Firstly, I have to disabuse many of our Western readers of a common but mistaken notion of what the word Malaysian means. The word Malaysian refers to a nationality (much like American or Canadian), whereas Malay refers to a particular ethnic group in Malaysia. Chinese Malaysians and Indian Malaysians (and others) are as much a part of the fabric of the country as are Malay Malaysians.
This is important because Malaysia is not a melting pot but a mosaic in which each ethnic group retains its own culture, language and views of human flourishing. Therefore, when one asks the question “How do Malaysians feel toward Singaporeans?”, one almost always needs to clarify which Malaysian demographic one is referring to. Chinese-Malaysians, Indian-Malaysians, and Malay-Malaysians all hold different views, plus there is also the urban-rural divide to consider — the folks in the kampongs (villages) have very different views from folks who live in cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur.
Having said that, here is a (vastly overgeneralised) list of opinions:
Most Malaysians acknowledge the fact that Singapore is a much more developed country than their own, and they respect and admire (albeit sometimes grudgingly) various aspects of Singaporean society, such as its efficient civil service, the overall cleanliness of the city, its meritocratic policies (though this view is nuanced among Malay Malaysians, because of a prevailing view that Singaporean Malays are getting the short end of the stick with respect to Singapore’s development policies), its educational institutions, etc.
Culturally, Malaysians see their Singaporean counterparts (of the corresponding ethnicity) as being very similar to themselves. The cultural similarities are often quite astounding: similar food, accents, language, native dialects, religious practices, etc.
When “Under One Roof” (a Singapore sitcom) was broadcast in Malaysia back in the early 90s, it was extremely well-received because it resonated culturally with the urban English-speaking population of Malaysia.
For the most part, Malaysians think of Singaporeans as being fundamentally the same people as themselves who are living in a society that has been organised quite differently from their own. Penangite Malaysians, in particular, feel an even more palpable sense of similarity vis-a-vis Singaporeans (Penang being a former British Straits Settlement with a predominantly Hokkien Chinese population, much like Singapore).
However, Malaysians know that this feeling isn’t always mutual. For the longest time, there has been the perception among Malaysians that they are seen as hicks by their Singaporean cousins. This has caused some animosity between the two peoples, but in recent years, this sentiment has become somewhat less pronounced.
In terms of the English language, Singaporeans are seen as being more proficient in the language because their society is organised around English. However, folks in Kuala Lumpur metropolitan area (known as the Klang Valley)—who speak mesolect and acrolect Malaysian English—speak a form of the language that is almost indistinguishable from that spoken by most English-speaking Singaporeans. Many English-speaking Malaysians feel a distinct cultural connection to their Singaporean counterparts when they’re in Singapore. Note: it is worth noting that Manglish (the Malaysian English patois), while similar to Singlish (the Singaporean English patois), is not identical to it. The former contains more Malay words while the latter has borrowed more extensively from Hokkien.
Many Malaysians have this notion that most if not all Singaporeans are afflicted with an extreme form of the go-getter attitude known in the vernacular as “kiasuism”, sometimes to their detriment. While it is true that Singapore’s meritocratic policies are admired—because back home in Malaysia they are used to cronyism and affirmative action—there is also a sense among Malaysians that the meritocracy in Singapore is red in tooth and claw. Some Malaysians feel that life in Singapore is too competitive, regimented and unforgiving, and that Singaporean society breeds a very tough sort of people. The founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, has often said that he is a social Darwinist, and it is clear that he has managed to work his social Darwinist principles into the ethos of the Singaporean government and society. Many young Malaysians of some ability may have a desire to work in Singapore (where their abilities will be recognised), but often they have no desire to live there permanently or to retire there. Many Malaysians living in Singapore hold permanent resident (PR) status, but only a fraction choose to become Singaporean citizens. (of course, there are other push factors like National Service for men, lower cost of living in Malaysia, lack of space in Singapore, unbelievably high cost of car ownership (i.e COE) etc.)
In spite of their admiration of Singapore’s efficient government, most Malaysians feel that Singaporeans are coddled by and depend too much on their government. Singapore’s government is often seen as a well-meaning but overprotective nanny in terms of the degree of control (and protection) it exerts over its citizens. Jokes abound about Singapore’s SDU (Social Development Unit, a government funded agency whose raison d’etre is pretty much to play matchmaker to Singaporeans, or at least to those who are said to be “ka ki beh sai” i.e. those who can’t get dates on their own).