As much as Penangites love and cherish their hometown and everything it represents, they often have to make the difficult decision to leave home, usually for better job prospects.
Along with homesickness and day-long cravings for island street food, they have to contend with a string of stereotypical comments from non-Penangites that first shock, then irritate them no end.
Here are six teeth-gnashing comments they hear all the time.
1. ‘Such terrible driving, confirmed that man is a Penang driver.’
If Penangites could get a ringgit for every time they heard that Penang drivers are a nightmare on wheels, they would be millionaires.
So yes, Penang drivers have earned a bad reputation for how they drive. In fact, the “P” number plate itself can strike fear and judgment in the hearts of other drivers.
A related fear for any non-Penangite is driving along the congested streets of George Town, surrounded by island bullies brandishing their “P” number plate like a badge of honour.
But not every Penangite drives like a stunt performer on a movie set. The majority are law abiding and even courteous behind the wheel – so watch your words, people.
2. Considering Bukit Mertajam a part of Penang island
Those who live on the island do not identify strongly with mainland Penangites.
The only time islanders would ever dream of crossing the bridge is for work or to reluctantly visit a relative.
Try telling any islander that Bukit Mertajam is part of Penang and they would vehemently claim that anything beyond the Bridge is simply not a part of Penang.
But now, with the massive IKEA at Batu Kawan, maybe it’s time for island folk to come to terms with their mainland issues.
3. ‘Why are your Hokkien mee and curry laksa so different?’
Don’t mess with Penangites when it comes to their Hokkien mee. They will put their foot down that Hokkien mee is a rich broth-based dish filled with yellow noodles, pork, prawns and a half of a full-boiled egg, no matter how much Kuala Lumpur folks try to convince them otherwise.
So better hide your dismay when the expected glistening mass of thick noodles drenched in dark soya sauce and sprinkled with crunchy bits of deep-fried pork lard do not make it to your table.
Also, do not expect a piping hot bowl of noodles swimming in a broth of curry and coconut milk with cockles, shrimp and tofu puffs when ordering curry laksa in Penang.
What you’ll get is a bowl of assam laksa – and don’t you dare kick up a fuss about it. Intricately flavourful, it is a sweet, spicy and sour fish broth served with rice noodles. So just eat-up and keep your comments to yourself!
4. ‘You’re from Penang? Have you tried this shop?’
Yes, Penang might be a small island to some but that does not mean those who live there have been to every single char koay teow and nasi kandar joint and hipster café there.
People, listen up! Penang island is 293 square km with a population of 722,384. It is also the most densely populated island in the country, so honestly “have you tried this shop?” makes for a rather inane question.
You’re better off asking this to a tourist as most stalls hyped-up on social media are inundated with tourists both local and foreign instead of actual Penangites, who prefer to stay as far away as possible.
5. ‘You can’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese, ah? Only Hokkien?’
Many Penangites struggle to adjust when they leave their beloved state. Not only do they crave the authentic Penang-style hawker fare they grew up with, they struggle with language as well.
Over in Penang, Hokkien is the spoken dialect but elsewhere, Cantonese and Mandarin are spoken, thus giving Penang Hokkien speakers the undignified title of “bananas”, meaning Chinese who cannot speak Mandarin.
6. ‘Have you tried that nasi kandar, char koay teow shop in KL? It’s as good as the one in Penang.’
No Penangite in their right mind would agree that Kuala Lumpur char koay teow or nasi kandar are even remotely close to the authentic fare served in Penang.
Kuala Lumpur can claim to be the champion of many things – skyscrapers, a happening night life and designer shopping outlets – but when it comes to food, leave it to Penang, please.
So, the next time anyone feels like asking a Penangite why their Hokkien mee is not called prawn mee, don’t expect anything but a loud, exasperated sigh and a series of eye rolls.