Social Customs, Etiquette and Daily Life in Malaysia

If you are planning a trip to Malaysia, there are a few things you will need to know. Here is a quick overview of some important rules to follow during your time in the heart of Asia.

  • Malaysian society is one of the world’s most diverse. People tend to socialise within their own ethnic groups and each keep to their individual traditions, lifestyles and cuisines. However, despite these differences, the groups share certain cultural features; they are all Malaysian after all.
  • Family is extremely important in Malaysia and is considered the centre of the social structure. Friends come second. Loyalty towards your family and respect of your elders are greatly important. Unlike in the West, it is common for several generations of a family to live together, sometimes also with members of the extended family.
  • Malays and Indians tend not to use surnames, instead placing “son/daughter of” plus their father’s name after their given name. The Chinese traditionally have three names; the surname, followed by two given names, although many adopt a Western name.
  • When greeting somebody, hand-shaking is only between members of the same sex.
  • Always eat, shake-hands, pass money and objects and touch people with your right hand. The left hand is used for washing the body.
  • When invited to someone’s home for dinner, it is customary to bring a gift. Never offer alcohol, anything made of pigskin or non-Halal foods to a Malay as they will most likely be Muslim. Alcohol and leathers are also unsuitable gifts for Hindus. When gift-giving to a Chinese host, fruit, sweets or cakes are always appreciated. Unlike in the West, flowers are not generally given as they are given to the sick and used at funerals. For all ethnic groups, white wrapping paper should be avoided as it symbolises death and mourning; red and yellow are good colour choices. Gifts are not usually opened until guests have left.
  • It’s rude to point! Never point with your index finger; in Malaysia, the thumb is used for pointing. Thumbs up!
  • Standing with your hands in your pockets can signify anger, so stop your slouching.
  • Women should dress modestly at all times due to the country’s strong Muslim faith. Think shoulders and knees.
  • Public displays of affection are not the norm in Malaysia. Keep your hands to yourself folks!
  • Malays and Indians tend not to use surnames, instead placing “son/daughter of” plus their father’s name after their given name. The Chinese traditionally have three names; the surname, followed by two given names, although many adopt a Western name.
  • Tipping is not usually necessary when eating out as there is usually a service charge, plus government sales tax added to your bill. However, if your waiter was particularly fantastic, feel free to show your appreciation with a few Ringit.
  • There are not strict ‘set times’ for eating in Malaysia. If you’re hungry, eat! Restaurants serve food throughout the day and after often open until late.
  • Taxi drivers can be cheeky during rush-hour or a raging thunder-storm. Never let them give you a ride without starting the meter!
  • Public transport… what’s that now? Better off getting a Myvi.
  • Malaysians do not like to “loose face”. Be understanding when things go wrong or small mistakes are made to help them avoid embarrassment.
  • Watch out for pesky motorcycle bag-snatchers. They’ll be off with your belongings before you can blink!
  • Finally, Malaysians are a warm-hearted, friendly and laid-back bunch. Leave your stresses behind and put a lid on that road-rage; when in Rome..
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About SAFbakes

Want to know where to eat and what to bake? Join me at dinediscover.wordpress.com

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