Traveling to Malaysia is quite easy but the differences in culture and customs will be startling to some. The differences will take some time to get accustomed to. Generally, Malaysians are a friendly people. They have great food and a great sense of pride in their country.
They are culturally diverse and are accepting of other races. They speak great English and are also pretty laid back as a people. Time takes a different meaning with Malaysians. There is a different pace for doing things, so do not rush unless you want to make a wrong impression.
The differences in gestures and culture context is quite huge. What may seem to be normal for some cultures may be considered rude by Malaysians so take it into consideration.
How to Behave: Malaysia Culture
Here are some things that you should do when you are in Malaysia:
1. Do greet people whom you know. This is expected. Shake hands with people or do it the traditional Malay way. Shake hands and hold the outstretched hands lightly. Touch your right hand to the left part of your chest and smile. This means “I greet you from my heart”.
If a woman initiates the handshake, it is best to return it. Otherwise, just smile and nod politely. Remember you are in a Muslim country. Men are not supposed to touch women whom they do not know.
2. Always remove your footwear. Whenever you enter the mosques or temples or Malaysian homes, it is polite to remove your footwear. This shows respect for the people living there.
3. Always use your right hand. The right hand is to be used for receiving things and eating. Even if you are left-handed, use your right hand as it is the polite thing to do.
4. Do call first before visiting. Inquire first if the person you intend to visit is home. It also allows the person to prepare properly to welcome you into his home.
5. Do dress up appropriately. Dress conservatively. Do not expose your shoulders, your bellybutton or your midriff. Keep your skirt length below knee level.
6. Do burp to show appreciation. Burp to your hearts’ content after a meal. This is a compliment to the person who cooked. It shows that you enjoyed the meal and found the food delicious.
7. Do remove hats, caps and headgear. When entering religious places, always remove your hats, caps and other headgear as a sign of respect. Do not insist in outing them back on while you are inside the building.
8. Do stand-up when monks or nuns enter. This shows your respect for their stature. These are the things you should remember so you won’t get in hot water:
9. Do not show too much affection in public. Kissing and embracing in public is frowned upon. Malaysia being predominantly Muslim, public displays of affection is considered taboo. Keep your touching to a minimum.
10. Don’t even think of using prohibited or illegal drugs. There is a mandatory death penalty for people who use illegal drugs. Very few, if ever, get spared the punishment.
11. Do not get mad if your attempt at friendliness is not received well. Shaking hands with the opposite sex is not the norm in Malaysia. Men do not touch women unless it is the woman who initiates the handshake. This is their custom, observe it.
12. Don’t go sunbathing or swimming in the nude or topless. It is a Muslim country after all and people tend to be more conservative. When you see Malaysian women swimming with their scarves on, do not point at her or make snide comments as it is rude to do so.
13. Don’t drink alcoholic beverages. Malaysians do not drink alcohol as their religion prohibits it. Do not offer a Malaysian any alcoholic drink but if they are the ones who ask, give it to them without making any further comment.
14. Do not point using your forefinger. In Malaysia, you don’t point using the forefinger. Yes, you guessed it, it is considered rude. Point using your right thumb with the four fingers folded below it.
15. Don’t place a hand on top of the head of a Malay. Do not even try. Most Malaysians consider the top of the head as an important part of the body. Touching it or moving thigs above it is impolite.
When exploring a different country, it is best to get to learn their customs and culture. It makes it easier, it makes it better for you to get assimilated with them. The faster you become familiar with the standards and norms of their culture, the better it is for you to work better and become more productive.