Living abroad can sometimes be difficult. Moving into a new country, where the culture is different can result in culture shock or some unintentional mishaps. Some of these mishaps, especially the smaller ones may not be harmless. However, some mistakes, even the unintentional ones, may hurt the people around you.
When staying and studying in another country, the last thing you might want to happen as a student is to offend the locals including your friends and other people you always interact with.
To avoid committing a cultural faux pas and maybe offending some locals, here are some Malaysian customs you should know about.
Malaysia’s Multi-ethnic and Multi-cultural Society
Before delving into Malaysia’s customs, keep in mind that Malaysia’s society is made up of many ethnicities and cultures from different parts of Asia. The three major cultures in Malaysia are the Malays (with the majority being Muslims), Chinese, and Indians. Thus, expect that different groups may sometimes have different ways of doing things.
Customs You Should Know About
In general, Malaysians are an easygoing bunch of people. However, there are some practices that you may need to follow to not offend the people around you.
All Good Things with the Right Hand
You might not spot it during your earlier stay in Malaysia, but the right hand is most often used by Malaysians in many things—from eating to gift-giving, and even doing business. Most often, when Malays eat, they use their right hand, even with the use of a spoon and fork. When giving gifts and receiving them, the right way to do it is still with the right hand only if it’s a small gift, or two hands if the item is large. Moreover, when doing business, do not give your business card using your left hand. Use your right hand, or offer with two hands.
For the Muslim Malays, when holding the Quran, they should use their right hand. However, avoid pointing to objects, people, or places with either of your forefingers.
Aside from using your right hand when you offer or receive a gift, other gift-giving etiquettes in Malaysia include the following for each group:
- Avoid wrapping your gifts in yellow or white
- Do not give alcohol
- If it’s food, only give halal food
- Do not expect the receiver to open the gift in front of you
- When visiting a house, pastries or chocolates are the safest gift to your hosts
- Do not give flowers
- Do not give gifts with sharp edges such as knives or scissors
- When visiting a house, bring sweets or cakes and say they’re for the children
- Avoid using black or white gift wrappers
- Do not give leather products
- Do not give alcohol
Public Display of Affection
With the majority of the population being Muslims, public behavior is always important in Malaysia.
In fact, Malaysians refrain from showing affection in public, which includes hugging or kissing. Thus, as a visitor, you should also refrain from doing those.
Malaysian customs may seem intimidating at first, but as you stay longer and become more familiar with the culture, you will find that Malaysians are similar to most people, easygoing folks who enjoy good food and good weather. To know more about Malaysia, check out MSM Unify’s article on Studying in Malaysia: What You Need to Know.