Dos and Don’ts in MalaysiaKirsty Turner
Malaysia receives a large number of tourists and the Malay people are used to the different habits of foreigners. Although Malay people tend to be tolerant to cultural differences, it is important to remember that this is a conservative country and you should show respect by trying to follow the established customs. While some customs may sound a little bit complicated at first, simply observe the behaviour of other people and all will become clear.
The people of Malaysia generally dress conservatively by Western standards, and showing too much skin in public is sure to cause offense. Although the high temperatures and humidity levels throughout the country may make visitors want to strip off, it is best to wear long, loose clothing at all times. Wearing shoes indoors is also considered to be rude, and visitors will usually notice a place to put shoes just outside temples and private houses.
Malaysian people usually greet each other with a salam, which is a type of handshake that it made with both hands. When greeting someone for the first time, the protocol is for you to stretch out your hands in greeting. The other person will touch your outstretched hands, and then bring them to their chest in a gesture that means “I greet you from my heart”. Now it is the visitor’s turn to return the gesture. In some cases, someone may offer to shake hands instead, although this isn’t common and shouldn’t be initiated.
Eating etiquette is important in Malaysia and varies depending on the type of food you are eating. While Malay and Indian food is usually eaten with the right hand (never the left, as it is considered to be unclean), chopsticks tend to be used to eat Chinese food. Those who prefer to use cutlery than their right hand will be supplied with a spoon and a fork. Knives are not commonly used here, as most dishes feature pieces of meal that are small enough to scoop into your mouth without cutting them first.
People rarely show affection in public, aside from the traditional salam greeting, and kissing and holding hands when in a public area is sure to cause embarrassment to onlookers and attract unwanted attention.