The Latest! Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos – A Series of Cultural Tips for Countries from A to Z: MALAYSIA
Most businesspeople should be addressed with a name and title. If a person does not have a professional title (Professor or Doctor) you may use courtesy titles such as “Mr.” or “Ms.”, plus the name. This is less important with younger businesspeople.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy of nine royal houses. Foreigners are likely to encounter one of them eventually. Ask a native how a particular royal should be
Although most Malaysians are Muslim, not all of Malaysia follows the traditional Islamic working week in which Friday is the Islamic holy day and the weekend takes place on Thursday and Friday. Five Malaysian states follow the Islamic workweek of Saturday through Wednesday. These include Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, and Johore. The Malaysian capital city, Kuala Lumpur, is in the state of Selangor, where the working week is Monday through Friday.
Since most of the country is Muslim, it is helpful to schedule meetings around prayer times. Friday at noon is a particularly busy time for prayers.
The majority of Malaysian businesspeople are Chinese, and you can expect them to be punctual. Most government officials are ethnic Malays who have more of a relaxed attitude toward time. Business travelers are expected to be on time, although ethnic Malaysian may not necessarily do the same.
The Indian’s perspective on time is similar to that of the Malays. However, the Indian professionals you may encounter will expect punctuality.
Alcohol will not be served at any social event hosted by observant Muslims. Expect that meals will be served close to the time given on the invitation.
With the exception of handshakes, there is no public contact between the sexes in Malaysia. Hugging and kissing, even between husbands and wives, is forbidden in public.
Physical contact between the same sex is perfectly acceptable. Men may be holding hands with men or even walking with their arms around each other. These actions are interpreted as gestures of friendship.
When you are being introduced to a Malaysian woman, shake hands with her only if she has extended her hand. If she does not extend her hand just smile and a nod to greet her.
When introducing a man and a woman, the female’s name should be said first .As in many other countries, when presenting a higher-ranking person to a more junior person, the senior person’s name is said first.
Out of deference, give a slight bow to elderly people you are introduced to. Keep your hands out of your pockets when in public. When exiting a room, say “Excuse me” and add a slight bow.
When you must indicate something or someone, use the entire right hand (palm out). You can also point with your right thumb, as long as all four fingers are curled down. It is considered rude to point at anyone with the forefinger. Malaysians use the forefinger only to point at animals.
When passing an object, reaching for something or touching someone, do so with your right hand. The left hand is considered unclean.
Feet are also believed to be unclean. Never point your feet at another person. Apologize whenever your shoes or feet touch another person. Don’t show the soles of your feet or shoes. You may cross your legs at the knee, but not place one ankle on your knee.
5 Key Topics to Use in Conversation
- Your Malaysian host’s family, heritage and culture
- Business and plans for the future
- Praising the local cuisine
- Malaysian culture, art and music
- Sports, especially soccer which they call ‘football’
5 Keys Topics to Avoid in Conversation
- Criticizing any aspect of Malaysian culture
- Comparing life in Malaysia to life in the West
- Politics, bureaucracy and religion
- Ethnic relations in Malaysia and in general
- Sex and roles of the sexes
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