Malaysian Etiquette & Cultural Taboos

Malaysia is a multi-faceted country filled to the brim with a smorgasbord of various cultures, traditions, religions, and races. As with any culture hotpot, you’ll find a mixture of unique fusions of cultural characteristics here like the Malays, Chinese, Indians, indigenous people, and even some immigrant cultures.

However, having a highly diverse population does come with its own downsides as this means you’ll have even more cultural differences, etiquette, and taboos to be aware of when you visit Malaysia.

Before travelling to Malaysia (when we are all able to fly, that is), you’ll need to understand some of these etiquettes and taboos lest you offend the locals.

Malaysian Etiquette

Know this, while Malaysia has plenty of cultural diversity, it is still a Muslim-majority nation. As such, it’d bode you well to be aware of the appropriate customs when it comes to Islam.

For instance, food customs in the Islamic religion dictates that practitioners should avoid alcoholic beverages or pork in their food. So it’d be an unwise decision to offer a mug of beer to a Muslim compatriot, for example. Otherwise, the Malays are generally a hospitable bunch as they’re more than happy to host gatherings (when it is appropriate after the pandemic has ended) in their homes.

Also, do not be surprised when you see Malaysians eating with their hands as this is a common culture not only practised by the Malays but also other races as well. If you would like to join in on this custom, be aware to only use the right hand to eat during meals, as the left hand is considered the “dirty hand”.Obviously, different ethnic groups in Malaysia have also adopted various meeting etiquette but the most common for Malaysians to acknowledge one another is by gently nodding their heads to show respect, whereas a firm handshake (with plenty of hand sanitiser) is also an appropriate way of greeting someone here. 

Malaysian Taboos

There are generally a few taboos you should keep in mind when visiting the country. Do not disrespect the locals and their culture. Do not be too loud in public. These are just some of them.

First off, you should not use your index finger to point at anyone in Malaysia. Also, do not expose the soles of your feet in front of people as it is considered an insult. Here, the head is also considered one of the most sacred parts of the body so you should endeavour to avoid touching it, especially when it comes to children.

Some taboo numbers for Malaysians include 0, 4, and 13, while the colour yellow is not encouraged (could be in part due to a certain political movement’s colour) and black is generally not a common colour to be used on its own. Online games that fringe on gambling should also be avoided as they’re not entirely legal.

Also, avoid bringing any pig leather products into the country, avoid using any lacquerware, and avoid publicly discussing any sensitive topics such as local politics. Lastly, we’re circling back to our earlier point about eating using only your hands. As the left hand is unclean, Malaysians tend to not use it to pass things on to others. If you’ve accidentally done this, simply apologize and it should be well and good and you can move on.

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