The article series ‘Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos’ is a brief synopsis of conversation guidelines, tips for successful communication, and some strategies for business that will help increase your understanding of different cultures. Keep in mind that we are homogenizing as a “global culture”, and as we change and evolve these cultural tendencies change and evolve as well. Awareness is always the first step!
While first names are more frequently being used in business, some businesspeople prefer to be introduced with a name and title (Professor or Doctor), or surnames such as “Mr.” or “Ms.”. Titles and surnames are definitely 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 addressed.
Although most Malaysians are Muslim, not all of Malaysia follows the traditional Islamic working week where Friday is the Islamic holy day and the weekend takes place on Thursday and Friday. Some Malaysian states follow the Islamic workweek of Saturday through Wednesday. These include Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, and Johor. 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. Many government officials are ethnic Malays who have more of a relaxed attitude toward time. Business travelers are expected to be on time, although ethnic Malaysians may not necessarily do the same.
Indian Malaysians are Malaysians of Indian origin. Many are descendants from those who migrated from India during the British colonization. The Indian’s perspective on time is similar to that of the Malaysians, although the Indian professionals you 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 sexes 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. Malays 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 relationships in Malaysia
- Sex and roles of the sexes
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Coming on: My blog
Cross-cultural article: Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos for MALAYSIA
Coming on the: Circles Of Excellence blog
Cross-cultural article: Cultural Clues, Do’s and Taboos for SCOTLAND
Article archive for what you missed! Cultural Clues, Do’s and Taboos
Contact EMMY AWARD WINNER, Gayle Cotton, for your next meeting or conference to help you or your company become more successful in today’s global business marketplace. Gayle is the author of the bestselling book ‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communications’ and President of Circles Of Excellence for Corporate Training & Executive Coaching. Her vast experience living and working abroad will entertain and inspire audiences of any size with her fresh, unique and humorous approach to Cross-Cultural Communications and social business etiquette! Gayle travels worldwide from business bases in Texas and Switzerland as a distinguished professional keynote speaker.
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