Greetings and Cultural Etiquette in Malaysia

Greetings and Cultural Etiquette in Malaysia

Ever wondered how Malaysians greet each other? If you’re planning to visit the country anytime soon, it would be great to learn about the greetings and cultural etiquette that locals use so that you can show proper courtesy to the locals.

How do you greet in Malay?

How do you greet in Malay
Photo from:

The standard way to greet one another in Malay is by saying ‘Salaam’. Moreover, the universal greeting that’s acceptable in all ethnicities is simply a handshake.

Although handshakes are becoming more common in the country, one can’t simply shake a woman’s hand unless they give consent. Alternatively, a simple bow or a combination of a nod, a smile and a hand on the chest should suffice.

How do Malaysians greet each other?

How do Malaysians greet each other
Photo from:

Malaysians greet each other by verbally saying ‘Salaam’ which translates to peace. As for elders, the right way to show them respect is by referring to them as “pakcik” (uncle) or “makcik” (aunty).

Aside from greetings, Malaysia also has a set of cultural etiquette that every tourist should know to avoid offending the culture of the country. Learn more about them down below:

5 General Malaysian Cultural Etiquette Every Tourist Should Know

Showing respect to Malaysia’s culture involves dressing properly, addressing people by their appropriate titles correctly, recognising hierarchy and more. 

Furthermore, there are important things to remember about the general cultural etiquette that is reinstated in the country. These are:

1. Dress appropriately

Dress appropriately
Photo from:

One of the most vital things you must not forget when visiting Malaysia is to wear appropriate clothes. It’s important to remember that Malaysia is predominantly Muslim and with this religion comes a strict dress code that everyone must abide by.

The Islamic tradition calls for a dress code that requires both men and women to keep their torsos covered with their sleeves preferably reaching down below their elbows. If possible, wear long-sleeved shirts to ensure that you won’t offend the country’s culture.

As for bottoms, it’s preferable that you wear long trousers. Skirts and shorts are allowed just to be sure that the hem reaches down the knee.

Furthermore, clothes that are too tight to the point where it’s hugging the form of the person’s body are discouraged and frowned upon, especially for women.

Once you head to tourist-heavy cities like Kuala Lumpur, you’ll find that the dress code will be less-strict. Moreover, heading to the beach and doing sports activities will allow you to wear less restricting clothes.

When in doubt, the bottom line is to avoid wearing revealing clothes to prevent getting unwanted attention.

2. Avoid gifting alcohol

Avoid gifting alcohol
Photo from:

Malaysians love giving gifts and if you’re given the opportunity to do so make sure to remember some important things. 

For starters, you should never give alcohol if the recipient is a Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu because these religions forbid them. This is important to remember since Malaysia is a predominantly Islamic country.

Another important thing to remember is to not give a gift that has a likeness to dogs or pigs as they’re considered inappropriate. This is because these animals are considered haram in the tradition of Muslims.

Once you find the perfect gift for your Malaysian friend, you need to avoid two colours for your wrapping paper: yellow and white. This is because the former indicates death and mourning while the latter is associated with royalty.

Lastly, when giving and receiving gifts, make sure to always use both hands as a sign of respect for the other person.

3. Don’t point with your index finger

Don’t point with your index finger
Photo from:

There are also some subtle but important body language reminders that you have to remember when visiting Malaysia. 

One of the things that most tourists are surprised by is that pointing using your index finger is considered rude. What you should do instead is open your hand and point towards the object or place that you’re trying to direct someone to.

Another important thing to remember is to avoid touching someone’s head no matter what their religion is. This is because they consider the head as the most sacred body part out of them all, therefore touching it is considered rude.

You should also remember that handshakes should also be offered to someone of the same gender. If you’re meeting a female, make sure to wait for her to extend her hand and if not, you can simply bow and smile.

Lastly, some public displays of affection such as kissing can be deemed inappropriate since the Islamic country is moderately conservative.

4. Use only your right hand for eating

Use only your right hand for eating
Photo from:

When invited to eat with Malaysians, you need to take note of certain dining etiquette tips. For one, the host of the table orders everything that will be served throughout the meal.

In Malaysia, it’s normal to eat using your bare hands. That’s why restaurants serve pitchers of water on the table before the meal so that the customers can wash their hands.

Malaysians use their right hand for eating. This is because the left hand is reserved for cleansing oneself making it unsanitary to use for dining.

Also, tipping is not required in Malaysia as restaurants automatically add them to your bill. However, if you do want to give thanks by tipping, you’re free to do so and your server will show their appreciation.

5. Don’t enter a home with your shoes on

Don’t enter a home with your shoes on
Photo from:

One of the things that Malaysians do for fun is to hold open houses. This is an integral part of their culture and it’s an opportunity to show the hospitality that the country is known for.

If you get invited by your Malaysian friend, it would be wise to remember some tips. For starters, make an effort to bring a small offering to the host such as fresh fruits as this is considered a customary gesture called ‘buah tangan’.

Open houses will also allow you to prepare a dish that you can contribute to the gathering. When doing this, make sure that your dish is certified halal.

Lastly, it’s common practice to leave your shoes at the door when visiting a local’s house for several reasons with the most common one being to keep the house clean.

Basic dos and don’ts for tourists in Malaysia

When visiting Malaysia, you need to remember some key do’s and don’ts that can help you avoid offending the locals as well as the country’s culture.

Greet with a smileShow signs of anger in public
Respect social hierarchyGive insincere compliments
Compliment one’s hospitalityDirectly criticise someone
Wear appropriate clothesDrink outside of bars

Do greet people with a smile

In Malaysia, it’s customary to always smile when greeting. Since locals will always greet you with a warm smile, it would be nice to give them one as well.

Don’t show signs of anger in public

As much as possible, you should never show signs of anger in public, especially to those who are older than you. Whether it be shouting, raising your voice and more, these acts are disapproved by locals as they’re seen as being mindless.

Do respect the social hierarchy in your company

Malaysians take social hierarchy very seriously so make sure to respect it when you’re in the company of a group of locals. For example, if you’re with elders or people that are superior to you, make sure to address them appropriately.

Don’t give insincere compliments

One of the things that will immediately make someone lose face is by giving insincere compliments. In Asian culture, a face pertains to the person’s dignity and honour and losing face aptly means losing one’s respect.

Do compliment people’s hospitality

Malaysians are known for their hospitality which is one of the many reasons why there are tons of quality nursing homes in Kuala Lumpur alone. So, it’s fair to give them a compliment about this specific trait, especially if you’ve experienced it first-hand.

It may not be much at first glance but hospitality is a big deal for Malaysians to the point where it reflects their personality as a whole.

Don’t directly criticise someone

Along the lines of insincere compliments, another way to lose face is by directly criticising someone which is why it should be avoided at all times.

If you are to point out someone’s mistake, try to tell them in private to avoid humiliating them in public.

Do wear appropriate clothes

As previously stated, Malaysia is predominantly Islamic and although you are a visitor, it’s still important to abide by the set of cultural rules that come with this religion. One of these rules is dressing appropriately.

To be safe, always make sure not to wear clothes that are revealing. As much as possible, try to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers that are below the knee, especially if you’re visiting worshipping places such as mosques.

Don’t drink outside of bars

In Malaysia, several bars are reserved for drinking and partying. This way, tourists and party goers can still have fun with their friends while respecting the country’s culture.

As much as possible, limit drinking to these places only as Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, observing your surroundings and watching what locals do will help you discern which actions are the right thing to do. 

Furthermore, locals won’t immediately expect you to be accustomed to these practices but they’ll appreciate you for putting effort into them. After all, Malaysia is one of the friendliest countries you can visit.

FAQs about Greetings and Cultural Etiquette in Malaysia