Picture this: You have visited Malaysia, drinking Teh Tarik (Malaysia’s famous milk tea), walking down the streets of Kuala Lumpur, and taking in all the sights and sounds.
You see a local, smile and wave, and approach them to say hi. Suddenly, they look uncomfortable and avoid eye contact. Oops, did you just commit a cultural no-no?
That’s why before you go, be sure you know the do’s and don’ts in Malaysia to avoid any cultural faux pas and embarrass yourself.
Today, I’ll teach you all the tips and tricks to avoid awkward situations and make the most of your trip to Malaysia. Let’s get started!
Do’s In Malaysia
If you’re planning a trip to South Asia, specifically to Malaysia, it’s always good to know the local customs and Malaysian etiquette.
By following a few simple ‘Do’s,’ you’ll be sure to have a great time and make the most of your stay.
When greeting people, use appropriate titles such as “Encik” (Mr.) and “Puan” (Mrs./Ms.), followed by their surnames.
And if they have a title like “Datuk” or “Tan Sri,” use that instead. But if you’re unsure, a smile and a friendly “Salam” (Hello) will always do the trick!
It’s also common for Chinese Malaysians to greet each other with “Ni hao” (hello in Chinese) or “Neh-moh” (hello in Cantonese).
Use Alternative Greeting
Try using an alternative greeting instead of shaking hands. One way is to place your right hand over your heart and nod.
This is especially appropriate when meeting a Muslim woman who may prefer not to engage in physical contact. By using this gesture, you show respect and honor local customs.
Malaysians value punctuality, so be on time if you’re going to a meeting or an appointment. If you’re running late, inform the person you’re meeting with as soon as possible.
Saying sorry in Malay, such as “Maaf, Saya lambat” (Sorry, I’m late) is a polite way to show that you respect their time and apologize for any inconvenience.
Try The Local Cuisine
The food in Malaysia is incredible! With its mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malay influences, there’s always something delicious to try. Don’t miss local delicacies like nasi lemak, laksa, and satay.
And if you’re really adventurous, try some durian! It’s a love-it-or-hate-it fruit, but it’s a unique experience either way.
Bargain At Markets
Haggling is part of shopping fun in Malaysia, especially at the bustling markets and colorful street stalls.
If you find something you love, but the price seems steep, don’t be afraid to use a bit of Bahasa Malaysia and ask the vendor, “Boleh kurang sikit?” (Can you make it lower?).
Keep in mind that haggling should always be done with a smile and a respectful attitude. With some friendly bargaining, you might even snag some good deals on unique souvenirs to take home with you.
Although credit cards are accepted in most places in Malaysia, carrying some cash is always a good idea.
Some smaller shops and food stalls may only accept cash payments, so having some on hand will be handy.
If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have cash. Then you can politely say, “Maaf, saya tidak ada tunai” which means “Sorry, I don’t have cash.”
Visit Local Markets
One of the best ways to experience Malaysian culture is by visiting the markets. From Pasar Seni to Petaling Street, there are plenty of places to immerse yourself in the local scene. Plus, it’s a great place to find unique souvenirs!
Malaysians are known for being friendly and polite. So, always greet people with a smile and say “Terima kasih” (Thank you) and “Sila” (Please). It’s a great way to show your appreciation and build positive relationships.
Explore The Local Wildlife
Malaysia is home to diverse flora and fauna, including tigers, orangutans, and elephants. So, visit wildlife sanctuaries such as Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Borneo Rainforest Lodge. It’s an incredible experience that you’ll never forget.
Learn Some Malay
Although English is widely spoken in Malaysia, learning Malay phrases can help you connect with the locals and show appreciation for their culture.
“Apa khabar?” (How are you?) and “Selamat pagi” (Good morning) are great phrases to start with.
Tipping is not common in Malaysia, but it’s always appreciated. If you’re satisfied with the service, you can say “Boleh simpan duit syiling” (Keep the change) and leave a small amount as a tip for service staff such as waiters and bellhops.
This gesture shows your appreciation for their hard work and can help build a positive relationship.
Don’ts In Malaysia
As much as Malaysia is a land of fun and excitement, it’s important to remember what you shouldn’t do. Let’s look into some ‘Don’ts’ so you can have the best time possible!
Don’t Disrespect The Royal Family
The Malaysian Royal family is highly regarded, so mind your words and avoid negative comments. To prevent rubbing locals the wrong way, avoid disrespectful gestures or comments.
Instead, show your admiration by saying “Daulat Tuanku,” which translates to “long live the royal family.”
Don’t Stare Too Much
It’s well-known that the eyes are the windows to the soul. However, in Malaysia, avoid staring too long at members of the opposite sex, especially when meeting them for the first time.
Keep it simple by giving them a polite nod to avoid awkward misunderstandings.
Don’t Use Your Left Hand
In Malaysia, the left hand is believed to be unclean, so avoid using it to touch food or pass items to others. Show your good manners by using your right hand instead.
Don’t Forget To Remove Your Shoes
When entering a Malaysian home, it’s customary to remove your shoes, as well as when visiting a mosque or temple. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way in showing respect for the local culture.
Don’t Use Your Finger To Call Someone
When asking someone to come closer, it’s best to use your whole hand, palm down, fingers folded to avoid coming off as impolite.
Instead of pointing your finger or using a beckoning motion, you can say “Silakan datang ke sini,” which means “Come here please” in Malay.
Don’t Point With Your Feet
Keep your toes to yourself, friends! Feet are considered unclean in Malaysia, so avoid pointing at people or objects with them. It’s more respectful to use your hand or call them by name, just to be safe.
Don’t Drink Alcohol
If you want to drink alcohol on vacation, remember that Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country where the consumption of alcoholic beverages is not widely accepted.
In fact, public intoxication can result in fines or even jail time. So, it’s best to be mindful of your alcohol intake and avoid excessive drinking in public places.
Don’t Show Public Displays Of Affection
Love is in the air, but keeping it to yourself is better. Public displays of affection like kissing and hugging are not common in Malaysia.
It’s best to respect the local customs and keep things low-key in public. That said, if you want to express your love in Malay, you can say “Saya cintakan awak” (I love you).
Don’t Touch Someone’s Head
In Malaysia, the head is the most sacred part of the body, so avoid touching someone’s head, even if it’s just to pat a child on the head. It’s better to show your respect by keeping your hands to yourself.
Don’t Discuss Religion or Politics
Sensitive subjects like religion and politics are best avoided when conversing in Malaysia, as they can quickly stir up strong emotions and differing opinions.
If you find yourself uncomfortable in a conversation, politely change the subject by saying, “Boleh kita bercakap tentang perkara lain?” which means, “Can we talk about something else?”
To ensure a harmonious atmosphere and avoid awkward situations, it’s best to stick to more neutral topics like food, travel, and hobbies.
Don’t Wear Revealing Clothing
Most Malay women may be modern, but they still got a conservative streak. When visiting religious sites or more traditional areas, cover up and dress modestly. You’ll look great and avoid any awkward stares.
Don’t Topless Sunbathe
If you plan on hitting Malaysia’s stunning “Banyak pantai” (Beaches), keep your clothes on! Sunbathing topless is a no-no here.
Remember, Malaysia has a large Muslim population, so it’s essential to respect local customs.
But, while Malaysian people tend to dress more modestly, tourists are still welcome to wear bikinis and bathing suits.
Don’t Take Photos Of People Without Permission
Capturing memories is part of the fun of traveling, but be sure to get permission before taking photos of locals. In Malaysia, it’s considered rude, invasive, and disrespectful to take someone’s picture without their consent.
Just ask and smile! You can say “Bolehkah saya ambil gambar dengan awak?” to politely ask “Can I take a picture with you?”
Useful Malay Phrases
Looking to make new friends in Malaysia and avoid any embarrassing faux pas? Here are some conversational Malay phrases you can use to break the ice:
|I’m fine, thanks
|Khabar baik, terima kasih
|Kha-bar baik, te-ri-ma ka-sih
|See you later
|I don’t understand
|Saya tidak faham
|Sa-ya ti-dak fa-ham
|Can you repeat that?
|Boleh ulang sekali lagi?
|Bo-leh u-lang se-ka-li la-gi?
Learn The Do’s And Don’ts In Malaysia With Ling
Now that you know the dos and don’ts in Malaysia, you’re well on your way to enjoying a smooth and respectful trip.
Remember to be polite, cover up in religious sites, and always ask before taking pictures of locals. And if you want to connect with the locals, try out some of those simple Malay phrases!
But why stop there? With the Ling app, you can dive deeper into the language and truly immerse yourself in the culture. The app offers hours of Malay language courses and over 60 other languages, with audio and visual aids to help you learn at your own pace.