Malaysian Gestures and Customs


When visiting Malaysia, the visitor should understand the local customs and practices.


Although handshakes generally suffice for both men and women, some conservative Muslim ladies may acknowledge an introduction with a gentleman with a nod of her head and smile. A handshake is only to be reciprocated if the lady offers her hand first. The traditional Malay greeting of "salam" resembles a handshake with both hands but without the grasp. The man offers both hands, lightly touches his friend's outstretched hands, and then brings his hands to his chest to mean, " I greet you from my heart". The visitor should reciprocate the "salam". “Salam” is not practiced by the rest of the community though, so a normal handshake will do.


Shoes must be removed when entering a mosque, Indian temple or a Malaysian home.


For Malays and Indians, it is common that eating is done with the hand. The right hand is always used when eating with one's hand. Scoop up food using just the tips of your fingers. However, fork and spoon is used widely and for the Chinese, chopsticks use is very common with their Chinese food.


Do not serve Pork to Muslims or beef to Hindus or Buddhists, which is against their religion. As not all Indians are Hindus or all Chinese are Buddhists, you can find out by asking before suggesting to eat beef. As the law in Malaysia states that all Malays are Muslims, the rule about not serving pork is pretty much spot on.


Toasting is not practiced among Malays. The country's large Muslim population does not drink alcohol, which is against the religion. However, the other races that are not Muslim do practice this. In fact the Chinese wedding dinner, if you ever go to one, has one of the loudest toasts “Yam Seng” in all Chinese communities in this world.


The dress code is quite liberal in most big cities and in the West coast of Peninsula Malaysia. But one should be careful not to reveal too much in Malay populated areas and conservative Muslim states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang.




homepage > Malaysia Gestures & Customs