Etiquette in Malaysia

As the old saying goes, when in Rome do like the Romans...

Applying this to Modern day Malaysia, which have been a melting pot of cultures for Centuries, the present day abundance of Ethnic groups, Cultures, Religions, of Malaysians and Expatriates from around the Globe living in Malaysia, well Etiquette is a point best to research briefly before you meet up with people, who you don't know, to stay safe and keeping your self out of "unintended" situations.

Malaysians, which is actually a mixture of: Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Kadazan-Dusun, Melanau, Bidayuh, Kelabit, Urang Ulu, Bajau Murut, Rungus, Iranun, Bisaya, Tatana, Lun Dayeh, Tindal, Tobilung, Kimaragang, Suluk, Ubian, Tagal, Timogun, Nabay, Kedayan, Orang Sungai, Makiang, Minokok, Mangka’ak, Lobu, Bonggi, Tidong, Bugis, Ida’an (Idahan), Begahak, Kagayan, Talantang, Tinagas, Banjar, Gana, Kuijau, Tombonuo, Dumpas, Peluan, Baukan, Sino, Jawa, etc. are proud of their country, their ancestral background and their economic success.

While at the same time, the plural demography and multicultural diversity of the Malaysian society give her both unique strengths and weaknesses, simply because diversity is a great blessing in so many ways, but also can require some tact to keep a "orderly" and peaceful nation.

Multicultural as Malaysia is, and have been for centuries, language is for many people a bilingual, or trilingual issue, and while the most common & National language is Bahasa Melayu, English, Chinese in several dialects, Tamil, and many dialect of the tribes in Malaysia, are widely spoken by a very large part of Malaysians, meaning many people are indeed bilingual through their mother tongue and Bahasa Malaysia, and English very often being their 3rd language.

As back home in Denmark, the ability for foreigners to speak even a few words in Bahasa Malaysia, or some of the other widely used mother tongues widely used, is greatly appreciated as it shows a genuine interest in the Nation and the People here, so do spend 10 - 20 Euro on buying a Malaysian phrase book, found in most book stores throughout the country.

A few basic phrases in English - Bahasa Melayu - Mandarin Chinese, while Iban and many other tribal languages are mostly spoken languages and not widely used in written form, just as dialects in Denmark are spoken languages, not written!

Malaysia's population of Malays, Chinese, Indians etc. all strive to maintain "face" and avoid shame both in public and private situations. Face is a personal concept that embraces qualities such as good character, and being held in esteem by one's peers. Face is also considered a commodity that can be given, lost, taken away, or earned. On top of this, the concept of face also extends to the family, school, company and even the nation. Consequently, the desire to maintain face inspires Malaysians to strive for harmonious relationships.

Face can be lost by openly criticizing, insulting, or putting someone on the spot; doing something that brings shame to a group or individual; challenging someone in authority, especially if this is done in public; showing anger at another person; refusing a request; not keeping a promise; or disagreeing with someone publicly.

In contrast, face can be saved by remaining calm and courteous; discussing errors or transgressions in private; speaking about problems without attributing blame; using non-verbal communication to say "no"; and allowing the other person to get out of a tricky situation with their pride intact.

(The main issues with face, well we do have it at home in Denmark as well.... and although we may call "face" by different names, the issues remains identical in several cases.)

Malaysia has a huge variety of Religious communities, and although the main religion is Islam, a large part of Malaysians are followers of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and several others faith's, which have coexisted in harmony since ancient times.

Religious tolerance and understanding is an essential etiquette of Malaysia society, and is officially recognized in the number of Public Holidays in Malaysia which reflect the number of religions present, including official well wishing of respective religious holidays by the King and the Government of Malaysia to each community, accompanied by the "concept of open house" for the festive occasion.

Religious etiquette at houses of worship applies to all visitors, meaning those who belong to the faith, and those who visit as a Guest.

As we once in Denmark had the practice of using sen / son or dottir of: (+ the father's name, i.e. Nielsen, son of Niels.) .... a practice still used in Iceland, well this principle is also widely used in Malaysia today;

  • Malays: Men add their father’s name to their own name with the term bin (meaning “son of”). Likewise, women use the term binti.
  • Chinese: The Chinese traditionally have three names. The surname (family name) is first and is followed by two personal names.
  • Indian: Many Indians do not use surnames. Instead, they place the initial of their father’s name in front of their own name similar to the Malay custom of using the term a/l for men (son of) and a/p for women (daughter of) and then their father’s name.
  • Malays: Men add their father’s name to their own name with the term bin (meaning “son of”). Likewise, women use the term binti.
  • Chinese: The Chinese traditionally have three names. The surname (family name) is first and is followed by two personal names.
  • Indian: Many Indians do not use surnames. Instead, they place the initial of their father’s name in front of their own name similar to the Malay custom of using the term a/l for men (son of) and a/p for women (daughter of) and then their father’s name.