Malaysian Culture

Do's and Don'ts


  • Smile when meeting people. Malaysians are renowned for their sunny personalities. Reciprocating their warmth will be appreciated.
  • Make an effort to keep discussion harmonious and balanced. If a problem arises, address it graciously through indirect communication.
  • Express flattery when it is due as this will give a Malaysian face; however, always do so with sincerity or they may lose face instead.
  • Expect a Malaysian to enquire about your personal background and reciprocate the questions. People especially appreciate it when others show an interest in their family.
  • Wear modest clothing. It is best to cover your shoulders, and wear shorts and skirts that pass the knee.
  • Give a Malaysian of the opposite gender a considerable amount of respect and distance – particularly Malays. There is a general cultural and religious separation of genders in Malaysia, and some people may not be comfortable with direct interactions with the opposite sex.
  • Discern the social hierarchy among your company and respect it. This means deferring to the eldest or most superior person for their opinion and addressing them with more honorifics than you would to those younger than you. Be especially tactful when asking someone of a higher status than you to perform a favour or complete a task.
  • Compliment people’s hospitality. To Malays particularly, hospitality is an essential component of interaction and is seen to reflect one’s character.


  • Avoid directly criticising someone, pointing out their mistakes or giving insincere compliments, as these are all actions that cause a Malaysian to lose face. Furthermore, do not condescend to them.
  • Do not publicly humiliate anyone. This action directly conflicts with cultural principles of respect and is likely to make a Malaysian think less of you.
  • Avoid publicly displaying signs of anger, raising your voice or shouting in front of those older or superior to you. Any confrontational or aggressive behaviour can be interpreted as ‘kasar’ (crass/rough) and draws strong disapproval.
  • Try to refrain from interrupting or ‘filling in’ the silence during conversation.
  • Do not criticise Malaysia or the Malay royal family. A Malaysian may do so themselves, but it is best to listen to their opinion without indicating agreement or disagreement.
  • Avoid mentioning the divisive topic of ethnic relations in Malaysia. Depending on a Malaysian’s background and experience, they may have very different opinions on the state of affairs.

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