Malays are proud of their country, their ancestral background and
their economic success. Ethnic tensions exist between Malays (60%)
and Chinese (31%) over preferential quotas. Chinese feel these
policies make them second-class citizens; Malays support these
policies, which they feel are their only way to overcome traditional
dominance. The Chinese dominate the business community and live in
urban areas, while ethnic Malays generally inhabit rural areas.
Meeting and Greeting
- Shake hands with men at business meetings and social events.
Shake hands again when leaving.
- Nod or give a slight bow when greeting a woman or an older
person. Introduce higher ranking people or older people first.
Introduce women before men.
- Western women should greet Malay men with a nod of their head
and a smile.
- Never touch anyone on the top of the head (home of the soul),
especially a child. Avoid touching anyone of the opposite sex.
Affection is not shown in public.
- Use your right hand to eat, pass things and touch people. Do
not pass objects with your left hand. Do not move objects with
your feet or point at another person with your foot.
- Giving a slight bow when leaving, entering or passing by
people means, "excuse me."
- A smile or laugh could mean surprise, anger, shock,
embarrassment or happiness.
- It is impolite to beckon adults.
- Single fingers are not used for gesturing.
- Hitting your fist into a cupped hand is obscene.
- Hands in pockets signify anger.
- Business cards are generally exchanged after an introduction.
- Westerners are expected to be punctual for social occasions
and business meetings. Call if you are delayed. Do not get
frustrated if a Malay is late or your business meeting does not
begin on time.
- Business counterparts will want to get to know you personally
before doing business with you.
- Decisions are made slowly. Patience is required. Malays will
probably involve you in polite conversation for a lengthy period
before getting down to business. Discussions will be long and
- A letter of introduction from a bank or a mutual acquaintance
will help establish a business relationship. Without an
introduction, your request for a meeting might be ignored.
- Once an agreement is reached, don't be surprised if
counterparts try to renegotiate, even after a written agreement
has been drafted. Malays view written contracts as less important
than personal trust. Expect requests for escape clauses.
- Malays will pressure you to make concessions, but won't give
up much themselves in the beginning of negotiations. Plan on
- Malays admire good etiquette and do not appreciate bluntness.
They are polite and go for the soft sell.
- Listen carefully to Malays. They will avoid saying things
directly. You must learn to read between the lines.
Dining and Entertainment
- Entertaining is an important part of doing business. Most
business entertaining is done in restaurants.
- Most important meetings are followed with lunch or dinner. Be
sure to reciprocate any dinner with a dinner of equal value.
- Spouses may be invited to dinner when the meal will not
involve business discussions. Do not bring spouses to a business
- Drinks are offered and accepted with both hands. Drinks are
not served before dinner.
- Malays use only their right hand to eat, pass, touch or handle
anything. Never use your left hand to eat.
- Food is cut in bite size pieces, making a knife unnecessary.
Hold the spoon in your right hand and the fork in your left hand.
Push your food onto the spoon with the fork and eat from the
spoon. When finished, put the fork and the spoon on your plate.
- Allow the host to order all dishes in a restaurant.
- For business, men should wear pants and white shirts, with
ties for executives. Conservative suits should be worn when
meeting with government officials. You may be more comfortable
wearing a jacket to a first meeting.
- Women should wear sleeved blouses with skirts or pants.
- Yellow is reserved for royalty.
- Gifts are not exchanged at the first meeting, or in general,
but have one with you in case you are given one. You should
reciprocate with a gift of equal value if one is given to you. A
dinner invitation can substitute for a gift.
- Give company products with logo or gifts made in the U.S.
(pens, books, desk attire). Do not give money, liquor, knives,
scissors or images of dogs.
- Giving or receiving gifts with both hands shows respect. Never
use your left hand to give or receive a gift. Never open a gift in
the presence of the giver.
- Always bring a small gift for the hostess when invited to
someone's home. Give fruits, sweets, perfumes or crafts from you
- Malays judge people by who they are rather than what they do.
Family background, social position and status are all important.
- Never smoke around royal family members. Many are in business
and may be in attendance at meetings.
- Compliment sincerely, but expect Malays to deny out of
- Show respect for the elderly and never smoke around them.
- Understand that Malays believe that successes, failures,
opportunities and misfortunes result from fate or the will of God.
- Don't be surprised if Malays ask personal questions about your
income, religion, etc. You may ask the same questions. There is no
obligation to answer these questions.
Especially for Women
- Women are generally accepted in business, where they hold many
- It is perfectly acceptable for a woman to invite a Malaysian
businessman to dinner. She may or may not invite his wife.
- Women may dine alone in hotel restaurants or bars.