Have you ever been caught in an awkward situation in a foreign land due to intricate local tradition? Ever second-guessed whether you should take out your shoes before entering a house? If you are traveling to Malaysia soon and want to avoid looking klutzy, then “jackpot” as you’re on the right page. Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures with multi-ethnicities cohabiting harmoniously. With different races living under one nation, there are cultural nuances significant to each race. Good cultural etiquette will get you a long way and respect in a foreign country. So, read on for the top Malaysia travel rules and cultural do’s and don’ts in this land of intriguing diversity.
Remove Your Shoes…
Before Entering One’s House
All Malaysians regardless of race remove their shoes before entering their home and before entering the mosque. Don’t be surprised to learn that Malaysians go barefooted within the hotel room during vacation too. Some shop owners even create cozy, no-shoe areas within their business premises, or put up signs for clients to remove their shoes before entering. This culture of removing shoes is not confined to Malaysia. It’s practiced by neighboring Asian countries like Thailand, Singapore, and Brunei. Because in Malaysia, nothing beats the comfort of going barefoot on squeaky clean floors!
Don’t Hail A Taxi…
Get A Grab Sharing Ride Instead
Avoid using public taxis in Malaysia. These drivers tend to mark up as much as 4 times more for rides from the airport to your chosen destination. To set things to perspective, a ride from the train terminal in Ipoh via public taxi cost MYR20, vs. a Grab ride of MYR5 for a 10-minute ride to the hotel. Besides, unscrupulous public taxi drivers charge a flat fee as oppose to a meter-guided fee, to earn higher margins. To avoid this, do download the Grab app the moment you touch down at the airport, and do not hesitate to ask any local for tips on to navigate your way with the app. Make Grab an integral part of your Malaysia travel planning.
Be Careful While Crossing Streets
There are traffic rules but sadly some Malaysians go by the law of the jungle. When you embark to cross the road at the zebra crossing, please refrain from crossing when there are oncoming vehicles. Some drivers may not stop. Crossing at the zebra crossing makes it safer, but make sure that traffic is clear before crossing. Crunched for time and you must move at lightning speed? Then try facing your palms up with fingers spread out to command the driver to “Stop”. We don’t condone this for safety reasons but yes – It works.
Minimize Public Display of Affection
Malaysians have a reputation for being a conservative lot. Walk around shopping malls and public parks and it is not uncommon to see signs prohibiting public display of affection (PDA). And herein lies the thin distinction between acceptable PDA and affection that belongs behind closed doors. Contrary to what you read online, it is common to see husband-and-wife exchanging brief kisses or hugs as a loving gesture before parting separate ways for work. Hand-holding is common among married and non-married couples. Contrastingly, for Muslims whose behaviors are governed by the Syariah code of conduct, dating in a premarital relationship comes with religious physical limitations.
Nevertheless, for tourists, don’t hold back that PDA you have for your loved ones. Just don’t go passionately overboard, as the public may feel a tad uncomfortable.
Drive on the Left Side
Just like most countries colonized by the British, Malaysian traffic rules dictate driving on the left side of the road. Thus, if you live or drive in Australia, India, or Japan, then driving in Malaysia would be a breeze as it is no different from driving back home.
If you live in the other 69% of the world accustomed to driving on the right (such as the United States, Russia, and Canada), then you would find yourself accidentally turning on the wiper instead of the indicator or pulling that imaginary hand break with your right hand for the first few days of your drive here. After a day or 2, your bearings would have adjusted to driving on the left.
Eat with Your Hands…
It’s quite ok
It is common for Muslims and Indians to eat with their right hand as it is part of their cultural heritage. In fact, some food warrant hand-eating regardless of race. Devouring succulent crabs, roti canai, kaya toast, local desserts (also referred to as kueh) and durians taste more flavorful minus the cutleries. And this leads us to our next topic.
the Pot of Water with Lemons on the Table
If you plan to eat at traditional Malay restaurants or received an invitation to a Malay wedding, you will notice a silver-colored teapot or glass jar filled with lemon slices and water placed at the center of the table. You may think that the water is for consumption. Even if the urge to douse your fiery tongue tempts you to gulp it down, please refrain. The pot of water is tap water which you firstly, should not drink. And secondly, the water is meant for cleaning the food off your fingers.
When Entering Places of Worship
Plan to visit the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur? Non-Muslims are greeted with open arms to this contemporary-styled mosque. However, remember to dress modestly before leaving your hotel. Men should wear long pants, while women should wear tops with sleeves, non-cleavage revealing and long pants or a long skirt. Fret not if your Malaysia travel wardrobe is lacking. Robes will be lent to visitors.
If you are visiting other places of worship such as the Chinese temple Thean How Kong or the famous Sri Mahamariamman Indian Temple, dressing modestly will suffice. What this means is to avoid bearing your shoulders, midriffs or super short hemlines and no singlets for men. Most importantly, do remove your shoes before entering the premise.
Know Where to Get Your Alcohol
(Malaysia Travel Must)
Can’t wait to wind down with a beer in your hand at the end of a hot day? Then pick your restaurant wisely. Malaysia travel tip #1 for most tourists. With 61% of the population comprising of Muslims, do note that Muslim restaurants do not serve any form of alcohol within their premises. From high-end Muslim restaurants, coffee shops to your hut-like eateries beside the road or in night markets, refrain from asking for a beer at these outlets. But, head over to swanky rooftop restaurants, Jalan Alor along Petaling Street, bars within Klang Valley or any hotel in Kuala Lumpur and your beer will be served pronto. In short, Malaysia is a nice juxtaposition of ethnic sensitivities. There is respect for each race’s decree and understanding for others who don’t share the same religious practice.
Leverage Your English
While the national language in Malaysia is the Malay language, English is the second medium of communication and a compulsory subject across all educational institutions. Signboards in Malaysia are in dual language – Malay and English. 99% of Malaysians can speak English, with varying degrees of comprehension. Expect to hear colloquial terms found in the dictionary, with a high chance of each sentence ending with “lah”, “mah’, “ya lor”, or “is it”. Here, everyone is a “boss”. From the waiter in the local eatery, who will greet you with “What do you want to eat today boss?” to the taxi driver’s “Have a good trip boss.” The word “boss” is a term of endearment used out of respect and is highly effective in smashing any communication barriers.
Good etiquette is simply a combination of common sense and a basic understanding of the local protocol. Abide by the famous English proverb, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” and we guarantee that you will have a memorable and wonderful Malaysia travel experience. If in any doubt, simply ask for guidance. Malaysians are a friendly lot known for their infectious hospitality, as these eager-beavers are ever ready to help.