Malaysia is a wonderfully diverse country composed of three primary ethnic groups, all culturally blended as well as unique. An Islamic country, Malaysians are of Malay, Chinese or Indian heritage, or some combination thereof. The blend of cultures makes for a wide variety of customs, traditions, dress and foods. Bahasa Malayu is the native language of Malaysia, but English is widely spoken, particularly in the cities and resort areas. Chinese and Tamil are also spoken, but the common language for Malaysian people is English.
Some unique and delightful customs to be aware of when traveling in Malaysia:
Malaysia is an Islamic country although other religions, including Buddhism, Hindu and Christianity are practiced. Traditional dress for a Malaysian woman is called Baju Kurung, a long skirt with a long blouse over the top. Baju Karungs are typically made from colorful silk fabrics. Not all Malaysian women wear head coverings, known as Tudung; wearing a Tudung is a matter of personal preference. Shorts and skirts are appropriate, as long as they are not too revealing. Some restaurants do not allow shorts; some provide guests with a sorong garment to cover themselves in the restaurant. If visiting a mosque, cover your arms and legs and wear a head covering. Remove shoes when entering a mosque or temple, or a private home.
A handshake is an appropriate greeting in Malaysia, but some Muslims are not comfortable shaking the hand of someone of the opposite sex. In that case, they may simply nod and smile. A lovely Malaysian tradition is to pat one’s heart with the right hand after greeting someone. The right hand should always be used to shake someone’s hand or give something; the right hand should be used for eating as well.
Pointing directly at someone with a forefinger is considered very rude in Malaysia. If you need to point out something, use your right hand, with your thumb on top and your other fingers loosely folded under.
Hailing a Taxi
Taxis are plentiful in Malaysia and the fare is regulated by the government. To hail a taxi in Malaysia, lift your arm in the air with your hand dropped, rather loose wristed. Waving with an open hand or pointing with a forefinger is not generally recognized and you may find yourself waiting for a taxi to stop for an extended period.
Qibla Indicating the Direction of Mecca
Most rooms in hotels in Malaysia, have a Qibla, a directional arrow pointing to the west. This is an indicator for Muslim guests to know the direction to face for daily prayers. The Qibla is usually located on the ceiling, but may be in a bureau drawer. Call to prayer occurs five times a day.
Respect for Elders
As a sign of respect, Malaysian parents teach their children to address all adults as “Auntie” or “Uncle”. The Bahasa words are “Cik” for Auntie and “Pak” for Uncle. Respect for elders is widely practiced; young Malaysian men are keen on giving up their seats on the train to older adults.
From the modern metropolitan of Kuala Lumpur to the coastal resorts to the mountain retreats, Malaysia offers a variety of landscapes, cultures and diverse activities to appeal to all levels of travelers, from economy to the most discriminating.