There are huge differences between European and Malaysian culture. Here are a few points to help you during your stay.
- Visits to sacred sites, even if they are ruins, must be made with bare feet. Worshippers will not bother you, even during religious ceremonies, as long as you remember this. Also remove your shoes if you enter a Malaysian house. Women are obliged to wear scarfs when inside mosques.
- Elderly people are treated with the utmost respect. The oldest man in a family must always be greeted first. He will usually sit in the highest and best chair.
- When cutlery is not used (mainly in Indian restaurants), you must eat with the right hand. The left hand is used for cleaning one’s backside and is therefore seen as unclean. For this reason, never touch anybody with your left hand and if somebody offers you something, accept it with your right hand.
- Pointing with your index finger is very rude. It is better to use your thumb with your hand loosely balled into a fist. Never point at a person, even with your thumb, as this is extremely rude in Malaysia.
- After shaking hands to greet people, Muslims bring their hand to their chest. It will be greatly appreciated if you reciprocate this gesture.
- Never offer alcohol to a Muslim as Islam forbids it. Never give a Chinese person a knife, a clock watch, or white flowers, as these are symbols of death.
- Women must be ‘covered up’, i.e. a blouse or short-sleeved T-shirt and skirt that covers the upper legs and knees as a bare minimum. Crop-tops are seen as highly inappropriate especially in places of worship and topless sunbathing as a scandal. Men may wear shorts, although this is seen as rather eccentric in everyday life. Going shirtless is pushing things much too far. On the east coast of West Malaysia (except on Pulau Perhentian), these rules are stricter than the west coast.
Remember at all times that you are visitors in these foreign lands. Their behaviour and customs are not bizarre, yours are!