Good manners are just a way of showing other people that we have respect for them. –Bill Kelly
As the saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. These unwritten rules apply to most – if not all – households in Malaysia, regardless of race, religion or culture. So, the next time you visit a Malaysian friend’s house, do take note of these ‘habits’ to avoid making a visiting faux pas! 😉
#1 Take off your shoes at the front door
Unlike in Western countries where walking into the house with shoes on is completely acceptable, wearing your shoes indoors is a big no-no in most Asian households. Take off your shoes and leave them on the floor outside (without blocking the main door), or place them on a shoe rack if there’s one. There’s no need to remove socks when entering, unless you’re heading to the toilet.
Pro-tip: If you’re going visiting during Chinese New Year, wear (new) footwear that is easily slipped on and off. It will help you save time and avoid awkward situations.
#2 Prepare a good appetite
Malaysia is well-known as a food heaven, and to reflect that, Malaysians love offering food to guests. From glasses of fizzy drinks to containers of snacks, sometimes all the way to a full-fledged meal, the generousity of Malaysian hosts dictate that you arrive with an empty stomach – because it’s rude to refuse food offered to you, and declining food often leads to a plate piled high with goodies.
Pro-tip: Praise your host about the food, especially if it’s homemade, as a form of respect and good manners.
#3 Call your elders “Uncle” or “Aunty”
One of the most baffling parts of Malaysian culture (to foreigners, anyway) is the fact that we call almost everyone older “uncle” or “aunty”, regardless of whether they are related to you personally. Instead of addressing your friend’s parents as Mr. Lim and Mrs. Lim, calling them “Uncle” and “Aunty” is fine and perfectly acceptable.
Pro-tip: Other local ways to address others include “pak cik” (uncle), “mak cik” (aunt), “ah gong/ah ma” (for very elderly men/women), and “boss” (especially when ordering food at the mamak stall).
This video gets it 😀
#4 The “right” hand
Use your right hand to eat, pass things and touch people. Don’t pass food or objects to others using your bare hands, especially the left hand. This is because the left hand is regarded as “dirty” by locals (because you wash your bum using that hand).
Pro-tip: Using the left hand is only okay when you’re left-handed. Or when your right hand is not functional.
#5 Bring gifts when visiting
It is considered to be empty-handed when visiting a friend’s house. If you’re from another state or country, bring some local specialties or snacks to give your hosts. Not only is it polite, it is also a good way to start conversations.
Pro-tip: Pastries, cakes, chocolates or other similar sweet treats are the best gifts to bring, regardless of whether you’re visiting a Malay, Chinese, Indian or any other house. Fruits (e.g. grapes, persimmons) are okay, but might come across like you’re visiting a hospital patient instead.
But when all is said and done, the most important thing is to… BE POLITE! 😀