The Culture Guide: 5 Things You Should Not Do When Visiting Malaysia

Malaysia is known for its friendly, relaxed people, but you’ll still want to ensure that you don’t take part in any cultural faux-pas behaviors that could offend locals. Here, we’ll take a look at five cultural don’ts when you’re visiting Malaysia. 

1. Point With Your Forefinger

Pointing is seen as bossy, rude, and overbearing in Malaysia, as this gesture is used to scold, not direct attention. Simple solution: instead of using your forefinger to direct someone’s attention, use your thumb.

2. Show Anger and Frustration

When traveling, it’s likely that you’ll encounter at least a handful of tough situations, like struggling with translation or being late to the start of a tour. As mentioned above, Malaysian people highly value politeness, and often feel embarrassed when others show anger or frustration. Instead of blowing up when things get tough, work hard to smile and keep your cool. 

3. Dress Inappropriately

In Malaysia, most people dress modestly but comfortably. Many historical landmarks in Malaysia are affiliated with a religion, and it’s important that you do your research on how to dress appropriately for the temple, monastery, or other religious building you’re visiting. Don’t just look to others in the area to clue you in on how to dress–many tourists (unfortunately) disregard best practices and dress in a way that Malaysians find offensive for visiting religious sites. 

4. Touch Someone’s Head

While it’s not likely that you walk around touching people’s heads, it’s especially important that you don’t do this while visiting Malaysia or other Asian nations. In Asian culture, the head is considered a sacred part of the body. It’s considered especially offensive to touch children or elderly people on the head. 

5. Go Overboard with Public Displays of Affection

In America and many European countries, PDA is the norm. This isn’t the case in Malaysia. Giving quick hugs or a kiss on the cheek is fine, but don’t go beyond that with your significant other. Malaysian people greatly value acting respectfully in public, and many feel uncomfortable witnessing others giving or receiving affection.