Serious business

Etiquette tips for doing business in Malaysia

The proper ways of greeting, meeting and more. Words by DESMOND SO, illustrations by A YIP

Attire

Men should always wear conservative, dark suits with long-sleeved shirts and ties. Women should dress conservatively, wearing either trouser suits or below-the-knee skirts. Head coverings are not expected, but may be appreciated.

Greetings

Malaysia is a Muslim nation; touching between genders can be inappropriate. To err on side of caution, just don’t do it. Allow your host to initiate handshakes; you can greet Malay women (and other Muslim women) by bowing your head and placing your right hand over your heart.

Meetings

Avoid scheduling Friday meetings, as this may conflict with religious obligations. Punctuality is expected but may not be reciprocated. Conversation may include digressions and/or personal stories; accept it as the Malaysian way of doing business.

Business cards

Use both hands or the right hand supported by the left to exchange cards. Read the entire card before putting it away. Your own cards should have either a Chinese or Malay translation on the back depending on who you are giving them to. Bonus points if the Chinese is printed in gold.

Faux pas

Always defer to figures of authority. Always be respectful, polite and culturally sensitive. Don’t display impatience or aggression, and avoid self-aggrandisement. Don’t wear yellow, the colour of royalty. Don’t joke about pork.

Desmond So is founder of the East-West Institute of Applied Etiquette 

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