Malaysian customs and behaviour in Kuala Lumpur

Malaysians are generally extremely hospitable people, yet despite the cosmopolitan nature of the city there are certain customs in Kuala Lumpur which visitors may wish to bear in mind during any stay. As a predominantly Muslim culture social behaviour in KL is conservative by European standards and it is quite easy to unwittingly cause offence by not adhering to certain unwritten rules.

At night when the young and restless come out to party things get a little more relaxed, but during daytime modest dress is advisable for women such as avoiding short skirts and keeping shoulders covered. Bikinis and sarongs are not acceptable away from the beach or swimming pools and topless sunbathing is always forbidden. Dressing smart is advisable when visiting any government office such as the Department of Immigration.

Malaysians tend to follow Western modes of introduction with a handshake and perhaps exchanging business cards. Despite the humid weather most business people suits for formal meetings and luckily the vast majority of indoor locations are air conditioned.

Visitors should be careful about offending religious sensibilities so boisterous behaviour such as telling risqué jokes or consuming large amounts of alcohol may prompt disapproval. Just like in the West, people who arrive at parties and quickly get steaming drunk are never the most popular.

It is always best to be deferential in social situations and avoid conflict so as not to appear arrogant, especially when dealing with your host. Any outspoken religious or political views are perhaps to be avoided as offence can perhaps be caused when it is not meant, though poor understanding or translation. Being tactful especially when greeting female colleagues or their family members is also appreciated.

It is customary to take of shoes when entering a Malaysian home and likewise show respect if trekking or walking through the natural environment. Anger or impatience in frowned upon and rarely works to increase your standing in the eyes of local people. Overt displays of public affection are also not appreciated and may cause people to stare.

Travel tip
As an Islamic society homosexuality is forbidden in Malaysia. And although there is certainly some toleration of gay behaviour in larger cities, it is wise for homosexual visitors to refrain from displaying their sexuality too openly.