Etiquette – Handshaking in Malaysia!

A (continuing) series on some of the less obvious etiquette rules across ASEAN.

Malaysians have particular conventions regarding handshakes and generally avoid overly physical contact, especially people of the opposite sex, so their handshakes are generally brief and informal.

If you’re a male, it’s perfectly fine for you to shake hands with other males. If the other person is Malay, he may hold his right hand to his heart first before shaking your hand as a sign of respect. If the other person is Chinese, he may look downward rather than at your face while shaking your hand. With Indians, generally a smile and a nod is enough, though they are not averse to handshakes.

Handshaking among Malaysian women follows somewhat different rules. If you’re a male who is meeting with a Malay woman, wait for her to extend her hand before offering your own. If she does not offer her hand, then simply greet her by inclining your head and holding your right hand to your heart. The same goes for Chinese and Indian women – wait for them to extend their hand first. A smile and a nod are more appropriate if they don’t hold out their hand rather than greeting them with your hand to your heart. If you’re a woman, handshaking is fine but wait for your Malaysian counterpart to offer her hand first.