GIFT GIVING IN MALAYSIA*
Gift Giving Etiquette
BUSINESS GIFT GIVING /
PERSONAL GIFT GIVING
Gifts are usually reserved for friends. Before
giving a gift of any kind, you must first establish a personal relationship
with the recipient. Otherwise, the gift may very well be perceived as a
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency has
exceptionally strict laws against bribery. Moreover, giving a gift that
seems too generous may be interpreted as a bribe and could get you in
trouble with the authorities.
It's a good idea to select a modest, inexpensive
gift so that the recipient won't feel obligated to you. Also, when receiving
a gift, take care not to reciprocate with one of greater value compared to
the present you received.
Gifts are not opened in front of the giver.
Opening presents alone allows both the giver and recipient to “save face.”
There is a cultural belief that the giver and recipient may be embarrassed
if the gift turns out to be a poor choice.
A gift should be received in both hands, palms
You will be relieved that you arrived with gifts
in hand when you are given a present unexpectedly.
Recommended business gifts include quality pens,
desk accessories, and items representative of your country or city.
Recommended social gifts include something
representative of your country or a food that may be considered a delicacy.
If you are a man and feel that it is necessary
to give a gift to a female colleague, be aware that in this culture,
personal gifts from a man to a woman can be misinterpreted as having a
romantic intent. Malaysian business protocol requires that a man should
explain that his wife sent the perfume, scarf, or similar gift item.
Do not wrap your gift with white paper because
this colour is associated with death and mourning. Blue, black, and yellow
gift-wrap should also be avoided.
General Guidelines Guidelines for
Giving Gifts to Ethnic Malays
If invited to an ethnic Malay home, try to bring
small, practical gifts for the family. Present the gifts shortly before
departing, not when arriving.
Good choices include alcohol-free perfumes or
colognes for a hostess, toys for children, and collared, fine cotton shirts
Foods can make good gifts, although meat
products of any kind must be “halal”, which is the Muslim equivalent of
kosher. The prohibition against pork and alcohol also cancels out pigskin
products and perfumes containing alcohol.
Present gifts with the right hand only.
Don't wrap gifts for ethnic Malays in white
paper; white is associated with funerals.
Green or red wrapping paper is the safest
Gifts to Avoid Giving to Observant Muslims
alcohol, pork, personal items such as underwear,
toy dogs or gifts that picture dogs, gifts with images of nude or partially
clad women [even in paintings or sculptures with artistic merit]
General Guidelines for Giving Gifts to the Chinese in Malaysia
- It is Chinese custom to decline a gift three times
before accepting; this ritual prevents the recipient from appearing too
acquisitive. In the face of these protestations, continue to insist. Once
your gift is finally accepted say that you are pleased that the recipient
has done so. When you receive a gift, you will be expected to go through
the same routine.
- Give an even number of flowers to a Chinese person.
An odd number of flowers will only be perceived as an omen of bad luck.
- Gifts of food are acceptable, but not at dinner
parties or other occasions where appetizers and meals will be served.
Candy and fruit baskets, however, are appreciated as thank-you gifts sent
after these events.
- At Chinese New Year, it is customary to give a gift
of money in a red envelope to children and to the service personnel you
deal with on a regular basis. This gift is called “hong bao.” Give only
new bills in even numbers and even amounts. Many employers give each
employee a “hong bao” equivalent to one month's salary. This is a
government-mandated type of gift-giving that may be applicable to you if
you are considered an employer in the country.
- Red or pink wrapping paper is the safest choice.
Gifts to Avoid
- gifts or wrappings where the
predominant colour is white, black or blue
- knives, scissors or cutting tools--they
suggest the severing of a friendship or similar close bond.
Items Associated with Funerals [Avoid!] -
clocks, towels, handkerchiefs, straw sandals
Guidelines for Giving Gifts to
Indians in Malaysia
- Be sensitive that observant Hindus do
not eat beef or use cattle products. Consequently, leather products of any
kind should not be considered as gifts for this segment of society.
- When presenting gifts of money, odd
numbers are preferred since they are believed to be luckier.
- Those of Indian descent will appreciate
receiving gifts in odd numbers, such as one, 11, 21, and so on, because
these amounts are considered lucky. But avoid giving gifts in multiples of
three, because this number is considered bad luck.
- The frangipani [a flower popularly used
by Hawaiians to make leis] is used by Indians only for funeral wreaths.
*Malaysia Business Etiquette - Gift Giving.
Executive Planet. 09 Aug. 2004
Above: The flag of Malaysia