What are some cultural taboos in Malaysia

Malaysia's ethnic diversity requires a sure instinct

The personal component plays a bigger role in Malaysia than in the West. In order to avoid faux pas, you have to know the cultural background of your counterpart.

In Malaysia, as in most Asian countries, the following applies: Loss of face - your own or that of your business partner - should be avoided at all costs. Aggressive behavior, threatening posture, yelling and other negative emotional expressions hardly occur at all. On the other hand, smiles and even hearty laughter are common. It is important to create a positive, harmonious atmosphere. Then deals are much easier to negotiate.

Clothes make the man in Malaysia too. Even if the dress code has become a little looser in recent years and the tropical climate encourages a light wardrobe: When in doubt, you formally get dressed and, if necessary, take off your jacket or tie. During a leisure appointment with business friends, you can do without a tie and jacket, but you should never wear sandals, T-shirts or shorts.

Gifts also maintain friendship in business life. Local vendors can provide useful advice on which souvenir is suitable for a particular occasion. For Malays, money, tobacco or alcohol are not popular, but for example batik, perfume or toys for the children. The Chinese go down well with gift wrapping in red or gold, while white is to be avoided as the color of death and funeral.

The first encounter with the business partner

Several programs and institutions of German foreign trade promotion help in the search for and contact with potential business partners. The easiest way is to take part in organized delegation trips such as the AHK business travel program or the information and contact events sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). Business development agencies in the German federal states also organize business trips.

In larger projects and businesses, getting to know each other personally and the relationship level are more important than in Europe. It is important to create a trusting basis for future cooperation. On the other hand, the economy has adapted more and more to the fast pace of Western business practices. When it comes to sales talks, Asians, especially Chinese, have less and less time for lengthy small talk and conversation about personal topics. After an appropriate warm-up period, information about the product and the company is exchanged.

Company documents and product information as well as enough business cards are to be brought in English. Malaysians appreciate German virtues such as order and punctuality. The visitor should meet these expectations. Well-prepared discussions save both sides time and prevent misunderstandings. Managers and office workers work hard, long hours. The classic "nine-to-five" job hardly exists any more. An urgent business call can be made until late in the evening or on the weekend.

Course of meetings

The greeting usually takes place with a handshake, whereby you do not shake hands with Muslim women without being asked. Then the business cards are exchanged. The card must be handed over with both hands and treated with respect. Both sides read the title aloud, while the correct pronunciation of the name and the task in the company are clarified.

Malaysian business people generally communicate in English. If the visitor does not speak this fluently, an interpreter should be called in. The more complex the business, the more important personal presence is. A phone call or the exchange of e-mails is then not enough. If you are planning a long-term commitment, you must not only show up once a year or only report if something goes wrong. Such behavior signals disinterest.

The structures are more hierarchical than in western organizations. Only details are discussed with middle management, technicians and commercial employees, information is exchanged and intentions are explained. Negotiations should therefore be conducted with the decision maker. Only when the latter has approved the project and releases the funds does the final fine-tuning begin.

Malaysians do not have a culture of argument. If the negotiations get stuck, you should take a break or change the subject. Conflicts and violent arguments are to be avoided as a matter of principle. Assigning blame is harmful because of the loss of face and puts an end to the conversation. As a way out, the parties can call a mediator who must have a higher rank than the opponent. At the end of the negotiations, the results should be summarized in writing.

Business lunch

For the first encounter, the visitor best leaves the choice of restaurant to his business partner. In general, all options are open from simple snacks to prestigious top restaurants. You can choose between European, South American, Arabic and Asian cuisine.

If you decide on the restaurant yourself, the origin of the guests must be taken into account. For Muslims, the kitchen should be "halal", that is, at least free of pork. In the case of a Chinese meal, the host orders the dishes. He makes sure that every guest tries all the dishes. Dinner speeches and toasts in restaurants are frowned upon.

The inviting person pays the bill. If a joint lunch with business friends has been arranged easily, payment can be made separately. As a rule, a 6% sales tax and tip ("10% service charge") are added to the invoice amount, which customers only increase if the service is exceptionally good.

By Werner Kemper | Kuala Lumpur