Gift Giving Etiquette

A lot of the day-to-day practices of Malaysians are steeped in cultural tradition and a lot of superstition.  This includes the occasion of giving a gift.  Viewed as a gesture of appreciation on your part but be aware of the beliefs that are attached to this simple and kind act.  Whether you are giving a gift to strengthen business relationships or for friendship, here are some general gift giving etiquette guidelines in Malaysia.

Gift giving to Malays:

  • If invited to someone’s home for dinner, bring the hostess pastries or good quality chocolates.
  • Never give alcohol.
  • Do not give toy dogs or pigs to children.
  • Do not give anything made of pigskin.
  • Avoid white wrapping paper as it symbolizes death and mourning.
  • Avoid yellow wrapping paper, as it is the color of royalty.
  • If you give food, it must be “halal” (meaning permissible for Muslims).
  • Offer gifts with the right hand only or both hands if the item is large.
  • Gifts are generally not opened on receipt.

Gift giving to Chinese:

  • If invited to someone’s home, bring a small gift of fruit, sweets, or cakes, saying that it is for the children.
  • A gift is traditionally refused before it is accepted to demonstrate that the recipient is not greedy.
  • Do not give scissors, knives or other cutting utensils as they indicate a desire to sever the relationship.
  • Flowers do not make good gifts as they are given to the sick and are used at funerals.
  • Do not give clocks as they are related to death.  Barter or sell a clock cheaply to your Chinese friend if you absolutely have to give one.  Accept a token payment eg a few ringgits.  Bartering or selling the clock doesn’t count as gift-giving.
  • Do not wrap gifts in mourning colours – white, blue, or black.
  • Wrap the gifts in happy colours – red, pink, or yellow.
  • Elaborate gift wrapping is important as it shows that you value the person
  • Never wrap a gift for a baby or decorate the gift in any way with a stork, as birds are the harbinger of death.
  • It is best to give gifts in even numbers since odd numbers are unlucky.
  • Gifts are generally not opened on receipt.

Gift giving to Indians:

  • If you give flowers, avoid frangipani as they are used in funeral wreaths.
  • Money should be given in odd numbers.
  • Offer gifts with the right hand only or both hands if the item is large.
  • Do not wrap gifts in white or black.
  • Wrap gifts in red, yellow or green paper or other bright colors as these bring good fortune.
  • Do not give leather products to a Hindu.
  • Do not give alcohol unless you are certain the recipient drinks.
  • Gifts are generally not opened on receipt.

If you have a question regarding an intended gift to someone in Malaysia and need to be sure that it is not offensive, feel free to Contact Exotic Escapes.  We will be pleased to advise you.