Malaysia is located in South East Asia, and it is bordered by Thailand, Brunei, Singapore and Indonesia. The major religions are Buddhism (19.2%), Islam (60 %) and Christianity (9%), Hinduism (6%). Minor religious groups like Taoism, Confucianism and traditional Chinese constitute about 3% (Richmond 49). The country is governed from its capital city Kuala Lumpur by a constitutional monarchy.
Malaysia is a multi-cultural society hosting different ethnic groups. In addition to the native Malaysians, there is a large population of immigrant Chinese and Indians. The natives were the earliest settlers and were followed by the Malays from Asia. The Chinese and Indian came later when China and India began trading with Malaysia (Richmond 50). As a result of the interaction of these ethnic groups, a hybrid culture that borrowed different aspects from one another developed. It is characterized by a synthetic system of beliefs, practices and arts that combine Malay, Chinese and Indian traditions. However, each of these ethnic groups retains their customs and religions, with the most important festivals being public holidays.
The official Malaysian language is Bahasa Malaysia. The term was introduced by the National Language Act of 1967, and it simply translates into the “Malaysian language.” However, usage of the term declined in the 1990s when most of the academia community and the government reverted to “Bahasa Melayu” as stated in the Malay version of the country’s Federal constitution.
Socialization and Group Orientation
Malaysian children grow up and school together regardless their ethnicity. However, marriage tends to be an ethnic affair since very few marry outside their own ethnic group. Even family interactions occur within ethnic circles, which are aimed at preserving the communities’ traditions and lifestyles.
The family is regarded as the center of socialization, which helps to promote loyalty to one’s culture, unity and respect to older members of the community (Begawan 2010). It is at the family level that one is assured of financial and emotional support. Consequently, other members will contribute to help a family member with a financial problem. There are strong extended family ties among the rural folk, although the situation is naturally different in urban centers.
The Malaysian wedding ceremony is perhaps the most practical example of the cultural exchange that has taken place over the years. It incorporates various cultural aspects of the Hindu tradition, which is popular is Southern India. During the ceremony, the groom and the bride dress in “gorgeous brocades, sit in state, and feed each other yellow rice with hands painted with henna” (Usa and USA International Business Publications 46). Malaysian Muslims have also borrowed the Chinese custom of offering little red packets with money known as “ang pau,” during festivals. Usually, the packets offered during Muslim festivals are green and covered with Arabic writings. The crossover of cultural practices is explained by the Malaysians’ open door policy during religious holidays. All Malaysia’s ethnic communities allow outsiders to participate in their religious festivals, including neighbors and tourists. This approach is not just a way of destroying cultural barriers and fostering understanding, but also a way of celebrating the tradition of inter-cultural tolerance that for many centuries has formed the foundation of Malaysia’s socioeconomic progress.
Malay Etiquette and Custom
In social contexts, greetings depend on the ethnicity of the person one is meeting. Due to western influence, a formal handshake is acceptable. However, there are subtle differences particularly with regards to gender and age. Malay women do not usually shake hands with men, although they can with each other (Begawan 2010). Men simply bow their heads when greeting women, at the same time placing a hand on their heart. The Chinese men and women can shake hands, although it is light and sometimes prolonged. Women are expected to extend their hand first. Among the Indians, shaking hands is allowed within the same sex. When meeting a person of the opposite sex, the acceptable way is nodding the head accompanied with a smile. Among all cultures, introductions are usually begun by first introducing the most important person to the lowest ranking, or oldest to the youngest.