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Doing Business Abroad Malaysia
by Wayne A. Conaway

Business in Malaysia is dominated by ethnic Chinese, the government by ethnic Malays, and the legal and educational community by Indians.

  • The standard Malaysian handshake is rather limp and lasts 10 or 12 seconds. (Most North American handshakes only last 3 or 4.) Often, both hands are used.
  • A typical Malaysian greeting is the rhetorical "Where are you going?" "For a walk" or "Nowhere of importance" are perfectly acceptable answers.
  • The traditional Malay forms of Mr./Mrs./Miss are:
    Puan=Mrs. (married woman)
    Cik=Miss (unmarried woman)
    These are used in front of an individual's name (e.g., "Mr. Ahmadi" would be addressed as "Encik Ahmadi.") You can use Puan ("Mrs.") for any adult female.
  • Try to schedule appointments at least two weeks in advance. Malaysian executives are quite busy and travel frequently.
  • English is the language of business, but official correspondence with government officials must be in the official language, Bahasa Malaysia.
  • Due to the slow pace of negotiations, it's unusual to complete a complicated deal in one trip to Malaysia. Little will happen at the first meeting.
  • Never express anger in public: A person who loses his or her temper won't be trusted or respected.
  • The word "No" is rude. In Malaysia, "Yes" can mean "I agree" or "Maybe" or "I hope you can tell from my lack of enthusiasm that I really mean No."
  • Take advantage of any invitations to social events, although invitations may not come immediately. Let the Malaysians make the first invitation.
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