Borneo – traditional, relaxed and harmonious
Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and the largest island of Asia. It is largely a conservative and traditional society that is multi-cultural and the family is considered the centre of the social structure. As a result there is great emphasis on unity, loyalty and respect for the elderly.
Malays, Chinese and Indians all strive to maintain face and avoid shame both in public and private. Face is a personal concept that embraces qualities such as a good name, good character, and being held in esteem by one’s peers. Face is considered a commodity that can be given, lost, taken away, or earned. The desire to maintain face makes Malaysians strive for harmonious relationships.
Greetings in a social context will depend upon the ethnicity of the person being met. In general, most Malays are aware of Western ways so the handshake is normal. Malay women may not shake hands with men. Women can of course shake hands with women. Men may also not shake hands with women and may bow instead while placing their hand on their heart.
Some tips to avoid “cultural offenses” are: Remove shoes when entering homes and places of worship. Handle food with the right hand. Never point a foot at someone. When giving or receiving money gifts to/from a Malaysian, do so with the right hand.
Modest dress is expected. For general guidance women should keep their upper arms to the elbow and upper legs to the knee covered. Try to be calm and reasonably quiet in manner. As a guide simply observe the local Borneo people and try not to be significantly louder or more boisterous than them. Feet and shoes are often considered ritually unclean so avoid sitting with them up in the air or stepping over someone sitting on the ground.
If invited to someone’s home for dinner, take the hostess pastries or good quality chocolates. Never give alcohol. 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 colour of royalty. Offer gifts with the right hand only or both hands if the item is large. Gifts are generally not opened when received.
Source: Adventure Alternative
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