Etiquette guide: Dos and dont's of gift-giving in Malaysia

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 30 Nov 2017

It’s always better to give than to receive, so people say. And with the festive season upon us, it’s time to review some dos and don’ts in gift-giving etiquette specific to Malaysia. 

You may think, surely it can’t be that difficult to give someone a present? It’s not, but Malaysia has a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious society, and some folks are particular about their customs and beliefs.  

So here are some guidelines to keep in mind when giving gifts for any occasion, so as to avoid any kind of social faux pas. It may be the thought that counts, but there’s a common courtesy that should be practised when giving – and receiving – a gift. 


Give Good Face 

All Malaysians will be familiar with the concept of “give face” and “save face”. Basically, it’s when we purposely do something to avoid embarrassing someone either socially or privately, or to protect ourselves from shame. 

Malaysians can “lose face” by not properly thinking out a gift, like when it’s a poor choice of gift for the occasion. This can also affect those on the receiving end if you’re openly critical or discourteous when accepting a gift. 

It’s also common sense not to put someone on the spot by talking about the price of a gift, or suggesting that it’s an impractical present. After all, if you really don’t like or want it, you can always re-gift it – just make sure you’re never found out! 


Halal vs Haram


When giving a gift to someone who’s Malay or a Muslim, remember that regardless of their lifestyle, most will publically adhere to the teachings of their faith when accepting gifts. So don’t give anything that contains alcohol – not even chocolates! You should also avoid giving anything that’s made from pigskin or resembles a dog. 

White wrapping paper might seem classy to a lot of people, but for Malays and Muslims, it’s often associated with bereavement and mourning. And for that matter, no yellow wrapping paper either – that colour is reserved for royalty. 

If you’re invited to someone’s home, say for a dinner party, you can consider taking a food gift for the host, like quality cakes or pastries. Keep in mind that whatever food items you bring should be halal, even if the receiver doesn’t mind otherwise. 


Luck vs Taboos 


The Chinese community have whole different set of customs. The gift you bear can either bring luck and prosperity to the receiver, or be completely taboo to them. For example, gifting a sharp object like knives or scissors could symbolise a want to sever the relationship.

And for that matter, stay away from clocks because time-keeping gadgets can mean you’re counting down to the end of things. 

Be prepared to proffer your gift several times. It’s customary for the receiver to turn down your present a few times, so they don’t look greedy. And if you’re bringing multiple gifts, make sure it’s an even number of items because odd numbers are considered bad luck.

Now, if you’re invited over to a home-cooked dinner, quality fruits or desserts are a good choice as gifts. You can pretty up the present with red, pink or yellow wrapping paper because these are seen as joyous colours. And if they have kids, say it’s for the children. 


Yes, There Is A ‘Wrong’ Flower



When choosing a gift for someone who’s Indian or a Hindu, it’s a little of what’s kosher and a bit of what’s customary for the community. Generally, stay away from anything made from or containing leather – just to be on the safe side. 

Don’t use black or white wrapping paper for the present; try to find something red, yellow or green. Bright colours represent good fortune. And if you’re gifting money or something similar, it’s actually all right to give an odd number of bills. 

If you’re asked over to someone’s place for dinner, flowers are a fantastic gift. The word of caution here is that there is such a thing as the wrong kind of flowers – frangipanis. They smell sweet as honey, but these are traditionally reserved for funerals.


Grace And Dignity 

Ultimately, however, these dos and don’ts are just a conservative guideline to how gift-giving works in Malaysia. These are by no means hard and fast rules, especially if your relationship with or knowledge of the other person supersedes general traditions.

That said, one of the safest routes to take in gift-giving is to find something unique and striking that overrides convention. For example, Swarovski has a catalogue of items that covers almost every occasion and situation whether personal or professional.

From jewellery to accessories to home decorations, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who won’t love getting a glittering Swarovski. Check out their latest seasonal products here and how to #GiveBrilliant.



This article is brought to you by Swarovski.


In conjunction with the festive season, Swarovski is giving away 25 sparkling surprises to win for your loved one (or yourself, don’t worry we won’t tell)! Contest starts tomorrow until Dec 25, one gift will be unveiled a day. Submit your entries from tomorrow at the Swarovski’s Countdown to the Holiday website.




Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 18
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3

Branded , Swarovski


Did you find this article insightful?


100% readers found this article insightful

Across the site