Cultural Do’s & Dont’s


For Chinese With Chinese names, the name to call is the first name: Chee Kok Kian (short K.K. Chee) is to be addressed as Mr. Chee.  This is the family name (surname).   It is difficult for us to know if a name belongs to a male or female. Chinese married women keep their maiden name and officially use their husband's family name.  Some local Chinese have English names to their Chinese family name: e.g. Francis Chee Kok Kian.    Indians Indian names are prefix with the initial of the father's name to their own. e.g. S. Balakrishnan would become Mr. Balakrishnan, but can be also Mr. Bala. Sometimes Tamil Indian names are short formed to the second half of the name thus you would address him as Mr. Krishnan. Wives will be addressed as Mrs. Krishnan. If you see the suffix Singh (males) or Kaur (females) added the name belongs to a Sikh and should be added when addressing. Never use Mr. Singh alone. Some Indians (mainly Christians) use Western names.   Malays Muslim names do not consist of traditional first and last names. The first name is often linked by the words bin (son of) and binte (daughter of) followed by their father's name. Suggesting when you see the name Nik Abdullah bin Nik Mohamed you address him as Encik (pronounced En-check) Nik Abdullah. A woman is addressed as Puan (or Cik, pronounced "chek" if unmarried and very young), e.g. Puan Rafidah.   Once you see the prefix Hajji (male) or Hajjah (female) this indicates he/she has absolved the pilgrimage to Mecca and consequently has to be addressed as e.g. Hajji Nik Abdullah and Hajjah Rafidah. You may come across the term Tuan which is a respectful address for a senior male or if the name is not known ("Sir"). There are numerous titles either religious inherited or granted by of Malaysian monarchy which are used as a prefix to the name:
Male Female Meaning Address as ... followed by the name
Syed/Saied Sharifah/Syarifah Descending from the prophet Tuan/Puan
Hajji Hajjah Has been in Mecca Haji/Tuan/Hajjah/Puan
Tungku Tengku Prince/Princess Tunku/Tengku
Ungku Engku Ranges below Tungku Ungku/Engku
Tun Toh Puan Sir/Lady Tun/Toh Puan
Tan Sri Puan Sri Granted by the King Tan Sri/Puan Sri
Datuk/Dato Datin Granted by a Sultan Datuk/Dato/Datin
● Invitations should be acknowledged regardless of declining or accepting.
● Never come too early, be on time or a little late. Exception: Chinese weddings are always delayed! ● If you are not sure what to wear for a formal invitation and/or for a special occasion and it is not indicated on the invitation, ask your host. ● Wear modest clothes when invited into a Muslim home. ● A verbal thank you is sufficient but a telephone call a day later is greatly appreciated. Flowers are a Western custom and are either sent before the event or the next day.  
In An Asian Home● Remove your shoes and leave them at the front not blocking the door.● Complimenting the host's home is considered polite. ● Do not touch their altar or holy book (Koran), do not stand or sit on the prayer carpet. ● Get up when an elderly person enters the room. ● Do not sit before invited.
  Asians In Your Home ● Keep your dog locked away as Muslims are not allowed contact with dogs. Chinese are often afraid of dogs. ● Respect the fasting month Ramadan when inviting to your home. ● Muslims are not permitted to drink alcohol. If you receive an unexpected guest you need to serve drinks. ● Inquire about food restrictions when inviting for lunch or dinner. Muslims must eat halal which means food and drink sanctioned by Allah for consumption. Examples of Haram (prohibited) food are pork. alcohol, lard shortening, animal shortening, gelatin, pepsin, monoglyceride, animal hormones didlyceride eg. emusifiers if of animal origin. ● Your guests may be vegetarian, or not allowed to eat pork (Muslims) or beef (Hindus). The safest choice is fish, chicken and vegetables.     A Chinese Wedding Often the main purpose of inviting a large number of guests to a Chinese wedding is to recover the costs of the lavish wedding banquet and eventually make a profit. The "hongbao" expected of the guest is a cash gift placed in little red envelopes anonymously deposited at the entrance of the ballroom.   The going rate of a hongbao is between SGD $100 to $150 per attending guest and its equivalent in other currencies. Guests give more if the wedding lunch or dinner is held at a posh hotel.   Gifts Never open a gift received in front of the giver.
Gifts/ Taboo gifts and wrapping paper colors in Asia
Religion Taboos/Rules Colors Wedding Birth
Buddhists/Taoists (e.g. Chinese, Thais, Indians, Indonesians, Sri Lankans, Taiwanese, Koreans) Give presents in pairs, money and flowers come in even numbers. White flowers are taboo. Happy occasions: Red, gold Funeral: white, blue, black. No scissors, knifes, clocks, handkerchiefs. Gift vouchers and money in a red envelope. The stork/heron is the symbol of death in Chinese culture.
Muslims (e.g. Malays, Indonesians, Indians) Alcohol, cigarettes, ashtrays, wine glasses, scissors, knives, underclothes, sleepwear, articles of pork or leather. Favorites: Red (love) Green (religion) Decorative or functional household items Colorful dresses and jackets. No toy dogs
Hindus (Indians, Sri Lankans, Filipinos) Sweets, fruits chocolates Taboos: no cow products, ashtrays, knifes, wine glasses Alcohol, cigarettes White flowers Red, gold, green and all bright colors Decorative of functional household item Piece of gold jewelry or colorful clothing
  Dinner Etiquette
Dining is one of the most essential ways of communicating and entertaining in Southeast Asia. Meals, etiquette and placements have many important meanings and you should make a special effort to know and understand them. If you are uneasy in a certain situation do feel free to ask your host. They do not regard your questions as embarrassing but as showing respect and interest in their culture.   Chinese Style ● Chinese dinners are a lively affair with lots of laughter and dish sharing. ● Your hosts will be glad to explain food and traditions in connection with the meal served and warn you about spicy dishes. It is considered polite to praise the food. ● You are not expected to be a master of eating with chopsticks and may ask for a fork and a spoon instead. ● Dropping chopsticks is a sign of bad luck and you should not stick the chopsticks up in a bowl of rice and never cross one over the other. ● Food is transferred from one dish to the other by spoons. ● Do not take the last food of a dish unless invited to do so. ● Bones are removed from your mouth with the chopsticks if possible.   Indian and Malay Style ● When invited by a Malay or Indian person, wait until you are invited to start eating and drinking. ● Only use the right hand. Use the serving spoon when serving yourself from the center. ● It is customary to start eating some rice first when the meal starts. ● You are not allowed to serve food to others with your own utensils. ● When eating with your fingers (e.g. banana leaf style) take a small amount with the tip of your fingers only. ● You are allowed to pass on the dishes with your left hand supported by your right when your right hand is soiled. ● Drinking glasses can be lifted with your left hand as well. ● You will be offered a finger bowl at the end of each meal to clean your fingers, which should not be licked.
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