The royal face of refined conduct and class reveals how to navigate social situations in the unique Malaysian context.

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“Etiquette is an improvement of one’s image, knowing how to do, what to do and when to do” – Tunku Dara Tunku Tan Sri Naquiah

You’ve probably found yourself in this tricky situation: It’s a formal event and you’re hosting, meeting or dining with people of various ranks and backgrounds, and not quite sure how to behave or what to say. When you're in a trifle over protocol, hierarchy, rules and table manners, this is where proper etiquette comes in handy.

This scenario illustrates how etiquette is relatable to modern day habits more than ever, and Tunku Dara Tunku Tan Sri Naquiah, the royal figurehead of poise and eloquence, is on a mission to show how it is a way of life and a part of our social image, above all else.

Read also: Afternoon tea etiquette on how to properly enjoy tea and scones

 Where etiquette was once seen as a prim and old-fashioned virtue for the upperclass and royals, it is the charm of forward-thinkers and accomplished impresarios today.

“Etiquette is an improvement of one’s image, knowing how to do, what to do and when to do,” clarifies Tunku Dara, who also shared tips on meeting and greeting royalty. “And that’s how you represent yourself with grace and confidence to other people on a social capacity.”

 We sought out Tunku Dara for her thoughts on how this western conduct has been adapted to our eastern traditions, as a medium for harmony, and its relevance to modern society.

1. The 5 ways etiquette can be applied in this day and age.
“First, keep mobile phones out of sight at mealtimes and meetings. What’s the point of having a social or business lunch and you don’t talk? It’s deemed rude and ill-mannered. If you must, excuse yourself and step out to pick up your call.

 Second, the respect of elders is lacking. It’s about showing your respect to them with simple things, like standing up, kissing their hand in greeting, holding the door, offering your chair.

 Third, dress codes are important. Know what to wear for what occasion, and when to wear it. Adhere to the dress code.

 Fourth, know your table manners. Learn how to behave at a buffet and at sit-down dinners. Don’t pile a plate with food and offer others at the table, unless they’re an invalid or elderly. Learn how to anticipate a western multi-course dinner at formal functions and how to eat it with the right cutlery.

 Fifth, remember your P’s and Q’s, and apologies. The word ‘I’m sorry’ is an easy word to say, but for Malaysians it doesn’t come quite easily – especially amongst contemporaries. Learn to be polite."

 2. There is such a thing as social etiquette to live in harmony in this world.
“If one is taught manners and etiquette, there will be less wars, fighting, theft, pilfering and bullying. More so in this digital age, where children are exposed to mature and violent content – they need to be taught how to handle what they’re exposed to. This is how social etiquette begets order, and in turn, harmony.” 

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While she's a stalwart of social etiquette, Tunku Dara emphasises on being proud of our eastern traditions too

3. Be proud of how vibrant Malaysian etiquette is due to our eastern civilization.
“We have to remember our eastern values and traditions, too. We’re living in a cross-cultural situation where most things are done in western style, especially at work, even in parliament or palace. Unlike western practices, here in Malaysia, both men and women stand up for seniors or those of higher rank. “

 4. Etiquette is essentially how we live with one another.
“It starts from appearance, the way you walk, dress, speak and body language. Upon first meeting, what do you do and how do you handle the situation? Interaction progresses to conversation, behavior, work, then dining. Following that,  know how to entertain and be entertained, then how to behave as an employee or employer. Dress code, punctuality, table seating, and order of events, these all come into the picture.”

 5. Last but not least, be proud of your local etiquette.
“One example is eating food with our hands in a communal, casual environment, and it can be an eye-opening introduction for western people to our culture. That’s fine – warn them first that this is a real tradition, and tell them to dress down – yes, dress code applies too. Show them our way of life, because we're teaching them our manners. Show them how to eat with their hands; otherwise, there’s always the spoon and fork.”

 Join Tunku Dara Naquiah in partnership with The Circle, as she conducts Etiquette for Today, a unique etiquette-training workshop from August 26-27, 2017, held at the Sime Darby Convention Centre. To register or for more enquiries, call 012-485 1610 or email

Photos from the Malaysia Tatler Ball archive. 

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