We Malaysians are made up of folks from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. We live in relative peace despite our differences which is something to be envied especially considering the wars and conflicts that has been terrorizing other parts of our world. A key factor of our stability is tolerance and understanding. That is why it is important to consider the different belief systems and taboos of our friends from different ethinicities before buying them gifts.
So here is a list of considerations that you should look into before buying a fellow Malaysian a gift:
For a Malay friend:
1) Most Malays are moderate Muslims, and pigs and dogs are considered unclean in Islam. Don't buy them food containing pork or any traces of it. Also, avoid buying them gifts depicting either of these animals, including pictures.
2) Alcohol is not tolerated at all levels in Islam, so much so that Muslims avoid having anything to do with it at any circumstance, even working at bars.
3) Items with human and animal patterns on them should be avoided too. More conservative Muslims might consider this as a form of idoltary, which is against Islam too. Opt for floral decorations instead whenever possible.
For a Chinese friend:
1) No handkerchiefs as they are associated with hardship. It is more than a metaphorical symbol that you might use to wipe of tears, since it is truly considered to bring bad fortune.
2) No knives since giving them as gifts not only symbolize an intention to end a relationship, it is once again a bringer of misfortune.
3) No clocks since they are also considered unlucky. It is a metaphorical reference to one's life-clock which is constantly ticking and that death is inevitable. Giving it as a gift shows you wish them dead!
For an Indian friend:
1) No beef or pork: Many Indians are Hindus, and cows are considered sacred to them. Think twice if you are buying them a wallet or purse. Any leather products should stay away from your gift list unless you are absolutely sure they are not made from cow skin. Also, food products made of pork should be avoided as they are considered unclean in Hinduism.
2) Garlands are cute, and it is very formal when you give it to someone of a certain degree of respect. If in any case you want to present someone with a flower garland, make sure they don't contain frangipanis as they are only used for funerals.
3) Some sects of Hinduism encourage vegetarianism. So avoid buying food with meat, fish or eggs if your friends are strict vegetarians. Milk products are okay, but alcohol is forbidden too, even to same non-vegetarian Hindus.