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Social Customs & Etiquettes in Brunei

Bruneians in general, are very tolerant and will understand that visitors are not familiar with all of their customs and Islamic traditions. Nonetheless, keeping these few things in mind will go far in showing the Bruneian people that you respect and appreciate their culture, thus enriching your experience.

Shoes should be removed when entering Muslim homes and institutions and visitors should not pass in front of a person at prayer or touch the Koran, the Muslim holy book. Traditionally, a Bruneian shakes hands lightly, bringing his hands to his chest. However, any physical contact between members of opposite sexes is avoided. Non-Muslims should not be found in the company of a Muslim member of the opposite sex in private: sexual contact, or even compromising behavior, between non-Muslims and Muslims is punishable by deportation.

There are many honorific titles in Brunei: Awang (abbreviated to Awg), for instance, is equivalent to ’Ms’ or ’Mrs’. Adat (customary law) governs many occasions and ceremonies. Food may be served without cutlery: eat using the right hand only. Avoid giving or receiving with the left hand or pointing the soles of one’s feet towards companions. Gifts (particularly food) should only be passed with the right hand, although it is acceptable to use the left hand under the right wrist for support.

It is also considered impolite to point with the index finger (the right thumb should be used instead) or to beckon someone with your fingers (the whole hand should be waved instead, with the palm facing downwards). The right fist should never be smacked into the left palm, and children (or adults) should not be patted on the head.

It is widely regarded as discourteous to refuse refreshment when it is offered by a host, or to eat or drink in public places, especially during Ramadan when Muslims are fasting.

Visitors should note that there are severe penalties for all drug offences, and that the legal system in Brunei is partly based on Shariah law and can, occasionally, apply to non-Muslims, including visitors. Dress is informal except for special occasions. Women should ensure that their head, knees and arms are covered.

During the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, Muslims do not take food from sunrise to sundown. It would be inconsiderate to eat or drink in their presence during this period.

In deference to the Muslim majority, alcohol is not sold in Brunei, but private consumption by non-Muslims is allowed. Non-Muslim tourists are allowed a generous duty-free allowance of 2 bottles of alcohol (wine, spirits, etc) and 12 cans of beer per entry (every 48 hours), and may consume alcohol with sensible discretion in hotels and some restaurants.





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