Viktorija Panovaite
Good manners in Indonesia

Good manners in Indonesia

Here is some advice to build good relationship with Indonesian people. If you come for short visit, local people won’t expect you to follow all good manners in Indonesia, but  if you will stay longer they will appreciate if you will follow some main “rules”.
By the way in different islands can be other good manners than written here.

  • After you will know less or more Indonesian language, communicate with unfamiliar and elder people in formal language.
  • In Indonesia, when you address someone, it would consider more polite if you use these specific terms before mentioning the name: Bapak (in short – Pak) for Mr., Ibu (in short – Bu) for Mrs., Mas for young man and Mbak for Miss/ young woman.
  • If you disagree with someone, or if you want to express your dissatisfaction, avoid to raise your voice, and to lose your composure.
  • Don’t shake a hand, or give some things to Indonesians with left hand, it’s disrespectful. Because left hand Indonesian use usually for “dirty” works.
  • Smile and say “hello” for everyone that you pass, even if you don’t know that person (especially in Java island).
  • Remember to remove your shoes or sandals at the door to a house. In some shops, public places you will see as well that people removes their shoes – so just follow the locals and will be easy to know when to remove it.
  • Don’t wear translucent clothes, slippers, shorts, very open T-shirts, or short skirt/dress in the formal places (university, office room, immigration office and etc.). It’s impolite and disrespectful.
  • In Indonesia, people are more discreet than in Europe or other countries. Usually girls wear a T-shirt, rarely a low-cut or a sleeveless T-shirt. Nobody will criticize you because of your clothes; nobody will do anything but don’t feel harassed when you get stares.
  • One-piece swim costume better to wear in beaches where comes not a lot of tourist or just swim with shorts and T-shirt – like its common between Indonesian people. Separate swim costume can wear in touristic beaches.
  • Don’t act in public too intimate – kissing, hugging, excessive touching (especially in Muslim islands).
  • When pointing at something, people (especially Javanese) tend to use the thumb rather than an index finger.
  • Avoid standing with hands on hips as it can be construed as anger or a threat (especially in Java island).
  • Avoid touching or passing object over the top of anyone’s head as it is viewed as the most sacred body part.
  • If you visiting Indonesian people (especially in Java island) is polite to stay in his/her place till 9:00-10:00 pm, if this person is very close friend, relative you can stay till 11:00 pm (on Saturday, during celebrations as well you can stay till this time). If in the house lives only foreigners, local people are more flexible with visiting hours – but they will be appreciate if loud music, activities that makes noise after 10:00-11:00 pm would be reduce.
  • If you are guy and visiting Indonesian girl it’s much better if you stay with her outside in terrace or inside with a bit open entrance doors – it will help avoid gossips that inside something happen. As well don’t be surprised if you are foreigner girl and Indonesian guy during visit will suggest to sit outside open area, not inside the house. These things are more common in Java island.

As well Indonesians (especially kids, teenagers) when they greet and elder (a respected person in the community, a teacher, parents, grandmother, and etc.), move their offered hand to slightly touch their forehead, named “salim”. Like a foreigner you are not obligatory to do that.

And most important thing, don’t call anyone “dog” – “anjing” – because it’s lower than a human. Like in Indonesia most of the people are Muslims, “dog” counted like “dirty” wight, so if you call someone like this it means you call him “dirty unhuman”.

Information used from Javanese people sharing and internet sources, as well some pictures.

Good manners in Indonesia
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  • What other good manners you found out in Indonesia?
  • Do you have any similar good manners in your home country?
  • Which manners surprised you the most during your trips in Asia?

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