If you haven’t been before in any Asian country, maybe after you will come to Indonesia, you will have slighter (or bigger) cultural shock. The main thing – come to Indonesia with open eyes and heart, without any attitudes or negative wonder. Don’t judge Indonesian people, culture and country – just accept it how it is.
Some things that you should know before coming to Indonesia about Indonesian people’s lifestyle and maybe it will help you not have a cultural shock.
- Curiosity: Indonesians are very curious people. In the first meeting they can ask very personal questions. They do not mean to be impolite or disrespect your privacy with asking these questions, this is the way how they try to be friendly with strangers.
- Staring: in Indonesia, it is not considered impolite to stare. Sometimes when you are out in public, you will feel yourself the object of staring. Adults will point you out to their children; people will stop what they are doing to watch you, etc.! The fewer foreigners in the area, the more stares you are apt to receive.
Most expats deal with the staring by just ignoring it. There is really nothing you can do about it; no matter how uncomfortable you are, it will always happen!
- Meeting agreements: when you plan something with Indonesian you should know that “tomorrow” (“besok”) doesn’t have exactly the same meaning than ours. If Indonesian says “Besok kita makan bersama” – it can mean “We eat together tomorrow” or “We eat together in 2 or 3 days” and etc. depends on the context. The same with “yesterday” (“kemarin”) it can mean “yesterday”, “the day before yesterday”,”one week ago” and etc.
- “Elastic Hour” (“Jam karet””): if you agreed to meet at one time and your friend comes one hour later, smiling as nothing wrong – it’s nothing wrong in Indonesia. Punctuality is not so important in Indonesia. Don’t think that your friend doesn’t respect you because he is late. Don’t be offended, rather adopt. Indonesian time, which is really relaxing.
- Respect showing: to show respect to parents, elder people, teachers and etc. younger people take their hand and touch their forehead (“salim”).
Politeness: smiling is very prevalent and is often used even when people don’t like something or they don’t agree.
- Laughing: if you ask someone to do something, but he cannot do it, laughing could be a way to express his embarrassment. The Javanese society is based on the concept of “rukun”, that is to say the willing to make peace and harmony the main priority in social relationships. The main point on Javanese culture is the willing to avoid all kind of clashes, or conflicts. Then, the difficulty for Javanese people to say no could be due to the willing to avoid conflicts.
- Answers: if people don’t understand something or doesn’t know something, they still will show that they understand and know, like they don’t want to embarrass the other person by making them repeat the question.
- Showing the way: most of the time, as often in Asia, Indonesian people are not used to read map and usually it’s hard understand when they explain how to get to any place. Better to ask several different people how to get to the place, like Indonesians even if they don’t know they want to help and say things that they think they know.
- Explaining directions: only in Yogyakarta if you want to go somewhere and asking Indonesians how to get there, they will explain everything not in “ turn left”, “turn right” way but saying the main direction: North (direction to Merapi), South (direction to Parangtritis), West (direction to Kulon Progo or sunset), East (direction to Prambanan/Solo or sunrise). So try to go from Kasongan (South) to UGM university (North) by Indonesian explanation: “From the gate of Kasongan, go to the North. You will pass 5 traffic lights. On the 6th traffic light go a little bit North and turn to East then turn to North side again. On 7th traffic light – turn East. You will pass 2 traffic lights, on 3rd traffic light – turn to North and will see UGM gate”. Do you think you will manage to reach the place? :).
Beeping all the time: in the roads you will hear many beeps. Don’t worry Indonesians do that often not because you did something wrong, but because they want to inform you that they are coming
- Shaman: Indonesian goes to shaman instead of doctor (when they get sick) or police (when they got robbed). It’s happening especially in villages.
- Fever cure: if Indonesians have fever they do “kerok” – scratch the back and front body with metal money. To wind get out from the body, they believe that wind makes them get fever.
- Indonesians wakes up very early: like most of them are Muslim, first they go to pray ~ 4:00 am (morning praying) and after that – start their daily works. Not all of them like this, but in villages it’s most common.
- Walking habits: usually Indonesians don’t walk; use the vehicles even if they need to go to shop that is 5min. walk by foot.
- Coughing and sneezing: it is not common for traditional and less educated people in Indonesia to carry handkerchiefs or tissues, and often they do not understand how diseases are spread. Therefore it is not unusual to see people coughing or sneezing openly without attempting to cover their mouth or nose.
- Spitting: this habit is particularly common during the fasting month. Some strict Muslims refuse to swallow their own saliva while fasting, and spit saliva onto the ground or in the street. Gargling and spitting is part of the ritual cleansing before Muslim prayers.
- Smoking: the vast majority of Indonesian men smoke, excessively! There are many public spaces where you will inevitably have to breathe in cigarette smoke. A law that banned smoking in transportation terminals, malls, offices, hospitals, schools, and universities, places of worship, buses, trains and playgrounds has been in effect in Jakarta since 2006, but it is not entirely enforced. Most office buildings and public areas of malls are complying; however, there will still be a smoking section in most restaurants.
- Long thumbnails: sometimes you will see an Indonesian man with one or two very long nails, usually the thumbnail. This is intended as an indication of his status as a non-manual laborer or worker.
- Wetness: a traditional Indonesian bathroom contains a trough of clean water, from which water is scooped up in a plastic dipper (“gayung”) and poured over the body while standing on the floor of the bathroom. After soaping up all over, more dippers full of water are splashed over oneself to rinse off. This same practice is utilized when going to the toilet, resulting in very wet toilet seats!
- Using hands: mostly Indonesians use hand (“muluk”) to eat food.
- Tools: you can see that people as well eating with spoon and fork, but very rare with knife. Like they believe that knife is a weapon as well, they can do everything with the hand – so why use the knife? The spoon they use in the right hand and fork in the left (or vice versa for lefthanders). The fork holds food steady while breaking off portions with the spoon, and is used to assist in loading up the spoon by pushing food into it. Most food is cut up into relatively small pieces before it is cooked, although chicken and duck are usually served on the bone, and fish is often served whole.
- Indonesian use to eat fast and silently.
- Place: sometimes Indonesian food is served and eaten not at a table, but on woven mats covering a low platform or the ground. This style of eating is called “lesehan” and is common in Yogyakarta and Central Java as well as West Java.
- Rice: Indonesians eat rice 3 times per day (with fish, vegetables, egg and etc.). “Kalau belum makan nasi, belum makan” (if you haven’t eaten rice, you haven’t eaten), which implies that no matter what snacks you have consumed, you have not had a proper meal until you have filled your tummy with rice in some form or another. They should eat rice once per day at least to feel good.
- Cold food: most often in “warungs” and “angrigans” you can get a bit warm or cold food, like food prepared earlier and nobody warm it, you just select from food what is ready and you see in front of you. It’s nothing surprised to eat cold rice, chiken, boiled vegetables or other dishes.
- Burping: it is not considered impolite to burp, and can even be regarded as a sign of appreciation of a good meal, therefore Indonesians generally do not excuse themselves after burping.
- Working hours: mostly small shops or eating places doesn’t have working hours. One day they can be open at one time, next day – at another. The activities (school, work and etc.) usually start at 7:00-7:30 am.
- Evening time: at 6:00 pm usually is totally dark outside and after 10:00 pm (especially in the villages) is very quiet (like people goes to sleep after early waking up).
- Couples living: it’s taboo and immoral if in the same place lives a couple, who is not married (especially in the villages). Even if the couple is foreigners, most of communities don’t accept them and don’t let rent a place there. The owner will ask for a wedding certificate before renting his place to a couple. There can be exceptions depending on the community leader liberality.
- Hair cutting: there are special barber places only for cutting man’s hair.
- Pharmacy: in some pharmacy (especially in smaller towns, villages) they can ask you to show marriage paper before selling contraception pills. Officially it’s not allowed to have sex before marriage and if you are not married it means you don’t need such pills.
- Toilets: mostly in toilets there is no flushing system, so you need to use water from container. Also most places has “Turkish style” (squat) toilet, you can find sitting style as well but don’t expect that it will be everywhere :) Indonesian people do not use toilet paper, but they wash them self with water, always available in WC. Indonesian people use the left hand to wash themselves, while they keep the right hand to shake hands and to eat. If you cannot do without toilet paper, always keep with you a package of tissues.
- Hot water: there is no hot water (only you can find it in hotels, rich people houses or sometimes in villages near mountains). It can be a bracing and refreshing experience to bathe from a traditional “bak mandi”, as only room temperature water is used. Warm water is only for babies, the elderly or the sick.
- Animals at home: roaches, geckos, small lizards, ants, mice and etc. are usual animals at home that you can see on your walls, hear sounds on the roof.
- Language: Indonesia are bilingual – use national language “bahasa Indonesian” and local language for example “bahasa Java”.
- Refilling: you hardly will find services for which you need the contract. You need drinking water or gas – you buy water or gas gallons and refill it; you need electricity – you buy “pulsa” put the code in your counter and have it; you need to use internet or mobile-you pay for “pulsa” and seller will put needed information to his mobile and you have it. For Indonesians everything should be easy – agreements for services makes everything too complicated.
- Trashes: don’t surprise to see everywhere the trashes. Like Indonesian people throw it anywhere – to the river, just straight on the street or even in front of their houses.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
- Does any of these Indonesian people lifestyle examples reminds you any from your country?
- You know more Indonesian people common behavior? What kind of?
- To which of these things would be hard for you to adapt?