Indonesia respect · Courtesy in Indonesia
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Courtesy in Indonesia
Courtesy in Indonesia
By and large (hawkers and touts don't count), Indonesians are a polite people and adopting a few local conventions will go a long way to smooth your stay.
One general tip for getting by in Indonesia is that saving face is extremely important in Indonesian culture. If you should get into a dispute with a vendor, government official etc, forget trying to argue or 'win'. Better results will be gained by remaining polite and humble at all times, never raising your voice, and smiling, asking the person to help you find a solution to the problem. Rarely, if ever, is it appropriate to try to blame, or accuse.
When meeting someone, be it for the first time ever or just the first time that day, it is common to shake hands ? but in Indonesia this is no knuckle-crusher, just a light touching of the palms, often followed by bringing your hand to your chest. Meetings often start and end with everybody shaking hands with everybody! However, don't try to shake hands with a Muslim woman unless she offers her hand first. It is respectful to bend slightly (not a complete bow) when greeting someone older or in a position of authority.
Never use your left hand for anything! It is considered very rude. This is especially true when you are shaking hands or handing something to someone. It can be hard to get used to, especially if you are left handed. However, sometimes special greetings are given with both hands.
Don't point someone with your finger, if you want point someone or something it is better use your right thumb, or with a fully open hand.
Polite forms of address for people you don't know are Bapak ("father") for men and Ibu ("mother") for women. If you know the name of the person you're talking to, you can address them respectfully as Pak Name (for men) or Bu Name (for women). The Javanese terms mas ("older brother") and mbak ("older sister") are also heard, but best reserved for equals, not superiors.
When referring to others, it is best to mention by name rather than "dia" ("he/she"). Using their name signifies openness (so as if not to talk of them secretly) and acknowledgment.
Remove your shoes or sandals outside before entering a house, unless the owner explicitly allows you to keep them on. Even then, it might be more polite to remove your shoes. Do not put your feet up while sitting and try not to show the bottom of your feet to someone, it is considered rude. Don't walk in front of people, instead walk behind them. When others are sitting, while walking around them, it is customary to bow slightly and lower a hand to "cut" through the crowd; avoid standing upright.
Do not stand or sit with your arms crossed or on your hips. This is a sign of anger or hostility. If a guest, it is not polite to finish any drink all the way to the bottom of the glass. This indicates that you would like more. Instead, leave about a half of an inch/2cm in the bottom of your glass and someone will most likely ask you if you would like more.
And if all this seems terribly complex, don't worry about it too much ? Indonesians are an easygoing bunch and don't expect foreigners to know or understand intricacies of etiquette. If you're wondering about a person's reaction or you see any peculiar gesture you don't understand, they will appreciate it if you ask them directly (casually later, in a friendly and humble manner), rather than ignoring it. In general such a question is more than an apology; it shows trust.
The Most Frequently Asked Travel Questions about Indonesia
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Indonesia Travel Guide from Wikitravel. Many thanks to all Wikitravel contributors. Text is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0, images are available under various licenses, see each image for details.