Adjusting Yourself in Jakarta

Adjusting to Jakarta can be challenging for some people coming from a different city let alone country. Being the capital of a multicultural country, Jakarta has its own local norms. While the citizens are warm and genuinely welcoming, moving to a new environment, and adjusting to local norms requires a settling period. However, you will be surprised to learn the vibrant culture of The Big Durian by learning different customs and traditions of the city. Puzzle out the unwritten rules of living in Jakarta: the nuances of culture, the expectations, to the challenges of getting around. Here are some spoilers for you:

read more: How to Make Friends as a Newcomer

greetings in jakarta

Greetings in Jakarta.

Do not be surprised when someone passes by and smiles at you in your workplace. Smile back with a slight nod to greet them back. Refusing to greet them back will make you seem rude and ignorant. You might want to learn greetings in Bahasa to make you seem friendlier:

  • Hello = Halo/Hai
  • Good morning = Selamat pagi
  • Good afternoon = Selamat siang
  • Good evening = Selamat sore
  • How are you = Apa kabar?
elders besides the street of bali

Respecting your elders.

Just like in other Asian countries, Indonesians have a huge emphasis on the social hierarchy. You should be respectful to everyone, especially the elders who are on top of the hierarchy. Or else, you will be considered rude and lack manners. It is also important to greet the locals with the proper honorifics. Here are some honorifics you should learn: 

  • Senior male = Bapak/Pak
  • Senior female = Ibu/Bu
  • Young adult male = Mas/Kakak/Kak
  • Young adult female = Mba/Kakak/Kak
  • Younger people = Adik/Dik

Bring small money and change.

Most newcomers in the city would prefer public transportation rather than driving their own car. Whether you’re riding a conventional taxi or a GoJek/Grab (motorbike taxi), you need to bring small money to pay them since they don’t usually have change for you. This tip is also useful when you are going to shop for snacks in the mini-market and when you are going to pay for the food from the delivery guy. Keeping small money and change will also make it easier for you when you want to tip the waiter, taxi driver, or the delivery guy. 

Always keep a power bank, water bottle, and snacks in your bag.

Jakarta’ infamous traffic is not a myth. You will find yourself get stuck in traffic numerous times and you will be stupid bored. In this situation, you don’t want your phone to run out of battery. So keep a fully-charged power bank in your bag. You also need to keep a bottle of water and a couple of snacks since you might suddenly get hungry in the middle of the jam. If you love to read books, you can also bring your favorite book and a portable reading lamp. 

Buy oleh-oleh (souvenirs) when you go on a trip.

When you’re going on a trip, either for leisure or business, make sure you buy souvenirs for your colleagues. It is an informal tradition of the people of Jakarta when someone is going on a trip. Don’t worry about what kind of souvenirs to get, a small souvenir like a key chain or a t-shirt will be very much appreciated. 

Dress modestly.

This means, don’t wear clothes that reveal too much bare skin. Compared to other cities in the country, Jakarta is tolerant when it comes to clothing. However, wearing revealing clothes will still bring you judgmental looks from the locals. They will not confront you, but they will definitely feel their stares and hear whispers. When you are visiting religious sites, make sure you try to cover your skin as much as possible, since the tradition and cultural values of religious sites are highly valued by the people. 

Public Displays of Affection (PDA)

is not a scene the people of Jakarta are used to. Hugging friends and partners are fine, but keep it brief. Kissing the cheeks of a friend of the same gender is considered okay, but kissing your partner on the lips in public places is strictly prohibited. When you show too much PDA, you will get weird looks from the people around you or worse, you will be confronted. Just stick to holding hands with your partner in public and leave the rest somewhere more private. 

Invest in a batik shirt or dress.

On Fridays, the people of Jakarta tend to use batik in the office. This rule is made to respect the culture of Indonesia. You can also wear your batik instead of a suit or dress when you’re attending an Indonesian wedding. When you get invited to one, make sure to go. Indonesian weddings are festive and exceptional. Your attendance will be highly appreciated by the families of the bride and the groom. Don’t forget to bring an envelope filled with money to drop by at the reception desk. There will be a beautifully decorated box with a slit in the top into which you can insert the envelope in.


means strengthening the ties between friends, relatives, and neighbors. That is why the people of Jakarta love to visit people’s homes and entertain guests. When you move into a new neighborhood, you might have your neighbors visit your home and bring you some gifts, usually in the form of food. That’s how the people of Jakarta welcome their neighbors. You will also find yourself getting invited to a lot of open houses during the holidays. You’re not expected to bring anything since they love entertaining guests. They will serve various kinds of Indonesian foods in these events. However, you may bring small gifts for the host to appreciate them. Don’t forget to greet everyone in the event (at least smile at them). 

Expect to be asked for group photos or selfies.

On every event or occasion, the people of Jakarta love to show their activities on social media. So don’t refuse when they ask you to join group photos. Who knows, you will be known by people (in their Whatsapp group). the people of Jakarta also love to take selfies on a daily basis, so expect to get asked for selfies for their Instagram stories. 
So now you know how to be a true Jakartan. We hope this helps you adjust yourself to the city and that you’ll always try to be a good Jakartan!

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