Social Etiquette in Indonesia
Indonesia is a huge country, with an extremely diverse culture and demographic consist of over 300 ethnic groups, and speaking more than 700 living languages. In Indonesia, social etiquette known as “tata krama”, each of these Indonesian ethnic groups has its tata krama and may speak their mother language.
Coming to Indonesia may be a little difficult at first especially if you need to interact with locals. Like anywhere else in the world, social etiquette in Indonesia will depend on the culture of the person you are interacting with. However, the highly refined social behavior of the Javanese as the majority, more or less, sets the social standards throughout the country.
Saving Face in Indonesia
In Indonesian culture, when you’re doing something inappropriate, you can bring shame or embarrassment. This feeling of shame is commonly known as “loss of face”. The face is the quality set in most Asian cultures that indicate a person’s reputation, influence, dignity, and honor.
People in Indonesia get embarrassed easily, which makes Indonesians people dislike conflict. Therefore, never mock or insult anyone, and shortcomings should be addressed privately. Besides that, the blame should also never be discussed publicly.
Greetings are very important in Indonesia and are thought to indicate the respect you will show an individual from then on. It’s an important aspect of social etiquette in Indonesia. Mostly, you will say “hello”, but if you want to take your language skills further, greetings in Indonesian includes Selamat Pagi (good morning), Selamat Siang (good afternoon), or Selamat Malam (good evening). Click here to learn more local phrases.
- Most initial greetings involve a handshake, but don’t hurry it, as this can be seen as being disrespectful
- If someone touches their heart while shaking hands that presents an especially heartfelt welcome
- A nod or slight bow is the usual form of greeting, which should be seen as a sign of politeness
- When greeting a group of people, the oldest person should be greeted first.
- You may address older men and women as “Pak” and “Bu” out of respect, “Mas” and “Mbak” for a man and woman younger than you.
Remaining calm in public, avoiding disagreements, speaking quietly, and not getting offended by little things were often taught to Indonesians from a very young age. Therefore, the non-verbal language is imperative in Indonesia and a significant point of social etiquette in Indonesia. Body language and certain behaviors could be seen as representing anger, happiness, or even sadness.
- Give or receive anything with two hands. If something must be passed with one hand, use the right hand.
- Avoid pointing or calling someone over with one finger
- Touching someone’s head is considered as offensive because Indonesians believe that the head is sacred.
- You should not talk with your hands on the hips. Placing the hands on the hips indicates anger and a ready-to-fight position.
- Avoid extended eye contact as this can be interpreted as a sign of aggression.
- A thumbs-up is a common gesture in Indonesia, meaning “Good!” or an agreement.
- People non-verbally say ‘excuse me’ when entering/leaving/passing people by bowing slightly.
What to Wear
The heat and humid climate will make you sweat easily, so you’ll practically never see locals wearing shorts in the city. Overexposing your body by wearing something very revealing can seriously offend people, therefore an important aspect of social etiquette in Indonesia. However, it might differ from one place to another. For example, Aceh is much more conservative when compared to Bali due to its strict Sharia law.
- Formal events usually require suits, long sleeve shirt, and a tie.
- Make sure to bring more than one shirt if you’re using public transportation.
- In a casual business office/ meeting that a short sleeve shirt and no tie would be okay
- The shirts are usually white because of the hot weather.
- For women, it is common for them to wear dresses, skirts, sleeved shirts. Make sure If you like to wear skirts, then please make sure that they are not too short or cover the knee.
- Usually, women use darker color clothing.
- Even if it is very hot and humid in Indonesia it is not appropriate to wear shoulder free tops or lace tops.
Batik is an icon nation for Indonesia if you’re still can’t decide what to wear in Indonesia, just wear Batik. You can wear a traditional batik shirt and combine it with dark pants/ skirt and is suitable for business and official events in Indonesia. And when wearing a batik shirt, you do not only show that you know about the local business attire, it is also an appreciation to one of Indonesia’s cultural heritage. Wearing a long-sleeved or short-sleeved mostly depends on the situation. For your daily office routine, a short-sleeved Batik is fine. For formal meetings, events, or dinners you should choose a long-sleeved on.
During A Meal
In Indonesia, you may find people asking you if you’ve eaten, even if it’s nowhere near mealtime. This is often just a way to ask you how you are. This is a great way to show your knowledge of social etiquette in Indonesia. Men, women, and children usually eat together when there are no guests. Here, there is an important value: togetherness, mutual solidarity, and group loyalty. “Whether we eat or not doesn’t matter as long as we’re together!” a popular Javanese proverb proclaims.
- Food is often taken from a shared dish in the middle
- The right hand should be used to pass food to your mouth and offer it to others.
- It is considered bad etiquette to walk whilst eating
- In many parts of the country, it is quite common to eat with one’s bare hands
- It is considered impolite to refuse initial offers of food and drink.
- Wait for a signal from your host to begin eating or drinking
- Show that you are finished eating by crossing your fork and your spoon on your plate
We hope that this is helpful for you to learn and understand a bit more about social etiquette in Indonesia. Hopefully, you will start applying these to your daily lives when living here. If you want to learn more about Jakarta and moving to this great city in general, you can click here!