Indonesian Culture

Indonesia has a wide variety of religions and ethnic populations. Each island is separated from the others so you will find differences everywhere you go in Indonesia. There is a rich cultural history of music, dance and art. Overall, the people are friendly.

Jakarta is the largest city and has an active night life. Every night there is live music. Many famous artists and rockstars come to Jakarta and play events.

There are a variety of religions in Indonesia. The predominant religion is Islam. Most people who live in Indonesia are Muslim. The culture overall is much more conservative than what Westerners are used to. There is a strict dress code where any skirt or dress over the knee is considered indecent. For the most part, women are not considered equal to men unless they have worked hard for it.

There is a support network for ex pats so Westerners can come together and feel supported. Learning basic conversational terms will go a long way in appearing polite and considerate.

Indonesia’s population exceeds 234 million with over 300 different ethnic groups. The government works to encourage a sense of unity among the archipelago. Everyone is seen as an extended family. Loyalty to friends and family is a point of pride and honor. Elders such as school teachers or political leaders are referred to as “fathers”.

One important social standard is to avoid loss of face. It’s important to avoid conflict, shaming or embarrassing other people. Be serve to have reserved emotions and to avoid egoic outbursts. Many social conventions discourage Indonesians to say “no” so be mindful of other cues.

When greeting Indonesians, it is polite to say “Selamat” slowly which means peace. Offer a sincere and slow handshake. Only shake a woman’s hand if she initiates it. Hierarchy in social groups is very important. It is appropriate to greet elders first. Avoid long eyecontact, yawning or chewing gum. Men show approval by touching your shoulder. Avoid using your left hand as it is not considered clean.

Indonesian people are very kind and hospitable. If you are offered to go into their homes, accept the invitation and any meals that they offer. Indonesian people take rejection of their hospitality very harshly.

The best way to be polite is with a smile and a humble attitude. Being genuine and present goes a long way in making a good impression. If you’re in a village you might raise a bit of curiosity. If you’re walking down a street and you see someone sweeping outside their house, for example say “boleh?” which means “may I?” This is also what you would say if you wanted to take a picture with someone.

If you stay in someone’s house, a good idea would be to give a small gift such as a postcard or a photograph. You should remove your shoes before entering a home.

Life is a slower pace in Indonesia so patience is an important quality to cultivate.