Etiquette in Indonesia

Indonesia, located in the South China Sea in Southeast Asia and Oceania, is an archipelago comprising approximately 17,508 islands. With over 238 million people, it is the world’s fourth most populous country.

The official language is Bahasa Indonesia.

Indonesia is a Unitary presidential constitutional republic. As a unitary state, power is concentrated in the central government, led by a president.

The Indonesian constitution guarantees religious freedom, however the government officially recognizes only six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

The local currency is Rupiah.

General Etiquette

People in Indonesia may laugh or smile in situations that Westerners consider inappropriate. Often, a smile is a way to hide embarrassment, bitterness, or loss of face. Don’t consider it an act of frivolity, but rather an expression of anxiety.

Losing face, or malu, can happen for a variety of reason, such as losing one’s temper in public. Because of malu mentality, Indonesians often allow someone to continue incorrectly rather than risk embarrassing them in public.

Although it may sound aggressive to Western ears, Indonesians will often offer a positive and negative option in any question asked, such as “Do you want dinner or not?”. The “or not” is not intended to be rude.

Indonesians are comfortable in silence. Do not be thrown off guard by what may fee like an unusually long period of silence.

Additionally there is usually very little conversation during meals. If you are engaged in a conversation good topics include travel, future plans, and food. Avoid discussing criticism of Indonesian ways, religion, human rights, politics, and gender roles.