Indonesian Customs

Visitors who want to get the most out of their vacation need to study up on local customs and master a few basic DOs and DON’Ts. The following tips will help you get the most out of your time in Indonesia.

* Shaking hands is one of the most common forms of greetings. In Indonesia most people will place the palm of their hand to their chest after shaking hands. This is a sign that they sincerely value the encounter. It used to be common for Indonesians to bend slightly forward as if to bow when shaking hands, as a sign of respect, but that custom has fallen out of practice somewhat.

* Touching, stroking, pushing or slapping someone’s head is considered offensive and disrespectful in Indonesia. Remember to use open and non-aggressive body language. Almost anywhere in the world crossing your arms across your chest when talking is seen as defensive or arrogant. Do not point at someone with your index finger and never stand with both hands on your hips when talking to someone.

* Wherever you travel, including in Indonesia, it is important to ensure the safety of your camera, cell phone, wallet, passport and other belongings. If you are carrying valuables in a backpack, make sure it is deep in an inside compartment and not in one of the outer pockets. Never leave your belongings unattended.

* When eating with Indonesian friends in a restaurant, wait for everyone to get their food before you start eating. For most Indonesians, eating together is a feast. Indonesians usually say selamat makan (enjoy your food) to everyone around the table before they start eating.

* Indonesian culture and tradition emphasize the importance of living in harmony with others. Open displays of anger – shouting, hands on hips, rude looks, slamming doors – are considered offensive behaviour.

* Woman should dress modestly. Any revealing clothing will undoubtedly result in more stares and probably some rude comments. Remember, the average Indonesian’s knowledge of Western lifestyle is influenced by what they see on TV and in movies.

* Most Indonesians use their right hand when receiving or giving something, or while eating. Use of the left hand can be perceived as impolite.

* Although not as common as it once is, it is not surprising to see Indonesians of the same gender holding hands when walking together. This is a sign of close friendship and camaraderie, not sexual orientation. At the same time, in most areas of the country it is considered improper for a girl and boy to hold hands or put their arms around each other. It is considered inappropriate for a man to touch a woman beyond a handshake in a social setting. If you travel as a couple, do not be overly affectionate in public areas.