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You Must Be A Newcomer to Indonesia If...

  • You actually consider using the hasn't-been-washed-in-weeks towel in a public bathroom to dry your hands.
  • You stocked up on Marlboro at the arrivals hall duty free for $15 a carton, only to find you can buy them for $5 a carton in the shops.
  • You already bought fake Mont Blanc pens from 3 different people because you don't know Indonesian for "no thanks", and you're not even out of the airport yet.
  • You imagine the taxi driver will give you a discount because you helped push the car when it broke down on the toll road.
  • You think the warung with the 2 metre wide Guinness advert sells Guinness.
  • Your wife asks the maid to go out and buy a box of tampons, and the maid has absolutely no idea what she's talking about.
  • You wonder where the news sellers keep the girlie magazines, because the "top shelf" seems just like all the others.
  • You think red traffic lights mean you have to stop.
  • You bet the kids you can spot a truck with tread still on its tyres before they can. No one wins.
  • You ask what the legal drink-drive limit is, and are told "It depends how drunk you are. Around Rp 100,000 should be enough.
  • The classic: you think bule is a polite word for 'white people'.
  • You spend ages looking for the Indonesian word for "toilet paper/tissue", finally find it and say to your servant: "Bisa tolong minta kertas tipis untuk toilet?" and she answers: "Oooo tisu, Mam?"
  • You wonder what on earth goes on inside those buildings marked "cat oven" (Is the food safe?).
  • You think it is remarkable that every neighborhood in Jakarta and every village you pass in the countryside seems to have a doctor with the rather unlikely name of "Dr. Gigi" (Do they all look a bit like Eva Gabor?).
  • You think that walking or jogging from your apartment in Senayan to your office in Kuningan is an excellent idea.
  • You still treasure the concept of a COLD beer.
  • You think "Hello mister!" is a little local "colour" and not in the least annoying.
  • You think Hello Mister and is a friendly greeting, and perhaps an opportunity to meet a "local"
  • You consider the mistake in your bar bill genuine ...
  • Mr. 'Menara' must be somebody so rich to own so many tall buildings ...
  • Someone changed the TV channel 7 times in the last 10 minutes and you didn't notice.
  • You're a girl, and you don't own any size 8 black trousers or 2 cm-thick-cup bras.
  • You think around 30% of the female population of Jakarta are nuns.
  • The very first Indonesian words you learnt were "Kenapa semuanya selalu terlambat?"
  • You've seen 5,000,000 cars and 10,000,000 motor bikes, but never yet seen a gas station.
  • You ask to see the ojek driver's insurance certificate before you'll ride with him.
  • You think when the girls smile at you it means they want your body.
  • For guys ... you wonder why your secretary looks so ready to throw herself at you after you ask her: "Could you copy this file darling?" (only because you can't bloody remember what her name is!)
  • You think that for the price you pay for telephone calls ... that you will get a good service.
  • You think that the indonesian language is called "bahasa".
  • You spend ages looking for words such as "mencari" in your dictionary **
  • If ... you end up trying to put water in your car tyres (air in Indonesian means water!)
  • You're struggling to get your mind around the concept of kopi musang, when you are introduced to the concept of durian gajah (Sumatra, 1977)
  • You try to use the hot water from your bathroom tap to make a cup of coffee in the morning.
  • You go out at the weekend looking for a nice park to take a walk/play ball in ...
  • If you think you needn't pay after a tukang semir has unfortunately "smeared" your sneakers.
    Satisfaction is not part of the equation in business undertakings ... you must pay for any service
    rendered without regard to its consequences.
  • If you think the little food items the waiter brings to your table (aside from what you ordered ) are free.


Indonesian - Bahasa Indonesia English - Bahasa Inggris
tisu facial tissue and/or toilet tissue
cat oven cat - paint, baked on auto paint!
Dr. Gigi dentist
menara tower, common name given to office buildings
Kenapa semuanya selalu terlambat Why is everyone always late!
ojek motorcycle taxi
bahasa language (Bahasa Indonesia is the Indonesian language)
mencari to look for something/someone
kopi musang Coffee made from beans that have been consumed and excreted from a musang (civet cat)
durian gajah enormous species of durian (gajah means elephant)
tukang semir person who polishes your shoes

**Early difficulties in learning bahasa Indonesia are often related to the need to understand the structure of Indonesian words. Once you can get rid of the ter-, meng-, pem- and other suffixes and find the root word ... it's much easier to look things up in a dictionary. For example ... membuka - look up buka; mencari - look up car!

These great insights into the humorous situations expatriate newcomers to Indonesia find themselves in were written by visitors to the Expat Forum on this site.

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