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Bits of Advice for Expats

These miscellaneous "Bits of Advice" have been submitted by previous residents for those intending to live in Indonesia:

  • One of the foremost attributes of Indonesians, especially Javanese, in social interaction is kesopansantunan, which means politeness and appropriateness. To avoid being the victim of ridicule --either blatant or concealed -- behave appropriately and suitably, by Indonesian standards, not yours. If you do not wish to offend or be ridiculed, you must adapt to local cultural norms, while still maintaining your own identity.
  • To the man who inquired about drinking -- AWAS (be careful)! If you must drink, don't do it in Muslim homes, at official functions, or anywhere important. NEVER drink to excess, no matter what those around you (other expats!) are doing. You will offend your hosts and will ultimately harm your effectiveness in your official duties.
  • An excellent source of information on customs and norms is Culture Shock Indonesia by C. Draine & B. Hall, Graphic Arts Center Publishing, Portland. Learn the rules and follow them. Remember: if you offend by inappropriate behavior, you may never know what hit you. Indonesians will rarely tell you what you did wrong.
  • Visit Minangkabau country in West Sumatra, especially Padang Panjang. A quiet weekend at Danau (Lake) Maninjau is a sure cure for Jakarta stress.
  • Always carry a packet of tissues (Kleenex) for use when there isn't any toilet paper in public toilets.
  • Taxi and bus drivers often tell you they don't have change. To avoid problems, always carry plenty of uang kecil (coins and Rp 100 & 500 notes) for taxi and bus fares. If the taxi driver won't use the meter, take another taxi.
  • Snack bars at the airports are notorious for trying to keep the change from transactions with foreigners.
  • Don't do anything with your left hand! It is offensive to Indonesians to receive something given with the left hand.
  • Do NOT engage in conversations about politics with Indonesians! The atmosphere can be volatile nowadays. Remember, it is illegal to criticize the government or the President. If you try to engage Indonesians in political discussions, they will not only be very uncomfortable but you may put yourself in danger.

These words of advice were submitted by Catherine M. Muir.

Mini Glossary:

Kesopansantunan: The Indonesian concept of polite and appropriate behavior.
Awas: Be careful, watch out.
Uang kecil: Literally, small money. Refers to small change, coins and bills in small denominations.