Indonesian Etiquette Culture – Manners and Daily Values

Etiquette in general describe as the customary code of polite behavior in communities. Many people still difficult to distinguish between etiquette and ethics. While both terms are referring to human behavior, etiquette and ethics actually have huge differences.

Ethics gives the norm of what can and can not do in the community or anywhere where there is life—etiquette on the other hand referring more to how one’s preferably do when doing something and applies only when there is someone else around.

Etiquette in a region usually always different from etiquette in other regions. Etiquette mostly circle around the culture or the habits of the local people. A behavior that is considered as rude in one culture, but in other cultures, may be considered not rude at all—that’s why it is very important to learn about one’s etiquette to avoid misunderstanding when communicating.

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Characteristics of Etiquette

There are several characteristics of etiquette in general. Such as:

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When someone is mingling with people, he or she is should know what the etiquette of where he or she stand at that moment. Etiquette only applies when there is two people having a face to face communication.

For example:

Someone has the freedom to fart all they want in their house or toilet some place where they are alone. However, it is strictly disrespectful for someone to fart when they’re in the middle of conversation with a friend or when there is someone sit next to you in your living room.

See also: Indonesia Military Power – Indonesian Red Cross Society

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Someone’s behavior mostly connect to where he or she is at the moment. Etiquette control this kind of behavior to match their place. Something that should be done in a room is strictly forbidden to be done in public for a good reason.

For example:

When you visit someone’s house, it is a common courtesy to knock on the door or push the door bell instead of break in out of the blue.

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Cultures and habit of people usually different from each region. Environment and the local culture affect whether a behavior is rude or not. Sometimes, in one place it’s rude to do something but in other place it is not rude at all.

For example:

In Indonesia, when you visit someone’s house, you have to take your shoes off because it is impolite to wear one into the house. Meanwhile, in Western country, it is totally okay for you to wear your shoes inside the house.

See also: Unique Facts about Indonesia – Indonesia Java

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Since most of people respect a good manners and think that someone who have a good behavior is reflecting what inside his or her heart, sometimes it’s make it easy for irresponsible people to take it for granted.

For example:

A lot of people act kind and polite just to gain one’s trust until it’s time for them to break it for their own benefit.

See also: Indonesia Human Rights


See also: Indonesian National Flower – Indonesian Women Rights

Etiquette of Indonesian People

Indonesian people. Habits, characteristics, asian etiquette, asian cultureThere are over 300 ethnic groups, more than 700 living languages and 6 official religions recognized in Indonesia—this is why there are so many tradition and habits spread all over the island. Every ethnic group has its own culture and tradition and mother language.

Every person on an ethnic group also adhere to different religions which will absolutely have their own rules and customs.

This whole facts make Indonesia has a mixture of traditions that may different from one place to another. Therefore, Indonesia is known as country with full of diversity among others. As well as Indonesian etiquette existence.

Common Values and Practices

There are several values and practices applied in Indonesian people acts. Such as:

1. Smile

The Indonesian people are most well-known for its friendliness towards foreigners. Usually, foreigner’s first impression of Indonesia people are that they’re very friendly and smile a lot. It is true, because in Indonesia, smiling is a polite act. It is an act to show humbleness, kindness, and friendliness. An act to make people they talk to or people that pass by them feels comfortable. In Indonesian, is it very advisable to smile back whenever someone throws you a smile, even though it is a stranger or someone that accidentally met your eyes. For example, when an Indonesian people pass by someone they know, but they’re in a rush or not in the mood to talk, they will simply throw an acknowledge smile.

See also: Poverty in Indonesia – Indonesian Heroes

2. Communality

The tradition of decision by consensus (musyawarah-mufakat) and the long-established pattern of mutual assistance (gotong-royong) are really upheld by Indonesian people. Politeness, modesty and loyalty are prevalent in the culture. It is important for Indonesian people to maintain a good relationship between neighbor despite the differences in ethnic groups and religion.

That’s why Indonesian people are expected to always involve in their region’s community events and meetings. If one family shows any kind of arrogance or didn’t try a bit to blend in, all people in their community will avoid meeting or talking with them.

See also: Indonesian Education System – Most Beautiful Fabric in Indonesia

3. Hierarchy and Honoring the Elder

Honoring the elder is the most important etiquette in Indonesia. With so many ethnic group and tradition around, hierarchy definitely have a role in the society. Everyone has a status, no one is equal, and status is changeable. Status, power, position, and age usually the reason why someone is respected. It is very important to know how to behave and respect the elder.

There are two most well-known gesture of respect towards the elder in Indonesia; salim and sungkemSalim is the act of touching one’s back of the hand to the forehead. Salim usually practice to parents, teacher, grandparents, older neighbor and basically everyone that have an age gap up to 5-6 years. Until this very day, this gesture is still around.

On the other hand, sungkem is the act of asking for forgiveness and paying respect by hold the elder’s hands and bow deep to put their nose in their parents hands. It is also still practice until today, usually in a wedding and Hari Raya Eid al Fitr.

See also: Indonesian Martial Arts – Indonesian Theater

 4. Indirectness

Indonesian people tend to avoid confrontation as best as they can. They despite the act of public confrontation or any kind of public display that can harm individual’s dignity. As time goes by, it is more acceptable to expressing disagreement, arguing in open debate and performing demonstrations. Of course, it is only okay if despite the argument, each individual involve still maintain a good manner on debating.

See also: Saman Dance – Gamelan Facts

5. Saving Face

In Indonesia, it is advisable to discuss any kind of matters privately, especially if the matters can harm one’s dignity. Causing shame and humiliation to anyone is not acceptable. An act of helping one avoid getting humiliated is judged as kind and very well-mannered action.

See also: Bali Tribes – Luwak Coffee

Everyday Manners

As Indonesian people, There are several manners that must be done in daily life. Such as:

1. Greetings

One of the most important in Indonesian etiquette is the way you greeting. Like in every other country, saying terima kasih (thank you) after receiving help or service is demonstrate a good manner. When greetings someone, the Indonesian people will first throw a smile, nod slightly and then shake the other’s hand softly. With the majority of Muslims inhabitant the country, the greeting of Muslim, salam, is often used too.

Salam is the act of proffering both hands and gently touch your counterpart’s extended hands, before finally bringing one’s hands back to the chest. Not only salam from Islam, there are also kind of greeting coming from Hindu-Buddhist called sembah. Sembah is an act of greeting by clasped two hands together in front of the chest while slightly bowing.

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2. Using Hands

The influence from both Hindu-Buddhist and Muslim has result in the forbidden of using left hand to eat or to give present to someone. Almost every kind of activity is using right hand or advisable using right hand such as eating, drinking, giving present, accepting present etc. When one can’t help but to use left hand when they’re giving things to someone, they usually say sorry about it and give the reason why she or he can’t use right hand at the moment.

See also: Indonesian Tea – Dayak Tribe

3. Table Manner

It is very common to eat using spoon, fork and hand. Rarely one found knife in the table unless the menu is steak. In formal dinner, the elder usually will be the one to initiate the meal, before followed by other people around.

In Indonesia, since most of the people use hand to eat, there is thing called kobokan. Kobokan is a small bowl fill will water to wash one’s hand before and after eating. You will find kobokan mostly in Sundanese or Padang restaurant. Not only kobokan, few restaurant also make their costumer eat together in one table even though they don’t know each other.

See also: Endangered Animals in Indonesia – National Library of Indonesia

With Muslim as the majority, most of food in Indonesia must be halal—a law which prohibits the consumption of pork and alcohol. Usually, restaurant who didn’t provide halal food will put the sign or tell their costumer that their menu is conceive pork. The important etiquette to remember during the days of Ramadhan, is that one shouldn’t invite a Muslim to join meal in the day. It is advisable to avoid eating in front of them too on this month in the day.

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Dress Sense

When it come to how to dress in Indonesian, most of region held different limitation. For example, Aceh adopt Sharia law therefore the dress rule is more strict and conservative compared to Bali. Overall, bikini, short and sleeveless top still rather awkward to be use in public even though in few region it is not a problem at all.

1. Business

There is almost no different between Indonesian people’s dress for work with the one in Europe. As long as it is polite, not showing too much skin and look professional then it’s an okay. A conservative and modest dress sense is definitely recommended. For woman, skirt should fall bellow the knee and the shoulder should be covered.

See also: Bird of Paradise – Largest Mosque in Indonesia

2. Formal Events

Like any other country when it comes to formal events such as weddings, dinner parties, ceremonies, etc,. the most common dress uses is the internal standard dress-code. Beside tuxedo for men and long dress for women, Indonesian people usually wear batik to almost every formal occasion. In this modern era, batik not only come in one form, but can also be turned into dresses.

See also: Indonesia Religion – Indonesian Language

3. Visited Sacred Sites

Most of sacred sites in Indonesia is very religious therefore have their own rule. When visiting a place of worship, such as candi and pura (temples), mosques, and churches—wearing modest dress is a must. In fact, in some non-religious sites like keraton or museum, is it also a must to wear modest dress.

See also: Indonesian cultures – Bali Facts

Do and Don’ts in Indonesia

1. Never assume a yes as a yes

In Indonesia, everyone always try not to hurt anybody’s feeling when they act or talk, therefore, sometimes Indonesian people become so polite that it’s hard to know what they’re really meant. For example, a yes can have more than 11-12 meaning and a no can have more than 5-6 meaning.

That’s how hard it is to catch the real meaning behind the phrase. Indonesian people avoid saying no directly—for fear to sound disrespectful. That’s why, most will say “Yes, but..” and it’s already means as clear as a no.

See also: Hinduism in Bali – Indonesia Flag

2. Guard your facial expression

Groaning or moaning when you’re mad in the public is considered disrespectful and a bad etiquette. Indonesian people always try to not show their displeasure over something in front of a lot of people. If one have problem with other, he or she usually will try to finish it in private. It is very important for Indonesian people to prevent someone from losing face.

When you ask for an honest opinion from them, Indonesian people will always try not to offended you. They will use their words carefully and politely. You will know whether you offended an Indonesian or not when they start avoiding you.

See also: Sumatran Tigers – Indonesian National Flower

3. Always on time

Is it very common for Indonesian people to come late when they have appointment. It’s almost traditional and acceptable. Even so, if you are in a business meeting with an Indonesian, you are expected to always come early or arrive on time. When you come earlier before your interviewer (if proposing a job) it will become a plus for your reputation. Indonesian people always appreciate those who come before them when they have appointment together.

4. Choose gifts carefully

Every Indonesian come from different ethnic and religion, therefore, is it recommended to learn about one’s background before you give her or him a present. Giving alcohol, pork and anything that contains pig in it to Muslims are highly forbidden. Do not give beef or anything that contains cow in it to Hindus. Also, an umbrella shouldn’t be a gift for Chinese-Indonesian people because it only means you don’t want to see them again.

See also: Best Airports in Indonesia – Indonesian Landmarks

5. Restrain yourself with the opposite sex

Unlike in Western country, in Indonesia, it is disrespectful for someone to initiate a contact with the opposite sex like hug and such. Especially if you’re a man, you shouldn’t even ask for a handshake with your girl friend unless the women initiate it first. Men and women shouldn’t openly make physical contact in public.

See also: Indonesian Coral Reef – Indonesia Orangutan

6. Don’t shout

There are few tribe in Indonesia who talk very loud almost as if they’re shouting and it’s normal. But, if you’re visiting other place, is is recommendable to speak in a soft manner and low voice that can be heard. Some people may find it highly rude if you’re a foreigner and somehow decide to speak as if you’re shouting.

See also: History of Jakarta –  Indonesian Democracy

Indonesia is country with full of diversity. Those, it makes Indonesian etiquette applied in every territory around archipelago. Therefore, the common etiquette as well as manners eventually needed for Indonesia who known as unity in diversity country.