12 Social Norms in Indonesia You Must Know

Social norms are behaviours and the basic ways of socialising within the community. The social norms are guidelines for people to avoid unpleasant or unwanted situation. Indonesia is a country with several social norms that people carry out when they are interacting with each other. This article explains the 12 Social Norms in Indonesia that can help you to get familiar with Indonesian behaviours. These behaviours will help you to blend in with the community.

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1. Giving Greetings

It’s considered as a polite thing to greet strangers and also someone you are already familiar with. A casual way to greet someone could be as simple as saying Halo which means hello. But there are also ways to greet someone in more formal ways. You can say Selamat Pagi (Good Morning), Selamat Siang (Good Afternoon) and Selamat Malam (Good Evening). Adjust your greeting to the time of the day.

2. Using Titles Before First Names

People in Indonesia are very serious on calling people using the appropriate title. This is a social norm that is able to show the status or the seniority of a person. It’s also very rude for someone to instantly call someone with their first name. Use the title first and then their first name. For male Indonesians, you can use the formal term Bapak which means Sir or Mas for the informal term. You can refer female Indonesians as Ibu which means M’am or Mba that’s more informal. A title used to call someone who is probably younger than you would be Adek.

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3. Giving Handshake

When people in Indonesia meet each other, they usually shake each other’s hands. The handshake could be firm and brief. However, most people in Indonesia shake hands with little power. Also after shaking someone’s hand, it’s normal to bring your hand briefly to your chest. It’s a very common and polite gesture.

4. Giving Slight Bow and Smile

This is also a very common social norm used when you meet a stranger or someone you know well. Giving a slight bow and smiling is a gesture that shows that you acknowledge the person. It is a polite way of greeting from afar when close contact is not possible.

5. Avoid Shouting or Raising Voice in Public

Indonesians are very keen on saving face or personal reputation. They also highly value peace. It’s best to avoid shouting loudly or raising your voice in public. Those things are sources of disturbances and annoy people a lot. Try as much as possible to talk with a normal or low voice while in public. Loudness can also seem as arrogant or boastful.

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6. Ask for Permission

Indonesian people are very friendly to all kinds of people especially when you’re polite and shows humbleness. When you’re in a crowded place and you need to pass someone then you can kindly say Permisi which means Excuse-me. People will let you pass through without a problem. You can also say it while giving a smile which makes you more seem friendly to them.

7. Using the Right Hand

While in public or a group of several people, use your right hand to receive or take things. The right hand is seen as the more polite hand because there is a notion that the left hand is used only for bathroom purposes. Make sure to use only the right hand for eating and handing out things. If you’re left-handed, this could be quite uncomfortable but try to follow this social norm so people won’t get the wrong impression of you.

Also read: Indonesia Lifestyle

8. Wearing Modest Clothing

Most people in Indonesia are still conservative and value modesty. In terms of clothing, the social norm would be to wear something that is not too revealing. Avoid wearing clothes with no sleeves. Also, try not to wear clothes that are too tight on the body. Some places in Indonesia are more used to the variation of the clothing that people wear though but it’s still a good way to follow the social norm to avoid any discomfort.

9. No Public Displays of Affection

It’s very important to never show public displays of affection. People have a distaste of public displays of affection on those who do not have special bonds such as marriage. Kissing and hugs are not allowed for the opposite sex members to do. However, the same sex may hold each other’s hands which can be assumed as a sign of close friendship.

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10. Avoid Causing a Commotion in Public

Never intentionally cause someone’s public embarrassment. Mocking, insulting or even criticising should be a private matter. People don’t like it when they are done publicly in places because they become a source of embarrassment and commotion. Indonesians are very serious about keeping harmony. They do not like public arguments which can disturb the peace among people. These actions are also bad behaviours that may cause people to think the worst of you

11. Pointing at Things

When you want to point at things, try to use an open hand or your right thumb. You can still use the index finger since it might be easier but try not to turn it into a habit when you’re in Indonesia. Pointing at things using your index finger is a rude thing especially when you’re pointing at someone in public.

Read also: Facts about Education in Indonesia

12. Being Sociable with Indonesian People

Indonesian people are very sociable human beings. They like to strike up any kinds of conversation with strangers. It’s the social norm to try get people engage in conversations or activities within a certain group. Someone who likes to be alone gives off the impression of arrogance and anti-social.

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These social norms might take a while to adjust to. But once you become familiar with them, it will be easier to interact with Indonesians. They will also respect you because you are willing to learn and show the appropriate manners while you’re in their country.