We traveled two months between Sulawesi, Bali and Java, living with two local families. Throughout the time spent together with them, we learned a lot about Indonesian culture and local habits.
Here are ten fun facts we consider worth sharing:
1. Giggle, Giggle, Giggle
Indonesians giggle a lot. They do so when they speak to eachother, when they feel embarrassed, and especially when they have to deal with foreigners. As a bule (white person) you shouldn’t take it personally.
2. Body Language
After shaking hands with somebody, they always touch their heart as a sign of friendship. To show respect to an elderly person, they take his or her hand to their foreheads. When they walk through a seated group of people, they strech their right arm alongside their body, as to say: “sorry for interrupting”.
3. No Country for Atheist Men
Indonesian law requires its citizens to hold an ID card that identifies them with one of six religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism). Also, they don’t have a family name, their parents choose a surname based on its meaning.
4. Wind Fever
Indonesians are afraid of wind. Their version of “catching a cold” is called masuk angin, that literally means “enter wind.” When riding their motorbikes they cover up as if they were heading to the North Pole, regardless of the high temperatures: scarves, gloves, long-sleeved jackets, trousers and socks designed specifically to be worn with flip flops.
5. White Power
As in the rest of Asia, they worship white skin. Indeed, all ads put on display fair-skinned local people or photoshoped women. As a consequence, most Indonesians dread the sun and lots of women cover their natural color with all sorts of bleachers and light foundations.
6. I Have a Bule!
To them we – the bules – represent good luck. Any proof of acquaintance with a foreigner is a good reason to show off. Get ready for random facebook requests or intensive selfie sessions, and don’t be surprised if one day you see a snap or your pretty face hanging on the walls of an Indonesian living room as if you were the Pope.
7. Eat, Snack, Eat
There are no fixed eating hours. Indonesians snack very often but only pause to eat a proper meal when they are hungry. They eat on the floor with the right hand (the left one is considered impure and is reserved to wiping their bottoms). Food is usually fried in palm oil and/or very spicy. Drinks are incredibly sweet: they love palm sugar.
8. Bless this Mess
Tidiness is not a priority, in and outside their homes. The mess you often see in the bedrooms or kitchen is generally reflected in the way they drive or manage their time. Spontaneity rules! Trains are the only exception: always on schedule, to the joy of the Northern European tourists.
9. Life in Plastic ain’t Fantastic
Plastic is a huge problem. Industrial products are packaged like Russian dolls: plastic wrapped in plastic, beneath more layers of plastic. And don’t forget your plastic bags on your way out! Even street food and drinks get served and consumed directly from clear plastic bags and, because waste management is still utopia, all that plastic ends up in the streets, gardens or rivers.
10. What Indonesians Dislike about Westerners
No is not part of their vocabulary and it’s difficult to tell what they really think. After putting two subjects (we promised to keep their identity secret) under investigation, we managed to find out two things they couldn’t stand about Western behavior: forgetting to take shoes off upon entering a house and blowing your nose loudly in public – other than that, you’re safe!