Greet people with the word “Selamat”
Pronounced “Sell-a-mat”, this means peace and should be said slowly and with genuine sincerity.
Use the right hand
Indonesians have a high population with Muslim and Hindu faith which believes the left hand is unclean. The left hand is perceived as the hand used for cleaning oneself in the bathroom. Therefore hand shaking, gift giving, eating and pointing are to be done with the right hand.
Public displays of affection are frowned upon
Shaking hands are the extent of acceptable physical contact in public.
A person’s head is considered sacred
Therefore never touch someone’s head as the head is considered where the spirit lives. Also never pass objects above someone’s head.
Remove your shoes at the front door when entering a home and keep both feet on the floor when sitting
It is important not to show the soles of your feet nor point the bottom of your feet towards someone in Indonesia.
Indonesians may ask to take your photo
In some areas of Indonesia the locals believe that taking photographs is a way of honouring someone. So don’t be surprised if they ask you for a photo.
Indonesian locals are more conservative than most Westerners. If visiting temples ensure that shirts are worn to cover shoulders and the top parts of the arms. Sarongs (and ceremonial sashes) are attemptable to cover the legs for women and are sometimes available to be rented at temples.
It’s all about saving face
Indonesians do enjoy their harmonious culture and do not like conflict. If you raise your voice or become irate in public to a local – you will embarrass them and this creates shame. Such outbursts are considered inappropriate.
Don’t be surprised if a stranger strikes up a conversation with you
Indonesians are very friendly and curious people – so don’t be reserved and aloof if a random local tries connecting with you during your travels.
Villages are often intrigued by visitors
Whilst cities like Jakarta and Bali may be more cosmopolitan and Western – the villages are often not and locals will take interest in you. If you are walking down a residential street and you run into a local villager, it is polite to smile sincerely and say: “Boleh?”. This means “May I?” and shows you are polite and friendly.
It is customary to bring a small gift if invited to an Indonesian family’s home
A small gift from your home country is a good idea. You could also bring flowers, chocolates, sweets and stationery. Depending on the family’s religion, alcohol may not be appropriate. Do not bring table food – you may insult them and make them believe their food is not good enough.
Elders are held in respect
If greeting a group – always greet the eldest members of the group first. When dining with a group, always ensure that the most senior person is served first and wait for them to start eating before you do.
Gift giving in Indonesia depends greatly on the ethnicity of the receiver
Indonesia has a complex blend of cultures such as Chinese, European, Indian and Malay. With the largest Muslim population in the world it also has a number of Christian Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and Hindus. If in doubt of the background of people whom you are visiting – gifts from your home country (such as postcards) are a fail-proof plan.
Do haggle when you are at the markets or at sidewalk stalls
If you are recognised as a tourist the vendors will increase the prices. Try and not to buy anything on the first day – first browse and become familiar with the local prices and customs. If you build a friendly rapport with the vendor you are more likely to get a better discount.
Avoid putting your hands on your hips or crossing your arms
This alludes to a negative stance and may be seen as threatening.
Also see our guide for travelling to Bali