People and Culture in Indonesia

Indonesia’s numbers astound: 17,000 islands (or is it 20,000?), of which 8000 are inhabited (or is it 11,000?), 300 languages spoken (or is it 400?). Yet it’s all one country with myriad adventures.

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Remember how your parents used to tell you to keep your elbows off the table during meals? Or that it’s rude to slurp your soup? Well there’s good news guys, these American cultures and customs don’t always translate to other countries! While the local people you meet won’t expect you to be fluent in their language, culture and customs, it is important to familiarize yourself with them.

Do you know how kissing, snoring and other things sound in other languages? That’s right, even sound effects can be translated!

The most important thing to remember while you’re abroad is that things will be different. But, different doesn’t mean wrong. Be open, be curious, and read more about the culture you will be stepping into. Get excited about LIVING the life you’ve only dreamt and read about until now!

#CISabroadtip: Do some more research into the Indonesian customs you’ll experience while abroad.

People and Culture in Indonesia

Official name: Republic of Indonesia

Population: 252 million

Capital City: Jakarta

Religions: Muslim 88%, Protestant 5%, Roman Catholic 3%, Hindu 2%, Buddhist 1%, other 1%

Culture in Indonesia:

  • Due to the diverse nature of Indonesian society there exists a strong pull towards the group, whether family, village or island.
  • Respect is usually shown to those with status, power, position, and age.
  • One should never ridicule, shout at or offend anyone. Imperfections should always be hidden and addresses privately. Similarly blame should never be aimed at any individual/group publicly.

Table Manners:

  • Food is often taken from a shared dish in the middle. You will be served the food and it would not be considered rude if you helped yourself after that.
  • In formal situations, men are served before women.
  • Wait to be invited to eat before you start.
  • A fork and spoon are often the only utensils at the place setting. Depending on the situation some people may use their hands.
  • Eat or pass food with your right hand only.

Phrases to know before you go:

English Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian)
Welcome Selamat datang
Hello Hi / Apa kabar?
Halo (on phone)
How are you?
I’m fine, thanks. And you?
Apa kabar? (What news?)
Baik-baik saja, terima kasih. Bagaimana dengan Anda?
Long time no see Lama tidak bertemu / Lama tidak berjumpa
What’s your name?
My name is …
Siapa nama anda?
Nama saya …
Where are you from?
I’m from …
Anda berasal dari mana?
Saya dari …
Pleased to meet you Senang bertemu dengan Anda
Good morning Selamat pagi
Good afternoon Selamat siang
Good evening Selamat sore
Good night Selamat malam
Goodbye Selamat tinggal (you’re leaving)
Selamat jalan (you’re staying)
Sampai jumpa lagi
Good luck Semoga Beruntung!
Cheers/Good health! Santi!
Have a nice day Hari baik!
Bon appetit Selamat makan
Bon voyage Selamat jalan / Semoga selamat sampai tujuan
I understand Saya mengerti
I don’t understand Saya tidak mengerti
Please speak more slowly Tolong bicara pelan sedikit / Tolong bicara pelan-pelan
Please write it down Tolong ditulis / Tolong tuliskan
Do you speak English? Anda bisa bicara bahasa inggris?
Do you speak Indonesian?
Yes, a little
Anda bisa bicara bahasa indonesia?
Ya, sedikit
How do you say … in Indonesian? Bagaimana cara mengatakan … dalam bahasa Indonesia?
Excuse me Maaf / Permisi (to get past)
How much is this? Berapa harganya?
Sorry Maafkan saya / Maaf

Other Resources:

Important Phrases

Indonesian Phrases