Indonesia is one of the world’s most beautiful countries. With pristine seas, luscious sand beaches, temples and volcanoes to explore, we’re only skimming the surface of the things you can do and see in this enormous country, made up of thousands of islands. Whether you’re a fan of getting off the beaten path and visiting some of the most far-flung locales, or you like a bit of the tried and tested in the likes of Bali or the Gili Islands, there’s a bit of something for everyone in Indonesia. But what can you expect in terms of customs and etiquette as you traverse this unique and welcoming nation?
Etiquette when traveling is a hugely important concept and it helps to ensure you have a great time without offending locals or looking like another silly, uneducated foreigner – things that can have consequences when you travel in some countries. While the consequences may not be dire or severe, they can affect things like the speed in which you’re served in restaurants or local people’s willingness to interact with you. If you’ve wondered how you can travel throughout Indonesia while being respectful, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together this useful guide to Indonesian etiquette, customs and traditions to help you prepare for that next trip you’re planning on one of Explorient’s amazing Indonesian tours. So grab a cup of tea and have a read through this useful guide, all about Indonesia’s customs.
Indonesia – Understand
Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population in the world. As a result, a lot of the customs and etiquette follow Islamic teachings, but you will find some of the rules and whatnot far more relaxed than in the likes of the Middle East or parts of Africa. Here are just some of the customs and tips of etiquette you should keep in mind when traveling throughout Indonesia on Explorient’s Bali and Java Highlights tour.
Pride and Reputation
This is a popular theme throughout South East Asia – the concept of pride and reputation, or in other words “saving face”. Many of the countries in the region follow a specific code of conduct that dictates how you act in public. This includes not yelling or getting upset in public as well as treating others kindly and with respect. Grievances should always be sorted out in private so as to save face for both yourself and others. Acting humbly and kindly will get you further in Indonesia with the locals. You’ll experience the concept of saving and building face when you visit South East Asia on Explorient’s Far East Explorient tour.
As we mentioned, the majority of Indonesians consider themselves to be Muslim, but you may find that it’s far more relaxed and treated as a bit of a guideline more than anything. When compared with the Islamic practices of the likes of the Middle East, Indonesia is fairly lax. This doesn’t mean that you should go around casually interacting with Muslim women if you’re a man though. When it comes to shaking hands, wait until a woman extends hers first, just in case. In many parts of the country where tourists flock you may see less clothing, but in some more stringent places, such as Aceh where the Grand Mosque is located, clothing should be conservative and cover shoulders, knees and the like. Fair warning that women who dress in short shorts, miniskirts and low cut or revealing tops are often mistaken for prostitutes in cities like Jakarta, Aceh and even on Bali.
Body Language and Facial Expressions
In Indonesia, body language is important to remember. The way in which you stand can give off a calm and casual vibe or an aggressive tone. Try not to stand with your hands on your hips, puffed out chest or with your arms crossed – all of which can be seen as aggressive or demeaning to Indonesian people. Not only this but try not to look at anyone the wrong way – even just casually, as it can give the wrong impression to locals and cause discomfort. Generally speaking, always having a smile on your face will help you not only win over the locals, but you might catch a case of happiness yourself, even if you’re just pretending!
Hands and Feet
As with most other parts of this general region, hands and feet have specific rules. The soles of the feet are considered dirty and shouldn’t be pointed at people or towards religious objects such as pictures, buildings or statuary. When it comes to hands, the left is considered dirty as it’s the hand you use to clean yourself in the bathroom and so doing things with your left hand should be avoided, including handing people things, picking things up, eating and shaking hands. When it comes to shoes, you should always remove your shoes when entering a home, and often if there is a pile of shoes outside a building it’s a good general suggestion for you to remove yours as well. You’ll likely experience this throughout Indonesia as well as on Explorient’s Hong Kong and Bali Impressions tour.
Interestingly, where many places prefer the flat, open palm with flat fingers to gesture to something, in Indonesia the go-to is to use your right thumb to point to things. Using your left thumb is considered very rude, as is using any fingers but your thumb to point.
In some cultures in the area a relaxed sitting position may be acceptable but in Indonesia, sitting rigidly with your feed on the floor is considered a sign of respect. This ties into the belief of the soles of the feet being dirty, so keep this in mind when sitting on the floor and if you have to outstretch your legs, consider covering your feet with a shawl, scarf or sarong.
Indonesians absolutely love photos – both taking them and being in them! You may be asked to take a photo with a group – sometimes children or older people. It’s considered polite to offer to send a copy to those in your photographs as often Indonesians will have no pictures of themselves or their family, so this is considered an incredibly kind gesture that will be fondly remembered. Keep your camera handy for unique photo opportunities during your Tana Toraja tour with Explorient where you’ll get off the beaten path for a while and visit some of the more rural and rustic parts of the country.
There you have just a couple of interesting points on etiquette and customs in Indonesia. There are so many unique experiences you’re sure to have with Explorient on their Ultimate Bali Adventure tour that you will likely be wanting to come back to see this gorgeous, friendly and welcoming country time and again.