Indonesian etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts in Indonesia

When you are a visitor in another country it is vital to behave in an appropriate manner. This is especially so in Indonesia, where restraint and moderation are key. Don’t bang on the restaurant table while screeching for service. And if you are the “outgoing type” try and hold back. Loudly exclaiming: “Long time no see, mate!” and slapping the unfortunate Indonesian on his back will not be appreciated at all. Even so, manners differ from person to person, and this makes it difficult to come up with a definitive list of etiquette or faux pas. Even so, I’ve given it a go.

Here’s my list:

- NEVER talk about corruption. This is particularly important if you are speaking to a ##### official who, for example, is telling you about his recent skiing holiday in the Alps.

- Religion is NOT taboo here, so expect to be asked what faith you are. Never say you are an atheist. They are Godless philistines and were wiped out in the 60s. Also avoid the other “A” word: Ahmadiah.

- Annoying habits such as using two coins to remove facial hair ARE acceptable in certain settings - but try not to yawn (more on this later).

- Punctuality. To be avoided. At ALL costs.

- Is it ever acceptable to talk to a woman on the Jakarta busway?
If you are aged more than 50 then no! Any attempt to converse with the fairer sex constitutes extreme sexual harassment and you may even be subject to summary humiliation on social media websites like Twitter. If, however, you are a fit and good-looking younger man (like yours truly) don’t be surprised if the woman sitting next to you boldly puts her hand on your right knee and exclaims “WHERE DO YOU COME FROM MISTER?!!!”

- Pay heed to your body language:

Indonesian etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts in IndonesiaDon't sit like this at business meetings, for example.

- Also avoid negative postures – such as putting your hands on your hips. Far better to show Indonesians that you are of a caring and considerate demeanor – just don’t overdo it, okay?

 Indonesian etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts in IndonesiaBe friendly; but not too friendly...

- In terms of gestures, the w###er gesture and F You forearm jerk are virtually unknown. However, the straightforward F You gesture is very common – albeit usually with the middle finder rather than the index finger being raised.

Fauzi Bowo demonstrates how to "give the bird"

- Be discrete when coughing or yawning. These are necessary physical functions. However, when done with a wide-open mouth, besides being unattractive and distracting, they are also unhealthy. Germs can be easily transmitted from one person to another. Feel free, however, to light up a fag and blow the smoke into someone’s face.

- Be tactful with rude people. You may have a bad day but you MUSTN’T show your feelings. Remain patient and courteous. Take a deep breath and count slowly to 10 – that should help. And don’t worry – you can always get the blighter back later.

- Telephone etiquette:
A) Never answer the phone promptly, and especially not before the eighth ring.
B) Upon answering the phone with “hello”, they will respond “hello”, and it will proceed in that fashion for some time.
C) If you are going to have a meeting, make sure to arrange for people to telephone you while it is in progress. Just remember: the person calling you is FAR more important than the people sitting in front of you.

- Don’t dress like a peasant or Indonesians will hold you in very low regard indeed. They don’t want to know that Western tosh about showing solidarity to the poor.

- Dress conservatively? Nah – time has moved on. Feel free to display your bodily charms and you’ll get a lot of attention!

Indonesia SPG girl
- Don’t use sarcasm – oo-er… 


  1. No i wouldn't dream of talking about corruption to an official..i'd probably just suck up to him more.He'l feel like a million dollars by the time i'm thorugh.

    Yeah i think they'd probably stone me if i said i thought God was evil.My parent's friends were Ahmadiah's i liked them they invite me to eat pork at their house.And for the record it tasted better then the pastor's wife's pork.

    I don't know about using coins to remove facial hair?But yeah my mother usually gets so upset when i yawn in public.???.Like wtf?Like does your bank account decrease every time i yawn..sheesh relax.

    I'm always punctual.(unfortunately).

    I studied in south america's pretty weird coz everybody puts their hands on their hips and waves their hands and talk so loud and carefree...In Indonesia..haha..big no no.

    No i don't believe in public display of affection.Call me old fashioned.

    lol..pretty true about being polite with rude people..i have perfected my fake smile i should be running for politics.

    When i pick up the phone i let the person on the other end do all the talking until they are passed hello.which usually takes a good 2 minutes.

    Yeah i always dress like a peasant.First of all i can't be bothered to look well off and second I enjoy people judging me.They usually don't know what's coming until i open my mouth.

    I only look revealing at parties and that's if i can make it passed the Ketua RT drinking coffee right in front of my house.

  2. don't worry about being punctual, Papuan Girl!

  3. How about eating and smoking, using mobile phones in the cinema cleaning plates and cutlery in all restaurants but especially Chillis (it annoys them).
    Finally get an ipad and then play plants vs zombies on walking around malls and in elevators.
    I practically a Jakartan...aduh!

  4. In a steakhouse, cut carefully the side of your bun with knife (don't break it with hand), and spread the butter evenly (got to be even!). Then don't just grab it and shovel it to your mouth, too impolite. Cut a little piece of the bun with the knife, as the other hand is holding the bun down with the fork. Then use the fork to pick up the little piece to your mouth. Indonesians think this is how westerners eat their bun at steakhouses!

    If you mind somebody smoking beside you, a sharp glare from your eyes is definitely not enough. Forget fighting it.

    About religion, in addition to above, there are only valid/official 5 religions: islam, catholic, protestant, buddhist, hindu. Don't try to tell them you are shinto or Jew, won't work.

  5. You've forgot something essential man: Never play Kangen Band's songs in public areas. Haha! i reckon you've understood what the term 'alay' means, haven't you?

  6. Hahaha! Every country has its quirks. And as for expats - well they're the wackiest!

  7. "Don’t use sarcasm."

    Best advice on this page I should say. Quoting what a person once said on Twitter (forgot who, sorry), "Sarcasm is completely lost on many Indonesians." And it really is. Make one sarcastic joke in front of people you don't know too well and you'll be regarded as rude and disrespectful.

    Unfortunately I'm Indonesian, and I like sarcasm :(

  8. LOL.. very good article, and very nice blog overall.. I like your sense of humor mate!

  9. You covered many points right from coughing to sarcasm. Great :)
    It will make my work easier while communicating with Indonesian businesses on


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

20 things you should know about Indonesian girls

The comfort zone (Jakarta hotel and spa)

The 10 best plus plus spas in Jakarta