Moving to a new country, especially to a country with such a diverse cultural landscape as Indonesia, brings various challenges, a new perspective on things, and new ways of interpreting them. Getting to know local norms and customs is certainly a way to get around the cultural shock and make the transition more smooth and fast-paced.
Finding yourself in a new culture is a complex learning process from day one, and this article does not attempt to give any clear-cut categories on what is good and bad in terms of a day-to-day living. Bear in mind that Indonesia is an archipelago consisting of more than 17 thousand islands, where each inhabited island presents a micro-world of unique traditions and cultures.
Nevertheless, there are certain general notions visible in the society, that mark socio-cultural frame of living in harmony without invading others' sense of peace and well-being.
Expressing rejection in a direct way might be seen as rude, therefore people in Indonesia tend to use more complex phrases, while in need to refuse someone's request, invitation etc. In Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) there is approximately 12 words that mean 'no', by actually saying 'yes'. The other aspect of this notion is polite and peaceful behaviour while interacting with others, especially in public. Thus, screaming, exaggerated gesticulation and body movements are considered as rude and abusive.
*Patience & Punctuality
The virtue of patience is believed to be the core value of a genuinely good person. Therefore, showing any signs of restlessness or boredom is unacceptable, regardless if it's about professional or personal life. While doing business with Indonesian people, you are expected to be punctual and never make any comment about things not getting started on time. Indonesian culture is a culture of celebrating every situation, therefore ie. on a business meeting: greetings, exchanging courtesies and gifts have the same importance as discussing the business itself. And don’t forget the importance of smiling in Indonesia!
*Opposite sex awareness
Indonesian society is the largest Muslim community in the world, concentrated within one country, therefore many aspects of a social life is guided by the religion's requirements. This is especially true in terms of relations between unrelated women and men, as the rules are more conservative than what is being seen in the Western world. There should be always a space distance kept while interacting in public and courtesy kisses are not common. In the business world, women are expected dress in a way that will keep their shoulders and knees covered. During introductory meetings, titles and education degrees are of a great importance and should be mentioned.
*Spaces & Places
A person's home is a sacred space, therefore all the family members as well as visitors are expected to take off their shoes before entering the house. The same rule applies while visiting mosques (islamic place of worship) or temples. While paying a visit to an Indonesian family, visitors should wait to be seated and invited to eat/drink after snacks are being served. Pointing things or passing them over with the use of left hand only should be avoided, as per negative connotations derived from Islam (impurity).
The conventions mentioned above can be considered no more or less than practicing good common sense when interacting with people coming from a culture very different from our own. The ultimate truth is that the most important factor that helps us to adapt to a new place is to keep an open mind and to never be afraid to ask in a moment of doubt or hesitation: 'what to do next?'.