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How to address people in Indonesia

In English, basically we have just one second person pronoun: “you”. Except in a few exceptional circumstances, “you” can be used to address practically anyone at all. In some European languages there are two words for “you”. French, for example, has tu and vous. You use tu when you are talking to someone with whom you are on familiar or intimate terms.Vous, on the other hand, is more formal and respectful. However, there are plenty of second person pronouns (i.e. words that mean “you”) to choose from in Indonesian. It has around a dozen that are in common use, and probably more than fifty altogether.

One of the interesting features of the Indonesian language (and of Inonesian society as a whole) is the impulse to relate to people as if they are members of one’s own family. It is almost as if you can only communicate with someone by making that person an “honorary” member of your family.Most Indonesians are ultra-sensitive to differences in rank, age, gender and formality. When two people talk to each other, as a rule the words they use for “you” will reflect their view of the relationship between them. Are they social equals? Are they the same sex? Are they roughly the same or very different in age? Do they know each other well or only distantly? All these factors can influence their choice of a word for “you”. Indeed, sometimes even ethnic differences, or vocational differences, or kinship differences can play a role in determining one’s choice of a word for “you”.

So, how does it work in reality?

In most polite situations, use the honorifics ‘Mas’ or ‘Pak’ or ‘Bu’ or 'Mba' (spelled embak) before a person’s name. ‘Mas’ meaning one younger than you, 'Pak', sir or mister (Can be used to address any male, except boys, which would be 'Mas') 'Ibu' is also used everyday, such as "Hai, Ibu!" Abbreviation is used normally, Indonesians constantly shorten things. "Bu" is an abbreviation of Ibu. Ex: Mas Arif (young male); Pak Afi (male, formal) ; Bu Santi (married female); Mba Putri (Ms. Putri). While for married females the honorific 'Ibu' does not often change, you might also hear ‘Bapak’ (father) when a young person speaks to a male who’s clearly older or has higher position. Ex: a person middle-aged person named Djoko might be addressed as 'Bapak Djoko.'

Hope you won't feel confused now, bro!

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