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Indonesia Do’s and Don’ts
Written by dtnweb

Indonesia Do’s and Don’ts

Indonesia is a complex and welcoming place. In an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, you’ll find that everyone has their own unique style, their own traditions and a dash of flavour to add to the melting pot of this vibrant and diverse nation. As a newcomer, it can be hard to know where to begin.

A good starting point is some of the cultural norms that most people in Indonesia have in common. This will help you settle in, avoid making any faux pas, and help you to move with the ebb and flow of this fascinating archipelago.

Here’s our top do’s and don’ts for Indonesia – a handy guide to help you get the most of your travels.



Do:


1. Dress appropriately

You should always dress respectfully when visiting temples, mosques or royal palaces. This means covering your knees and shoulders and wearing clothes that are not too tight. Some temples will provide you with a sarong and sash to wear – do use them, as this is a sign of respect, and applies to both men and women. Although Bali has gotten used to seeing sunburned flesh walking around on the street, elsewhere in Indonesia you should be aware that even moderate nudity is not the norm. Probably best to give the Balinese a break too.

Do:


1. Dress appropriately

You should always dress respectfully when visiting temples, mosques or royal palaces. This means covering your knees and shoulders and wearing clothes that are not too tight. Some temples will provide you with a sarong and sash to wear – do use them, as this is a sign of respect, and applies to both men and women. Although Bali has gotten used to seeing sunburned flesh walking around on the street, elsewhere in Indonesia you should be aware that even moderate nudity is not the norm. Probably best to give the Balinese a break too.



2. Take off your shoes

Often the first eyebrow-raiser for Western visitors, taking off your shoes when visiting someone's home or entering a holy place is a must. Some shops or restaurants also apply this rule, so keep an eye open for it. If you're unsure whether or not you should take your shoes off, the pile of footwear outside the door is a dead giveaway. To avoid the tedium of constant costume changes, consider ditching the shoes altogether for a week or two, and embrace the humble flip-flop.

2. Take off your shoes

Often the first eyebrow-raiser for Western visitors, taking off your shoes when visiting someone's home or entering a holy place is a must. Some shops or restaurants also apply this rule, so keep an eye open for it. If you're unsure whether or not you should take your shoes off, the pile of footwear outside the door is a dead giveaway. To avoid the tedium of constant costume changes, consider ditching the shoes altogether for a week or two, and embrace the humble flip-flop.



3. Learn some local phrases

This is true wherever you travel, but in Indonesia there really is nothing better than getting a few local words into your arsenal. Simple stuff that you can use every day - like “thank you” (terima kasih) and “delicious” (enak) – will go a long way over here. The lingua franca, known as Bahasa Indonesia is spoken just about everywhere, meaning you can show your gratitude for tasty food all the way from Sumatra to Papua.

3. Learn some local phrases

This is true wherever you travel, but in Indonesia there really is nothing better than getting a few local words into your arsenal. Simple stuff that you can use every day - like “thank you” (terima kasih) and “delicious” (enak) – will go a long way over here. The lingua franca, known as Bahasa Indonesia is spoken just about everywhere, meaning you can show your gratitude for tasty food all the way from Sumatra to Papua.



4. Try the food

Food is at the heart of Indonesian culture. All over the archipelago, eating together is a pastime that borders on an obsession, and with signature cuisine offered up by every region, in every conceivable style of dish, you’ll find that communal gustation is an endless cause for celebration! For some tips on a few must-try dishes, check out our Top 10 Indonesian Street Foods.

4. Try the food

Food is at the heart of Indonesian culture. All over the archipelago, eating together is a pastime that borders on an obsession, and with signature cuisine offered up by every region, in every conceivable style of dish, you’ll find that communal gustation is an endless cause for celebration! For some tips on a few must-try dishes, check out our Top 10 Indonesian Street Foods.



5. Smile!

Depending on where you go, you’re likely to attract quite a lot of attention. From school kids to grandmothers, Indonesians love to welcome outsiders, so expect lots of requests for selfies and invitations for tea / dinner / marriage etc. It can all be a little overwhelming at first, and you might not know how to respond without hurting feelings or appearing ungrateful. It's ok to say no – just remember to do it with a smile.

5. Smile!

Depending on where you go, you’re likely to attract quite a lot of attention. From school kids to grandmothers, Indonesians love to welcome outsiders, so expect lots of requests for selfies and invitations for tea / dinner / marriage etc. It can all be a little overwhelming at first, and you might not know how to respond without hurting feelings or appearing ungrateful. It's ok to say no – just remember to do it with a smile.





Don't:


1. Use your left hand

For mostly practical hygiene reasons that don’t need explaining here, the left hand is considered dirty in Indonesia. If you look closely, you’ll notice that everyone eats, greets and handles money with their right. For the un-initiated, it can require a concerted mental effort not to offer the wrong hand for things like change and receipts. If you’re a lefty, a visit to Indonesia is a good opportunity to work on your ambidexterity!

Don't:


1. Use your left hand

For mostly practical hygiene reasons that don’t need explaining here, the left hand is considered dirty in Indonesia. If you look closely, you’ll notice that everyone eats, greets and handles money with their right. For the un-initiated, it can require a concerted mental effort not to offer the wrong hand for things like change and receipts. If you’re a lefty, a visit to Indonesia is a good opportunity to work on your ambidexterity!



2. Shout or act aggressively

Indonesians – and particularly the Javanese - are respectful, well-mannered people, with a complex set of rules dictating public behaviour. Adversity and animosity are generally absorbed with a gentle smile and a stoic self-restraint that can border on the miraculous. A sure fire way of standing out in the crowd for all the wrong reasons is to lose your temper. In the heat and confusion of the tropics, this can be easier send than done.

2. Shout or act aggressively

Indonesians – and particularly the Javanese - are respectful, well-mannered people, with a complex set of rules dictating public behaviour. Adversity and animosity are generally absorbed with a gentle smile and a stoic self-restraint that can border on the miraculous. A sure fire way of standing out in the crowd for all the wrong reasons is to lose your temper. In the heat and confusion of the tropics, this can be easier send than done.



3. Step over someone

In Indonesia, status and respect can be deciphered or implied through body language – particularly the level of one’s body (and voice). You’ll notice younger people bowing gently to their elders or lowering their gaze as they pass – this is a sign of respect. Take care when passing someone older than you, and definitely avoid stepping over someone. Pointing with the finger or gesturing with the feet is considered very rude, so look out for creative mannerisms using eyebrows, nose and even lips!

3. Step over someone

In Indonesia, status and respect can be deciphered or implied through body language – particularly the level of one’s body (and voice). You’ll notice younger people bowing gently to their elders or lowering their gaze as they pass – this is a sign of respect. Take care when passing someone older than you, and definitely avoid stepping over someone. Pointing with the finger or gesturing with the feet is considered very rude, so look out for creative mannerisms using eyebrows, nose and even lips!



4. Be overtly sexual

Although certain areas of Indonesia – like Bali – are known for their liberal attitudes, you will find that, for the most part, traditional, conservative values continue to hold sway. This is especially true for PDA – Public Displays of Affection. Even if you’ve been married for 50 years, kissing and canoodling in public will be frowned upon. If you’re un-married – and particularly if you’re LGBT – it’s generally best to keep a low profile. Attitudes are changing in Indonesia, but as a visitor, it’s wise not to impose one’s own standards and practices on a culture that’s not accustomed.

4. Be overtly sexual

Although certain areas of Indonesia – like Bali – are known for their liberal attitudes, you will find that, for the most part, traditional, conservative values continue to hold sway. This is especially true for PDA – Public Displays of Affection. Even if you’ve been married for 50 years, kissing and canoodling in public will be frowned upon. If you’re un-married – and particularly if you’re LGBT – it’s generally best to keep a low profile. Attitudes are changing in Indonesia, but as a visitor, it’s wise not to impose one’s own standards and practices on a culture that’s not accustomed.



5. Drink the water

Ok, so this isn’t strictly a cultural thing, but for anyone that’s ever absent-mindedly sampled the tap water and then spent the next two weeks attached to the toilet, it’s still good advice. Water from the faucet is NOT safe for drinking, pretty much everywhere in Indonesia, so get into the habit of using bottled water. Or, better yet, tap into the growing network of refill stations, which allow you to fill your tumbler, avoid single-use plastics and help keep Indonesia green!

5. Drink the water

Ok, so this isn’t strictly a cultural thing, but for anyone that’s ever absent-mindedly sampled the tap water and then spent the next two weeks attached to the toilet, it’s still good advice. Water from the faucet is NOT safe for drinking, pretty much everywhere in Indonesia, so get into the habit of using bottled water. Or, better yet, tap into the growing network of refill stations, which allow you to fill your tumbler, avoid single-use plastics and help keep Indonesia green!



Have you found this article useful? If so, check out a few more of our Travel Tips for Indonesia.

Have you found this article useful? If so, check out a few more of our Travel Tips for Indonesia.