Bahasa Indonesia (part I)

I thought Indonesian would be very hard to learn, because it is so different from the languages I already know a little bit about. But it turns out, it is actually a very easy language. And when I say easy, I mean the basics are easy. Just like any language there are many different layers, but if you just want to communicate about food and directions, like I do, you can learn it quite quickly. It’s all about memorizing the words, because there is hardly anything more to it.

So I will tell you some of the words I have learned so far. Let me start by showing off some of my skills.

Nama saya Sanne. Umur saya dua puluh empat tahun, dan saya tinggal di Jakarta sejak September. Saya di sini selama lima bulan, sampai Februari. Setiap hari saya pergi ke kantor, untuk magang. Saya tidak pergi naik taksi atau bis, saya jalan kaki.

Waktu favorit saya adalah makan siang. Saya suka pergi ke rumah makan dengan kolega-kolega saya. Saya suka makanan Indonesia, karena makanan itu enak sekali!

I know, you will all copy-paste this into google translate (yes mum, I’m talking to you). But it won’t work properly, because the formal Bahasa Indonesia and the language people actually speak are two different things. This makes the learning process very confusing sometimes. For instance:

I= saya
I= aku
I= gue

So you have three different ways of saying I. The first is formal. The second is informal. The third is very informal.

One thing I like about the Indonesian language is that they use a lot of titles. And there are so many. For instance:
Mr (older person): Bapak
Mrs: Ibu<
Mr (young person): Mas
Miss: Mbak

It is not uncommon to use these titles after almost every sentence you speak. So it seems the Indonesians are very polite and formal, no?

However, saying please when asking for something is not common at all, and often you just ask: “Do you have…?” If they want something. But saying things with a smile can make it all the more friendly.

Which brings me to another thing I like about this language. They repeat a lot of words. They don’t just answer with yes or no. For instance:

Do you have nasi goreng?
Ada nasi goreng? (so easy!)
The reply: Ada.

Which means they have it.

The easy part about Indonesian is the lack of articles and conjugations. Also, when speaking about he/she, they do not make a distinction between the two genders (which would make speaking about a transsexual person a lot less confusing). For instance:
I am hungry.
I = saya
Hungry = lapar

So: Saya lapar.
He/she is hungry = Dia lapar.
So no hard times with using am/is/are. You just leave it out.

Now, what how about the verbs, I hear you asking.
I want to eat:
I = Saya
Want = mau
Eat = makan
Saya mau makan.

And this sentence stays exactly the same if you talk about others, except for the first word.
Anda mau makan, dia mau makan, kita mau makan, etc.

I loved learning the basics of Indonesian, because it is so great to make people smile when you speak their language. They really appreciate it greatly and because very few people here in Jakarta speak English, it makes communication so much easier.

I am now fully capable of giving someone directions, ordering my food, answering basic small talk and, which I discovered recently, haggling.

Warning: if you start talking a few words of Bahasa Indonesia to an Indonesian person, you will be bombarded with questions and they will start talking very fast, assuming you have mastered their language. Just smile and nod  if you do not understand. That’s what they do when we speak English :)

Things I noticed about Indonesian people

I have been here for a little over two months, and in this time I have gotten to know a bit more about the Indonesian culture, about the people and the way things work around here. Time to review a couple of things that I learned.

Disclaimer: This does not apply to all Indonesians and there are of course exceptions.


They are so very friendly. Yesterday I was at the food court where I could be considered a regular. After my standard order (nasi goreng) I made some Indonesian small talk with the lady who owns the place (which consists of her talking, me nodding/smiling and giving one-word answers). But because of all the smiling the conversations are actually very pleasant! As she was eating, I was wishing her a good dinner (selamat makan ibu!) and she offered me some of what she was eating. After checking there was no meat or fish, I said okay, and she put some in a plastic bag for me to take home. When my food was ready and I asked how much I had to pay, she just told me the amount for the nasi goreng. She owns a place that sells food, yet she gave me some of her home cooked food for free. And did I mention all the smiling? Like I said: friendly.

There is an exception to this (what appears to be a) rule, however. As soon as they get on a motorbike and start participating in the traffic, they become selfish and the friendliness is nowhere to be found. Luckily, you can always use the magical hand, when walking around in the streets. Because nobody would stop at zebra crossings, everyone just crosses anywhere. You get on the street, and put up your hand like you would if you would try to stop a car. Then you just walk. I have done this a lot of times, sometimes without using the magical hand, and I have not been hit. It’s always a bit of a yolo moment, but if you wait until there are no more cars coming before you cross the street, you will be there forever.

IMG_0013 IMG_0017

People in Indonesia can create a job out of anything. There are people on the street, directing the traffic (and trust me, the traffic does not have any use for being directed), they help you find parking spots, they can sell everything on the street.

An example: in the office where I work, there is this guy that comes to visit almost every day to sell us some gorengan (fried stuff). He just goes by the office to sell some of his home made food, and makes a ton of money (and a ton is actually not a lot in Indonesia).


An even better example: there are a few roads in Jakarta that can only be used if there are three or more people (tiga orang atau lebih) in the car (see picture above). This is supposed to make the road less crowded, allowing people who carpool to pass quicker. However, before you reach these roads, along the side of the road you will find a lot of people, who you can pay a few rupiah to hop into your car, and they will get out after the road ends. This way, even if you are just one, you can pay some people to be your fake companions and still use this road!


Indonesian people could be described as a little lazy. They walk slowly, at least, compared to my western tempo. They go everywhere by motor bike, taxi or bus, as long as there is no walking involved. But I also realized that this creates a lot of jobs, which is very necessary in a country with so many inhabitants. People who don’t want to walk create a need for drivers. Being too lazy to cook creates work for people such as the gorengan guy. In the foodcourts of malls, people don’t clear their own table (which is how we would do it in Europe), but they leave it there. Someone else will come and clean the table and voilà, another job is created. They don’t have machines to sell tickets for the bus. We tend to try to replace everything that used to involve human contact with a machin
e, because it is supposed to be cost-effective. Here, they need the jobs. And I am guessing the wages aren’t that high, so possibly it is even cheaper.12074757_1685263878377337_4912718028118543686_n

Indonesian people are very proud of their country, even though there is also usually something to complain about. They want to tell me everything and most of them know all about their own history and the current events. As a person who chooses not to read the news paper, I noticed this immediately. They know where everything comes from. They have so many provinces and every place has their own signature dish, a dance (or several), songs, clothes, houses… It almost seems too much to remember, and yet… they all know.

Another thing… even though they can at times be more polite than direct, often I find them very honest. If you ask them what they are doing this weekend, it is not uncommon to hear someone shamelessly admit that they will sleep all weekend. While in Europe, if you don’t have exciting plans, parties to visit or people to meet, well… let’s just say you are not the definition of cool.

The people I have met also sing. Just because they are happy, or because they can. I have looked up with some confusion when I would hear somebody singing out loud in The Netherlands, but here it is very common. And not just when under influence. And it doesn’t matter what you sing, either. I have heard somebody sing “I like big butts” with a straight face and an angelic voice.


Most of the people living here don’t seem to have an environmental bone in their body. When driving on the street, if there is something in the car that you don’t need anymore… No worries. Just throw it out the window! But also, if you are not in a car and just walking around, you can also still toss it. There is a lot of trash IMG_8200everywhere. Plastic is used for everything. I have a huge collection of plastic bags in my drawer which I try to re-use as trash bags, but even I have had to throw some away (not on the street, mind you).

Finally, I noticed that nobody does organized chaos better than Indonesians. The traffic jams look like they will never ever get solved, but somehow they do. In the foodcourts everybody is shouting at each other, ordering from different people… And yet it works. You get your food, there is hardly any trouble and the hardworking peoIMG_8187ple get payed.

This seems to be the way things work here. From the outside, it looks like chaos. But there is certainly a system in place. Just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

How I already gained 11 friends in Jakarta before I even got there

So there is this thing called couchsurfing

For those of you who don’t know it: where have you been? Surely it wasn’t planet earth.

I posted a message there with my plans for the next five months and it was nice to see all kinds of people sending me messages in response. Some were expats wanting to make friends, others were locals wanting to show me the city and I even have some offers to travel together already.

The hospitality is overwhelming. It’s good to know I won’t have to be lonely while I’m in Jakarta.

On the other hand, how am I gonna make time to meet everyone?

I really like that there is this kind of medium where you can just post a random message and people respond and want to meet up. It makes traveling to a completely new city much easier, just knowing that there are likeminded people out there (and that there is apparantly internet in Indonesia – just kidding ;) )

I’m curious about the culture and I read everywhere that people in Indonesia are also very curious about Westeners. I read on someones blog that he felt like a total celebrity because everyone was staring at him on the streets. I guess this will make it easier to connect to locals and get to know them.

I hope I will learn some Bahasa Indonesia soon, and I am working on it. I actually found this site, where you can sign up and get more than a hundred actual digital lessons for free! I have finished lesson 1, so now I know: Selamat pagi! Apa kabar? Baik-baik saja. Apa nama anda? Saya Sanne. Terima kasih. And… Some other things I have already forgotten. But I will learn and eventually I’ll remember. And if there is one thing my travel experienced have taught me, it is that hand gestures go a long way.