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.

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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.

Some things they don’t tell you about Indonesia

Before I got to Jakarta I did some research, because even though I like to just go somewhere without preparation, I also wanted to know what to expect of the next five months of my life.

So I googled, like any good college student learned how to do. I found a lot of different things that people either warn about or are very excited about. I will list some examples:

  • They tell you people will rip you off. And even though that may be true a little, everything is still so cheap that it doesn’t really matter. Let the nice man with a smile that charges you 30 cents above the rate for the locals have his extra money and eat for two days.
  • They warn you about the different toilets. You will do a lot of squatting and you better bring tissues with you everywhere! Well, this is probably true in the more rural part of Indonesia, but in Jakarta there are a lot of western toilets and a lot of times they even have toilet paper. However, the tip to keep tissues at hand all time should never be disregarded.
  • I’ve read about the friendly Indonesian people, but even though I was a little prepared, I never could have braced myself for the heartwarming smiles I receive everywhere and the offer to help me when I need it from everyone around. It is just something you have to experience, because even if I would tell you now, you would not be able to imagine it to the full extent.
  • A lot of sites mention that the food is so good, but because I mostly eat vegan, I was still a little worried about that. But now I found all the good dishes and there are a lot of vegan options here too.
  • Although, there are also a lot of warnings about the streetfood. It could make you sick and puking all day would seriously ruin your trip.
  • You learn online that a bule is something of an attraction here and so when walking around, you can feel like a famous person. Also, this is something you really need to experience to understand. It can make you really self-conscious, but no worries. Immunity will soon kick in. I guess they never heard of the resistance you can get to certain things when you get too much of it.

So with all this information, I was a little prepared. But here are some of my own findings, that I would not have expected here. Things that people don’t tell you about Indonesia.

  • There are ants everywhere. I was afraid to find a lot of gekko’s and/or cockroaches and even though I did also see some cockroaches, in the city there are no gekko’s (that I have seen). BUT: So. Many. Ants. Everywhere. So many.
  • People will call you mister, with no regard for your gender. In Indonesia people are very polite and they often use the words ibu (f) and bapak (m) to address each other. So I get that they want to address me as something in English too, but why they cannot learn to leave out the -ter for females is beyond me.
  • Indonesian people have magic. They can make things just appear out of thin air. In the food court, for example, you can ask for anything and they will get it for you. You don’t know where it comes from, you don’t know how it was prepared (if it is food). But it is just there. And when I needed a doctor to take a look at my foot, all of a sudden a medical care center magically appeared on the 27th floor of my office building, just by asking one of my colleagues.
  • You can get people to do anything if you give them some money. Sure, I heard about bribing being more common here, but it doesn’t just stop at bribes. In most western countries, if something isn’t part of the services a business offers, you cannot get it done. For example, if you want a hotel to do your laundry but they have no laundry service, you will just have to figure out how to do it somewhere else. But here, if they don’t offer it, you can just pay them a little extra and they will get it done. No questions asked.
  • You are not the only one who will have a culture shock when visiting Indonesia. Indonesian people will experience the same thing by talking to you. Telling them about daylight saving time blows their mind and they are very confused by the fact that in the summer, it is light out until late in the evening. Here, during the entire year the sun rises at 6AM and sets at 6PM.

At this moment I cannot think of any other things that really surprised me and I am a little bummed that my initial wonder for all things Indonesian faded. I walk around the streets that used to be so strange to me now and feel at home. A friend of mine told me to take many pictures in the first days here because after a while the things just wouldn’t seem special to me anymore and I am sorry to not have listened to her. But on the other hand, it makes me feel really comfortable to know that you can adjust to any place and make it feel like home.