Do's and Dont's in Indonesia

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Do's and Dont's in Indonesia By Gunawan Kartapranata, Wikimedia Commons

Indonesia has several traditions and customs and it is best if you know them beforehand. It is a good idea to put notes in cellular/tablet and have with you all the time. It will help avoid awkward situations and render you as a good backpacker.

For instance, you will notice that Indonesians rarely do things or go to places alone. Indonesians have a very strong sense of community and prefer to be “one of a group”. They always like to have a friend to accompany them and will feel pity for someone who is alone, saying “Kok sendirian?” (Oh, you’re by yourself?”).

Most Indonesian Muslims do not consume alcoholic drinks and pork and the tradition of proposing a toast to honor someone is not generally known.

One more interesting bi; sometimes you will see an Indonesian man with one or two very long nails, usually the thumbnail. This is intended as an indication of his status as a non-manual laborer or worker.

Now, let’s go through a few rules of behavior



- Even though hand shaking is deemed appropriate between men and women, number of Muslim women prefer to introduce themselves to men by nodding their head, smiling, and clasping their hands without any physical contact.

- Open displays of anger – shouting, hands on hips, rude looks, or slamming of doors – are all considered highly offensive behavior.

- In most areas of the country it is considered improper for a girl and boy to hold hands or put their arms around each other.  It is not appropriate for an adult man to touch an adult woman beyond a handshake in a social setting, unless they are related.

- An open smack or yelling at your children is considered very inappropriate and very harsh punishment.



- Traditionally, when you greet someone, both hands are used when shaking, without grasping.
- It is considered polite to make a phone call first before visiting.
- Shoes must be taken off before entering a house or place of worship like mosques.
- Usually drinks are offered to guests. It is polite to accept.
- When eating, receiving or giving something, always use your right hand. Right index finger should not be used to point a place, items or people. Use the right hand thumb and fold the remaining fingers to be more polite. Throughout Indonesian society the left hand is used for “toilet duties” and is therefore considered unclean. In Indonesia, it is rude and offensive to hand someone something with your left hand, especially food or drink, or to shake hands with your left hand.
- Taking photographs of houses of worships is allowed, however permission should be asked first whenever possible, especially if you want to take pictures of the interior.


- It is not unusual to see people coughing or sneezing openly without attempting to cover their mouth or nose. If your domestic staff or driver have this habit, it would be best to explain to them your concerns and then provide them with some tissues and ask them to cover their mouth or nose when coughing and sneezing.

- Discourage people from pinching your child’s cheeks by saying “Maaf, dia tidak suka” (Excuse me; he/she doesn’t like that).

- Foreigners quickly get tired of the “20 Questions Game" that they are subjected to every time they meet a new person. Be polite in your responses, and understand that they are just being friendly in their own way, or just perhaps smile and don’t answer.

- In Indonesia, it is not considered impolite to stare. Most expats deal with the staring by just ignoring it. There is really nothing you can do about it.



Last modified on Wednesday, 09 April 2014 12:02

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