What is allowed and what should be avoided?
When in Rome do as the Romans do
We all have heard this saying and we all appreciate when guests who come to our countries respect our attitudes, traditions and culture. So why not do the same when we travel to other countries?
Especially in Asia, there are many exotic destinations famous for their unique cultures, habits and specific ways of social behaviour. Indonesia is one of these beautiful countries where specific ways of behaviour are observed.
Indonesia is a very big country, and sometimes you will realise that some of the “rules” differ from one island to another. Yet in general, there are some basic things that you should consider and keep in mind when travelling to Indonesia – nor matter if it is on Java or on Flores/Komodo.
Having been living in Asia for a while and knowing a bit of the Indonesian culture, we understand that nobody would feel comfortable doing some “awkward” things, especially if it is a totally normal thing in your home country.
So, we set up a small list of things that you can keep in mind when travelling and that might help you to feel comfortable and relaxed during your holiday on Flores.
- Always smile! This is probably the most important difference between Europe and Asia. Indonesian people smile when they greet, when they answer “YES” or “NO”, when they agree or disagree with you, when they are shy or just as a welcome sing to a foreigner.
- Bend down! When you are passing an elder person or a person who is sitting, you should bend down a bit to show respect.
- Address local people with the following titles:
Bapak – for men. Especially if they are elder than you.
Ibu – for women. Especially if they are elder than you.
Mas – for boys.
Mbak – for girls.
- Wear long sleeve t-shirts and trousers (or special local sarongs, kind of long skirts) when visiting holy places, like temple, churches or mosque. Or if you will be invited to visit an Indonesian family in their house, or to attend a ceremony.
- Take off shoes! In many shops, restaurants and houses you will be asked to take off your shoes before entering the place. It is a sign of appreciation. Therefore, flip-flops are the best footwear here.
- Bargain! You can always negotiate and bargain for a better price. Always do it with a smile and politely; and only if you really intend to buy the product. Yet if it says “Harga Pas!”, it means it is a fixed price and no bargaining is wished.
- Don’t touch the head! Asian people believe that the head is where the spirit lives and is considered sacred. Thus do not touch a person’s head. Even if it is normal in your country to cuddle a cute child on its head, never do it in Indonesia.
- Don’t shout in public! It is understood as highly offensive behaviour if someone shouts, or expresses anger, looks rude or slams doors in public (or even in the own home). People who do this in public are seen as rude individuals. Indonesians keep the culture of living in harmony. So dealing with anger and difficulties happens behind closed doors.
- Don’t dress too naked! Indonesia is a Muslim country. And although some islands are more Christian or Hindu (Bali), and some places became touristic attracting many foreigners, the understanding of modest and appropriate dressing is much appreciated. Dressed exposing too much skin is considered as highly offensive and disrespectful to their faith. On some public beaches it is better to swim in t-shirt and shorts – especially for female guests.
- Don’t use your left hand for eating or passing! The left hand is considered unclean as it is used for “toilet duties”. Therefore, do not touch food, pass or receive anything, touch anyone or point with your left hand. If your right hand is busy, switch the item to your left hand.
- Don’t disturb a prayer! Religion is important to the people in Indonesia and it is the most sensitive topic. Never argue about the religion and do not complaint or disturb while people are praying or holding a ceremony. Respect and honor the ceremony/praying time, make sure you are not sitting higher than the holy person and do not take photos with a flash, unless asked for permission before.
- Don’t point your feet at another person! Don’t allow the bottom of your feet to face or point at another person. It is considered rude and insulting to a person. In general, it is advised to keep both feet on the floor when sitting. Do not cross your legs, especially not with an ankle over the knee.