Be Careful Not to Offend Others
Being careful not to offend people on your travels is sometimes not as easy as it seems. Each country has different mores and the gestures and mannerisms you may think as normal in your home country could be offensive to the people of the country you travel in. Because Indonesia is a country where Islam is the predominant religion, there are certain mannerisms you should be aware of that could be deemed disrespectful. Most westerners really don’t give it a second thought and carry on just as they did at home and, so often I have noticed this in Bali on my many trips to that island. Fortunately, the Balinese are a liberal people and tend to disregard those westerners who behave and act atrociously and use mannerisms offensive to them. However, when you travel to the other islands within the archipelago where Islam is predominant then there are a few mannerisms you should be aware of that are considered offensive.
When I first started travelling in the archipelago, I had a hard time getting used to eating with my right-hand simply because I am left-handed! Fortunately for me, my hosts at the time were thoughtful and soon put me on the right track. So, I have compiled a list of a few mannerisms and things to do so as not to offend the people of the islands within the archipelago:
1. I started to mention this one and will elaborate further. The left hand is considered as ‘dirty’ or ‘unclean’ mainly because this is the hand you use to clean yourself when using the toilet even though you wash your hands after being to the bathroom. This is an important one to remember and get used to eating with the fingers of your right hand. If you are finding this a difficult task, then apologise to your host or guests before you start eating and explain that you are left-handed.
2. Pointing is considered rude and impolite. Generally, I tend to just gesture with my hand in the direction I am talking about.
3. On the matter of eating, if you are invited to a person’s house for a meal, it is always best to wait before you start getting stuck-in to the food but rather wait until your host invites you to eat. Another thing with the meal process is never grab food or even take the last portion on the table. Also, leaning in front of somebody when they are eating is considered rude.
4. When visiting people’s houses and they prepare food or drink for you then it is considered impolite to refuse. As you travel in Indonesia you will quite often be invited to partake and so keep this in mind.
5. Never stand with your hands on your hips as this is a sign of aggression or superiority to the people you are talking to. Maybe back in home country this is the norm but not in Indonesia.
6. Always take off your shoes before entering a house, a temple, mosque or other places of worship. There will be times when your host tells you “No you don’t have to take off your shoes”, but do so anyway. This will show them that you are a respectful person.
7. Never call out loudly in the street to a person to gain their attention but rather try and catch their eye in some form, and never gesture for the person to come to you using a crooked open palm. Both of these are considered rude.
8. The soles of the feet are also considered partly to being ‘unclean’ even though you might be wearing socks. So be aware when you sit cross-legged not to have the soles of your feet being bared to your host or friends. Siting on the floor with your legs stretched out before you is definitely a no-no.
9. In many parts of the archipelago the top of the head is considered sacred and so be aware not to touch the heads of children. When greeting people, it is generally better to bow in a respectful way.
10. Never touch the right hand of a person with your left hand when shaking hands. You will understand why from No. 1 in this list.
So, there you have it, the best way to be respectful to those around on your travels in Indonesia. A lot of these things might seem crazy or stupid to you but, if you are aware of there mannerisms then you will find that interaction with the locals will be a lot easier than you think.