Asia Expat Guides: Cultural Mistakes to be Avoided in Indonesia


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Moving to a new, foreign country is a daunting task which many expats find very overwhelming. At Asia Expat Guides, we understand your concerns and your specific needs as an expat. We routinely share articles and expat tips about moving to Asia at
In this particular slide, we let you know the cultural mistakes to be avoided when you become an expat in Indonesia. Avoid embarrassing episodes!

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Asia Expat Guides: Cultural Mistakes to be Avoided in Indonesia

  1. 1. Cultural Mistakes to be Avoided in Indonesia A Guide for New Expats in Indonesia By: Asia Expat Guides
  2. 2. When in Rome… • “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Therefore, when you’re in Indonesia, do as the Indonesians do! • There are some things that are considered normal in the Western world but considered taboo in Indonesia. Thus, in order to succeed as an expat here, you should master the cultural differences and avoid things that are considered offensive or inappropriate in Indonesia.
  3. 3. • A common courtesy in Indonesia that should be respected is not raising one’s voice or demonstrating externally intense emotions. Head-on confrontations are embarrassing to most Indonesians. Thus, they prefer to talk indirectly and ambiguously about areas of difference until common ground can be found.
  4. 4. • Indonesians are known for their friendly hospitality, so it is the host’s obligation to offer food or drink to the guests. Some people would take offense of the guests’ refusal, so it is suggested that foreigners working in Indonesia never refuse an offer of food or drink, but at the same time they should not appear “greedy”. It is customary not to finish the food or drink completely but to leave a little of the food or drink remains.
  5. 5. • Certain gestures should be avoided while in Indonesia. For example, never touch the head of an older Indonesian as it is considered very impolite. Kissing and embracing in public as well as other display of affection should be kept to minimum because it is considered rude and coarse. In general, physical contact should be minimized, especially for different genders and ages. The traditional greeting is a nodding of the head and a gracious smile, although a soft handshake is also very common.
  6. 6. • The use of the left hand for eating or for passing things to others should be avoided because it is considered the unclean hand. Pointing is also considered rude in Indonesia and therefore should be avoided. When doing handshakes, use the right hand softly.
  7. 7. • Indonesians do not like to be pressured or hurried, whereas time in the Western countries can be wasted, spent, utilized, and saved. There is a phrase in Indonesia describing this concept that translates as “rubber time,” meaning that time stretches or shrinks and is therefore very flexible. Interestingly, only foreigners are expected to be punctual, not the locals, and the higher rank people are not expected to be punctual. Therefore, making people wait can sometimes be an expression of social structure.
  8. 8. For more information about being an expat in Asia, visit