Archive for September, 2011

The Latest! Cultural Clues: Do’s & Taboos A series of cultural tips for countries from A to Z Communication Guidelines for Indonesia

Posted on September 20, 2011 by Leave a comment

Generally, greetings among all Indonesians are conducted with stateliness and formality, in a slow, deliberate manner. A hurried introduction will be perceived as disrespectful.

Especially among Indonesian Chinese, handshakes are the standard greeting. Most Indonesian handshakes have a gentle grasp and last for 10-12 seconds. For subsequent meetings, it may also be appropriate to bow rather than initiate further handshakes. Bow your head, lower your eyes, and smile while saying the Indonesian greeting “Selamat”, which means “peace.”

The traditional Hindu greeting involves a slight bow with the palms of the hands together, as if praying. Older, traditional Hindus often use this greeting, called the “Namaste”. It is also an acceptable alternative to a handshake when a Western businesswoman greets a Hindu man.

With the exception of handshakes, there is no public contact between the sexes in Indonesia. Hugging and kissing, even between husbands and wives, are forbidden in public. Moreover, if a woman touches a Muslim man, he must ritually cleanse himself before praying again.

Conversely, physical contact between people of the same sex is perfectly acceptable. You’ll likely observe men holding hands with men or even walking with their arms around each other. These displays are viewed strictly as gestures of friendship.

Be aware that many Indonesians believe that the head is the “seat of the soul.” Consequently, never touch someone’s head, not even to good-naturedly pat the hair of a child.

Among both Muslims and Hindus, the left hand is considered unclean so, whenever possible, should not be used in public. The right hand should be used exclusively to eat, accept gifts, hold cash, and touch people. These guidelines apply even if you are left-handed. However, you may use your left hand when there are absolutely no other realistic alternative.

Since the foot is also considered unclean, do not use this part of the body to point at, move or touch things. Also, refrain from resting your feet on desks or table. Do not show the soles of your feet or shoes. You can cross your legs at the knee, but not with one ankle over your knee.

Point with an open hand rather than with your index finger, which is considered rude. Chewing gum in public is discouraged.

There is a belief in Indonesia that the office is the only place to discuss business. Therefore, refrain from discussing business in a social situation, unless your Indonesian companions bring up the subject. Meals are often enjoyed with very little conversation.

To successfully hold a conversation, it’s essential for Indonesians to know if they are speaking with a person who is their superior, inferior or equal. Generally, they will feel uncomfortable until they learn your status, so there is a tendency to ask very personal questions.

Be careful when asking an Indonesian Chinese a question. For example, English speakers would give a negative answer to the question “Isn’t the document available?” by responding “no.” The Chinese interpretation is opposite. The answer would be “yes,” meaning “Yes, the document is not available.”

Although many government officials will speak some English, they may prefer to hold meetings in Bahasa Indonesia. Fortunately, English-speaking translators are usually easily accessible. Presentation material and company literature should be also translated into Bahasa Indonesia.

When you receive another person’s card, make a show of carefully examining it for a few moments and then remarking upon it before putting it in your card case or on a nearby table. Accepting a business card and then immediately stuffing it into your back pocket will be perceived as disrespectful.

Indonesians tend to be very friendly and you should reciprocate this immediate friendliness. They are more likely to buy from people who they genuinely like. Taking the time to develop solid, long-term personal relationships is of vital importance. In Indonesian business culture, relationships are based on respect and trust.

Meetings tend to be formal. The Indonesian participants will enter the room based on their hierarchical position and then take a seat. You will be expected to remain standing until this ritual concludes.

The majority of Indonesian businesspeople are Chinese, and they are likely to be prompt for meetings and appointments. Other businesspeople and many government officials are ethnic Malays, and they may place less of an emphasis on efficiency, punctuality and deadlines.

Welcome Topics of Conversation

  • Indonesian traditions, culture, and architecture
  • Families and friends is always a welcome topic
  • Food, especially discussing the variety of local cuisine
  • Sports in general is always a good topic
  • The success and or future plans of your organization

Conversation to Avoid

  • Commenting on Indonesian customs that you find unusual
  • Human rights, politics, the Military influence, bureaucracy, corruption
  • Sex and roles of the sexes
  • Over emphasizing your personal successes
  • It’s best to avoid religion and your personal religious preferences

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