Indonesian Tips and Ettequite

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Knowing Basic Ettequite

Exploring Bali is an exciting adventure in itself, there is much to see and so much to do that we all sometimes forget about Bali’s etiquette. After reading this you should have a basic idea on what to expect while you are here in Bali. Learning some basic etiquette will go a long way towards making your visit more enjoyable as locals will see your respect. It is all pretty basic but some things are just a little different than what we are used to in our own homes. The basics include keeping your hands to yourself, speaking quietly and respectfully, and dressing modestly. If you think about it, the same rules apply in the USA, but don’t sweat it if you forget one or two. Here is a list I regularly update.

The People

Indonesia can be a big culture shock for some visitors, but life is simple for most Indonesians. While enjoying the same modern conveniences as the rest of the world. For example Electricity, running water, a hot stove to cook on, and transportation. It’s important to realize that, like most people on this planet, Indonesians value loyalty to their family and friends above all else. Furthermore,  Indonesians as a whole are viewed by their people as one big family which includes the president, schoolmasters, and leaders of business enterprises who are referred to as “fathers” by the public.

Your First Meeting & Greeting

  • Shake hands and give a slight nod when meeting for the first time. After the first meeting, a handshake is not necessary; a slight bow or nod of the head is sufficient.
  • Shake an Indonesian woman’s hand only if she initiates the greeting.
  • Greet people with “Selamat” (sell-a-mat), which means peace. Say it slowly and sincerely.

Watch Your Body Language

  • Good relationships involve a great deal of physical contact and touching, but foreigners should allow time to be accepted and to develop good relationships before this is acceptable.
  • Indonesians are used to an overcrowded society; they tend to ignore inadvertent invasions of space. Allowing for personal space is a sign of respect.
  • A man does not touch a woman in public except to shake hands. Do not display affection in public. It’s okay to hold your wife’s hand or put your arm around her in Bali.
  • The head is where the spirit resides and is considered sacred. Do not touch a person’s head.
  • Keep both feet on the floor when sitting. Do not cross your legs, especially not with an ankle over the knee. Sitting with good posture (rigid) and both feet on the floor is a sign of respect. Don’t allow the bottom of your feet to face or point at another person.
  • Looking someone straight in the eyes is considered staring. Avoid prolonged eye contact, which may be viewed as a challenge and may cause anger.
  • Point with your thumb, not your index finger. If you need to indicate a particular direction with your hand, gesture with your thumb. 
  • The left hand is considered unclean. Do not touch food, pass or receive anything, touch anyone or point with your left hand. It’s the hand most Indonesians use to wipe themselves in the toilet.
  • Approval is sometimes shown with a pat on the shoulder, but American-style backslapping is considered offensive.

Wining & Dining

  • Social events generally start late because most Indonesians usually arrive thirty minutes after the stated time.
  • Any business discussions at social events should be initiated by Indonesians.
  • A fork and spoon are used for dining. The fork is held in the left hand and the spoon in the right. Use the fork to push food onto the spoon. You can also find chop sticks in a lot of restaurants and in a lot of cases people will use their hands, but remember to use your right hand only because Indonesians use their left hand for wiping themselves in the toilet. Keep both hands on the table while eating.
  • Most Indonesians are Muslim and consume no liquor or pork. Balinese Hindu, and most other religions will eat pork and drink liquor.
  • Indonesians are known for their hospitality. Do not reject their hospitality, as it will be viewed as a personal rejection. Never refuse food or drink, but never finish either completely. Compliments about the food are appreciated. It is a special honor to be invited to an Indonesian’s home.
  • The host is always the last to sit and eat. Men are generally served first. Wait to be invited to eat or drink.
  • The guest of honor or senior person begins the meal; this is a distinct honor. If you are asked to begin the meal, you should refuse twice and then begin.
  • The person who invites is expected to pay the bill in a restaurant. Request the bill by making a scribbling gesture on the palm of your hand.
  • When finished with the meal, place the fork and spoon on your plate with your spoon crossed over the fork facing down.
  • If possible, reciprocate with a dinner before you leave the country. A lavish dinner may be criticized; be generous and hospitable, but don’t overdo it.

The Corporate World

  • Westerners are expected to be punctual for business appointments. Call if you are delayed. It is very common for Indonesians to arrive late.
  • Present your business card to the receptionist immediately upon arrival; otherwise, there could be long delays. Exchange business cards when being introduced. Present and receive the card slowly with much interest. Cards in English are acceptable.
  • Negotiations should start at the top of a corporation and then move down to the operating level to discuss technical matters. Later on, discussions will return once again to the top level of the company.
  • It is best to conduct a first meeting with the highest ranking person of a company. An introduction from a local associate or bank representative is helpful.
  • Indonesians don’t get right down to business. An initial meeting may last 45-60 minutes without accomplishing much. After this amount of time, the visitor should initiate leaving.
  • Patience is a necessity when doing business in Indonesia. Business dealings are usually slow, long and frustrating. Business relationships must be allowed to develop over time. Several visits are generally necessary to complete a contract.
  • Clarification and feedback are a necessity throughout negotiations. Avoid disagreement and, especially, arguments with Indonesians.
  • To Indonesians, insisting on a written contract is a breech of trust, though many understand a Westerner’s need for such documents. A contract should be viewed as a guideline rather than a statement of duties and responsibilities.
  • Personal visits are important to Indonesians. They do not take well to faxes, telephone calls or messages. Show up in person whenever possible.
  • Indonesians want very much to please. An untruthful answer may be given so as not to disappoint anyone.
  • Indonesians rarely disagree in public. To succeed in negotiations with Indonesians, do not apply pressure or be confrontational

Dress Appropriately

  • Men should wear a suit and jacket for the first business meeting if corporate  If it is a more casual meeting then I would suggest jeans or slacks coupled with a polo shirt or short sleeve collared shirt.
  • Women should wear skirts and blouses (never sleeveless) or dresses. Avoid extreme fashions. (more for Muslim areas)
  • In Bali a short sleeve batik shirt and jeans are acceptable at churches and temples, although you will see people come in with shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops. Better to wear tennis shoes or dress shoes.
  • Bali is a lot more laid back when it comes to this but if you don’t have time to change your not going to be punished. Don’t worry about it.


  • Business gifts are generally not exchanged. A small token of appreciation may be given to secretaries. Gifts to colleagues should be given after most business has been concluded.
  • Receive a gift appreciatively. It is impolite to refuse a gift. Gifts are not opened in the giver’s presence except at a ceremony, where the gift is opened in front of an assembled group.

Extra Helpful Do's & Dont's

  • Taking photographs is a way of honoring someone. Indonesians may ask to take your picture.
  • Civil servants are respected. Be very respectful to government workers. Never treat them as though they are your servants.
  • Don’t assume tomorrow means tomorrow. Tomorrow may mean sometime in the future. Set specific dates and times for arrangements.
  • Do not chew gum or yawn in public.
  • Don’t be a jackass when at the bar or club while drinking. Try to respect everyone there.
  • Don’t throw your trash on the ground even though you will see a lot of Indonesians do it. Indonesians are just starting to become more aware to it’s pollution and waste problem. In Canggu you can find communities that help pick up trash along the beaches.

The easiest way to get your feet wet with Bali etiquette? Start off your trip with a guided tour. Your guide will let you know the basics, and you’ll have a good example to emulate.


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