Following the Java script


Indonesians are renowned for their friendliness, so much so that they often make it into lists of the friendliest people in the world. In 2011, Japanese comedian Udo Suzuki went as far as to test this by going to Indonesia to pull a few pranks on seemingly unsuspecting people. The results appeared to vindicate the Indonesian people’s reputation.

It should be noted, however, that the Japanese comedian chose to perform his stunt in Bali, which has its own customs and culture. Indeed, it is difficult to generalise about Indonesian culture as the country spans more than 17,000 islands and is home to around 300 different ethnic groups. Although Bahasa Indonesia is the official language of the country and is overwhelmingly favoured in the mass media, partly thanks to previous government efforts to promote it, more than 700 languages are spoken in the country. It would therefore be a mistake to assume that the local culture is the same in every part of the nation or that there is one single Indonesian culture. While the Balinese are indeed a friendly nation, ethnic groups such as the Bataks are known for their hot temper, with a historical reputation as fierce warriors and cannibals!

However, in the midst of this diversity, Java plays a dominant role in the Indonesian cultural landscape, commanding vast political influence as well as a large media presence. Home to nearly 60 percent of the Indonesian population, the island of Java is also where the country’s capital Jakarta is located. All over the country, Indonesians tune in to popular television and radio programmes that are produced in Java. The cultural landscape of Java is in turn dominated by the Javanese kejawen culture. The latter, therefore, comes closest to being an exemplification of a traditional Indonesian national culture.

Fortunately, Javanese culture is not entirely different from Balinese culture by reputation. Javanese people are known to be extremely polite. Their politeness makes interacting with them a generally pleasant experience, but it also poses its own problems. Refusing a request, for example, might be considered impolite. As a result, on a personal basis, Javanese people would often accede to requests even if they have no intention of keeping their word.

Lonely Planet’s guide to bargaining in Indonesia emphasises the need to be subtle and polite whilst being persuasive, and this advice rings true even outside of the shops, at least when dealing with the Javanese. How to be persuasive yet subtle and polite? I have found that the key to getting what you want is to be persistent while remaining courteous. Never openly express your dissatisfaction towards the other party. This might be difficult for those who are used to fast-paced and demanding environments, but a good working relationship requires a large degree of accommodation. Being rude and demanding may get you what you want for now, but it is very likely to hamper future cooperation.

By Moses Lemuel

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