Sunday, January 27, 2008

Too Much Respect?

Do Indonesians give respect too easily? Why?

[It's a "culture" thing is a cop out btw - I'd like some real answers :)]


Finally Woken said...

Maybe not respect. We tend to "bury" or "forget" the unpleasant things easily. Just like with Dutch colonization, I don't think there is any slight resentment toward Dutch or Dutch government nowadays.

oigal said...

It is unusual to a westerner, I always find it bizarre to watch close friends complain bitterly about corruption and vice yet the next time they meet these same's Yes Pak..No Pak complete with the slight bow and hand to the heart. What's worse is the king toads at every level expect it.

(Although it does provide some fun as an expat, when the Lords of Sh*T and their flunkies try and exercise their right of way and you get the chance to expain the concept of waiting your turn)

I will be watching this post with interest to see WHY IS IT SO? (Don't forget we expats get it as well, it can't all be because I have a wallet full of personality tokens)

David said...

No more than anyone else, I'd say. In Java particularly, behind all that 'basa basi' (a very thin layer of politeness designed to maintain the harmony of the Universe) is a typical human being, no different from any other human being. As a westerner often found walking along the footpath in suburban Jakarta and Java, I've found that the seemingly high level of respect shown as you approach someone sitting on the side of the road (a smile and a warm greeting) is often then balanced by the same person insulting you within earshot once you have walked about 6 paces past.

kawi said...

It seems that the 'show' of respect becomes important regardless of how superficial it can be.

Whatever that has not been cast as a shadow on the screen could not be seen. We may be aware of what's happening behind the screen and see the dalang clearly; and yet we only appreciate the story that is being cast on the screens.

While we may be concerned with the 'Why?', a change in paradigm would help. Try to think in terms of the 'How?' as a step closer to appreciating Javanese-ness.

Another way will be to move away from thinking about the aggregate of consecutive behaviour, but in terms of a particular behaviour in an instance.

Hence, the person sitting on the side who showed respect did his part for that particular instance.

Unknown said...

Anita> Well I've yet to hear many balanced things said of the Dutch's time in Indonesia

Oigal> "Don't forget we expats get it as well, it can't all be because I have a wallet full of personality tokens"

Hahaha! :):)

I suppose respect is based on the hierarchy thing again, can't quite get my head around it fully...

Specific instances are obviously how so much respect has been shown to Suharto recently...

But also say to seemingly unquestioning obedience of adult children with parents or older relatives.

Prob gross generalisation, and maybe respect ain't quite the word...

coffeeliqueur said...

I agree with david about the Java thingy. As a Javanese myself, I know that the Javanese is very particular about 'giving & receiving respect' from other people. If you are a member of Javanese 'blue blood' family, giving respect to the right people is something that runs in your blood. It's rooted deep inside our philosophy in life that it becomes automatic. Most Javanese people will feel offended if they don't get the same respect from others.

I'm sure you could feel this when you visited Yogyakarta or Solo.

Unknown said...

just thinking about all this stuff makes my head spin -- luckily being white a lot less is expected from u, i hope!! :)

Maggie said...

Nice site you have here! To answer your question, I would have to agree w/ coffeeliqueur. Born and raised outside Indonesia, yet it's just something that's a part of me to do that. My husband questions it, but then he just learned to accept it. Haha, and I also get pointed out as being "too nice" every so often. I guess that's when my Dutch side comes out so I don't get walked on.

Unknown said...

hey maggie thx for the compliment.

well irish can b weird too.

for example many are overly polite. irish ppl always apologise and thank ppl for almost everything.

bad service at a restaurant, irish guy will apologise to the waiter.

irish guy helps a granny cross the road, he'll thank the granny :)

The Dodo said...

"I don't think there is any slight resentment toward Dutch or Dutch government nowadays."

my friend on me going to netherlands to study: "youre really going to netherlands?? are you serious? shit dude u know what theyve done to our people for centuries? they tortured us. killed us. why netherlands? traitor."

Therry said...

Hi John, nice blog you got here. I think what Oigal has desribed only happen in big cities such as Jakarta where everything is about money, power and more money. 'Respecting' corrupted leaders is just a way of keeping themselves safe (saving their own asses) because like it or not, Jakarta has made its citizen to become very selfish in everything that they do.

Where as in cities like Semarang people give respect out of good-natured behavior and the principle that 'I respect you for respecting me'.

The strange thing is that the minute these people step foot in Jakarta, all traces of politeness is gone and replaced by bad manners and self-centred thinking as a retaliation of the harsh life the city gives.

Unknown said...

Therry, I am sure you know more than me, but i don't buy it totally.

i've been to semarang and have been to jakarta. both semarangese and jakartans are polite and friendly... altho suppose u r right, jakarta is where the money is at so it attracts more money oriented ppl -- altho some ppl just happen to b born there :):)

btw, oigal lives in kalimantan (so don't think he's talking about experience in jakarta :):)

thx for visitin therry! semarang is a really nice town! :)

Therry said...

Therry, I am sure you know more than me, but i don't buy it totally.

i've been to semarang and have been to jakarta. both semarangese and jakartans are polite and friendly... altho suppose u r right, jakarta is where the money is at so it attracts more money oriented ppl -- altho some ppl just happen to b born there :):)

btw, oigal lives in kalimantan (so don't think he's talking about experience in jakarta :):)

thx for visitin therry! semarang is a really nice town! :)

@john: woops, my bad! I was assuming oigal was talking about Jakarta because it's the place where corruption is so visibly existent - you can see it from the way police officers and government administrations operate, to mention a few.

I personally think Jakarta is becoming more and more uncomfortable to live in - there's too much bad energy there ha3x.

Semarang is a nice town, that's where my fiance came from :)

Unknown said...

yeh jkt is pretty uncomfortable place. what's the betting its pop will shrink within the next 10 years?

Therry said...

New phrase! "Its pop will shrink", what does this mean? Though I assume as much it means that 'it will lose the appeal', but I think it's wiser to make sure :D

Sometimes an evil thought lurks through my mind that only a natural disaster as terrible as tsunami that can reset Jakarta into a brand new city again.

But that's too evil. Right?

Unknown said...

:):) be careful what u wish for therry! :):)

pop = population in this case :)

Therry said...


Mwahahahaha. I know, it's evil. It's just that I lost hope with Jakarta, everything is so... you know. I can't even find the exact word to describe it.

Can I link your blog to mine?

Unknown said...

yes pls therry -- thx! :)

David said...

Maaf dulu ya Therry, but it's funny, having lived and worked in both Jakarta and Semarang, I can honestly say I find Jakarta so much more tolerable than Semarang.

In nearly three years in Jakarta I and my Javanese wife haven't had to deal with nearly anything like the crap we dealt with in only four months in Semarang. Xenophobia, bigotry, rudeness, and just plain backwardness.

Apologies to all those genuinely nice 'wong Semarang'.

Perhaps it's because Jakartans tend to be more used to different types of people and different types of lifestyle, that they tend to mind their own business more. Semarang has a strong colonial history and not a lot of exposure to immigrants, expats or tourists and so xenophobia is more perceptible there.

I've spent considerably more time down the road in Salatiga, where there is more exposure to westerners due to the university there, and an international school, and a strong history of Dutch community development (rather than exploitation), and the experience is so much more relaxed and, well, heavenly. That's why we always used to go to Salatiga as much as possible, to get away from Semarang.

If I had a dollar for every time some reference to dutch bastards (londo asu, londo ngaceng etc...) was directed toward me in Semarang, I'd be rich.

Much of the problem was that we could both understand Javanese.

What Semarang needs is a real boost to tourism. There is a growing expatriate population, but westerners are still pretty much an oddity. There are so many wonderful historic buildings in Semarang going to ruin. If they did what India is currently doing - getting over post-colonial antipathy and restoring all the old historic sites from the days of the British Raj - I think Semarang could be a major tourist destination, the likes of Yogya and Solo, with something else quite unique to offer besides Kratons and traditional dancing.

Unknown said...

david that must b the longest comment on this blog ever :)

perhaps i hung around a lot with locals in the villages or something, or perhaps i just didn't understand what was said, or didn't spend enough time there, but i didn't have much bother along those lines.

altho i was aware of a lot of bule preconceptions... but u seem to get those equally almost everywhere unfortunately...

David said...

Hi John, ya...long comment, sorry:) when I get on a roll there's just no poor students had to remind me that morning tea started three minutes ago the other week because I was so caught up in explaining a Robert Frost poem :)...

anyway, three reasons why you and I had different experiences ('nother long one hahaha..)-

1) one has to be in a mixed marriage with an Indonesian - man that really attracts the attitude

2) one has to understand the language. There are a lot of subtle phrases that people utter under their breath that many times not even I caught, but my wife certainly did. So in that sense, she had it even tougher. I was to a certain degree living in a state of 'ignorance is bliss'.

3) You mention you were in the villages. We were in the city. I too found village people to be much more accommodating and hospitable. The further you get up into the mountains (orang gunung - mountain people), there's a certain innocence that hasn't been tainted by xenophobic propaganda and all that. A real genuineness and a real authentic respect for others.

That's not to say we don't get trouble in Jakarta; we certainly do, but only just today my wife commented on how much less it is compared to our Semarang days. She then told me of another friend, also in a mixed marriage who had the same trouble living just outside of Semarang-proper and how they went home after only a year because of it.

But this sounds like a lot of Semarang bashing. I would like to state that I really think Semarang has a lot to offer and of course while such attitudes were found from street-level up to 'educated' people (as if the man on the street isn't educated :)), there were happy times too in the company of more agreeable Semarang-ites.

Unknown said...

hey david,

well thx for the comment - another long one - u r really outdoing yourself! :)

well i am sure it's not just a Semarang thing, it's all over in some form or another.

it's sounds like plain ol' xenophobia to me.

indonesians get it in europe and elsewhere, westerners get it in indonesia.

David said...

True, but my point is that where Semarang was compared with Jakarta, and Semarang being considered more respectful than Jakarta, I was responding within that context - providing a bit of balance.

Just goes to show that perceptions are not a good measure for determining reality.

Unknown said...

that's true.

also reality depends on who you are, ppl's perceptions might depend on whether u r chinese, white, javenese, male, female, married etc...

i suppose it's about subjective experience...

when it comes down to it, ppl are ppl :) whether in semarang or jkt :)

Therry said...


My fiance is from Semarang and had been living there for his whole life before he moved to Jakarta for this job offer at a pharmaceutical company where I worked, and that was how we hooked up ha2x ;)

I myself had been living in Jakarta since I was born but I spent 6 years of my life studying overseas.

When I went to Semarang, I found that:

1. Being a female I didn't get sexually harassed as I would if I were in Jakarta.

2. I didn't get weird stares because of how my fiance and I looked together (he is Javanese, I am Chinese), as I would if I were in Jakarta, in which people would start saying stuff behind my back. In Semarang, people didn't care - all they cared about was eating out and more eating out!!

3. While my fiance had to withdraw some cash from the ATM, when he got out, one of the cleaning services guys who was there said, "Be careful and make sure you don't leave anything behind, have a safe journey..." and that was SHOCKING if compared to Jakarta where people would WISH that you left something behind so they could scab your whole account!

4. Because we went during Lebaran holidays, there were more B-plated cars in Semarang than usual, and as usual... those B-platers carried their rude driving manners all the way to Semarang, as opposed to Semarang people who were more tolerant and pleasantly gave way to us.

5. I got the chance to see an Indie Rock festival in Simpang Lima, in which there were heaps of punk-rock style teenagers everywhere, and I was right there blending in, and they didn't give me any attitudes because they were there for the music.

That's why I have to say... Semarang is nicer than Jakarta.

But that's my personal experience, so I can't expect everyone else's to be the same :)

Unknown said...

well actually in jkt, me and my sis were wandering around a market in slipi, and we also got lots of warning of pick pockets from strangers and stall owners.

ppl shook our hands when we showed up around the corners. and they also tried to make conversation with us in english.

yeh i've had ppl say stuff to me here and there in jkt. but the good more than outways the bad :)

there's good and bad everywhere, i suppose. my main thing is to avoid touristy areas, then generally i meet nice peeps.

Therry said...


Why do you avoid tourist areas? Are the people a lot more fierce in those places?

Unknown said...

h well i avoid touristy places, cos u get a lotta ppl that have dollar signs in their eyes when they see me...

i understand that they are just trying to make a living, but nevertheless it's annoying, and i'd rather avoid those sorts...

Therry said...


Ain't it hard being so tourist-looking :P

I think they do that to everyone too, not just to Caucasian-looking tourists, except that they are probably less aggressive to the local tourists.

The easiest way is to ignore them, I guess. They get bored eventually...