Along with unity and conformity to society's rules, honor and
respect for the individual is the basis of Indonesian culture.
Indonesians value loyalty to family and friends above all else. Life
is simple for most people; most enjoy few modern conveniences, such
as running water. Indonesia as a whole is viewed by its people as an
extended family with the president, schoolmasters and leaders of
business enterprises referred to as "fathers" by the public.
Meeting and 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.
- 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.
- The head is where the spirit resides and is considered sacred.
Do not touch a personís 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. Donít allow the bottom of your feet to face or point at
- 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. Never beckon
with one finger.
- The left hand is considered unclean. Do not touch food, pass
or receive anything, touch anyone or point with your left hand.
- Approval is sometimes shown with a pat on the shoulder, but
American-style backslapping is considered offensive.
- 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
- 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.
- Indonesians love to bargain. Giving concessions too quickly
will be viewed as naivete.
- Clarification and feedback are a necessity throughout
negotiations. Avoid disagreement and, especially, arguments with
- To Indonesians, insisting on a written contract is a breech of
trust, though many understand a Westernerís 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
- 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
Dining and Entertainment
- Social events generally start late. Indonesians usually arrive
thirty minutes after the stated time.
- Any business discussions at social events should be initiated
- 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.
- Most Indonesians are Muslim and consume no liquor or pork.
- 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.
- Fingers are still used for eating in some places. Both hands
are kept above the table while eating.
- 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 (tines down) on
your plate with your spoon (down) crossed over the fork.
- 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.
- Men should wear a suit and jacket for the first business
- Women should wear skirts and blouses (never sleeveless) or
dresses. Avoid extreme fashions. Muslim rules of modesty should be
- 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.
- 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
- Do not chew gum or yawn in public.
Especially for Women
- Indonesia is a Muslim society and very male-oriented, but most
female visitors experience very few hassles with men. However,
blond-haired, blue-eyed women may be hassled more often than dark
women. It helps if you dress modestly.
- Businesswomen may invite an Indonesian businessman and his
wife to dinner. Arrange payment in advance to avoid embarrassment
(loss of face) to your male guest.
- A woman is expected to initiate a handshake.