Yes, it’s true, Indonesians do smile a lot. This does not mean, however, that they are always in a “good mood” and are positive about everything and everyone. A smile can mean many different things in Indonesia. In addition to showing joy or politeness, anger, embarrassment, insecurity or sadness can also be expressed with a smile.
Even sensitive or critical topics are often “smiled away”. Any form of criticism is generally avoided in Indonesia as far as possible; Indonesians will not often express their criticisms directly and openly but will tend to avoid the matter altogether. Conversely, you may not even notice that your response was far too critical because your counterpart will still be smiling!
The danger in Indonesia is that you often won’t notice that you have made a faux-pas until much later. Indonesians will not just ignore problems, but also people or even whole companies with a smile until the topic has resolved itself and there is simply no more contact. So be on your guard!
Of course, there are also many impromptu funny moments in Indonesia and then the Indonesian smile quickly turns into a very hearty laugh!
On the whole, it is considered appropriate in Indonesia to use gestures and movements that are not excessive. People don’t usually use gestures when talking. Hasty movement is also less common than in many other countries. Instead, Indonesians often cross their hands behind their backs or place their palms in front of each other so that their arms do not hang loosely to the sides of their bodies.
Important: Always use your right hand when handing over and receiving objects. The left hand is considered impure by Muslims.
Moreover, do not point at people with your index finger, but with your thumb or palm. The whole hand is always used to wave to someone, too.
Be careful not to point your foot at anything as well. Especially when sitting, your toes or soles of your feet shouldn’t point to anyone. In Indonesia, feet are only for walking. If, for example, you have your hands full, you should still not close a door with your foot. Don’t close the drawers in the office roller cabinet with your feet either. All this is considered extremely rude!
Cleaning your nose
The same goes for cleaning your nose in public – which in Indonesia is considered extremely unhygienic. If you need to blow your nose during a meeting, leave the room and go to the restroom. However, it is perfectly acceptable to sniff noisily or wipe your nose with a handkerchief.
In Indonesia, it is not so common to return a look openly and intensively, especially between the sexes or across different hierarchical levels. Direct eye contact is often perceived as unpleasant, ill-mannered and provocative and is interpreted in a completely different way than in the West, which values it as particularly open, honest, serious and interested in the other person. Attention: Eye contact between women and men can easily be misinterpreted in Indonesia!
Differences in body height
Finally, it should be noted that Europeans or Americans are often much taller than Indonesians. On the one hand, Indonesians may find this amusing. On the other hand, talking to each other at eye level is often difficult when the differences in size are so pronounced. Make sure that you refrain from using expansive gestures as they tend to emphasize the physiognomic superiority of a person. Unconsciously, this can lead to intimidation of your Indonesian counterpart.