INDONESIAN CHARACTER AND PERSONALITY

INDONESIAN CHARACTER AND PERSONALITY

Indonesians have been described as resilient, resourceful, tenacious and courageous, putting up with life’s difficulties with wry good humor. The Indonesian character can loosely be generalized as a mix of Muslim, Southeast Asian and it own indigenous elements. Asian ideas about keeping face are important and great efforts are made not to make someone lose face. Muslim ideas about hospitality are also widely embraced.

Indonesians are regarded as being very superstitious and mystical, and enjoy slapstick humor. At the same time they are considered as one of the most conservative people in Southeast Asia. Muslim and Asian values about family and social conduct are given a prominent position. Older people and family leaders are accorded great respect. Younger people are expect to defer to their parents and elders.

Indonesians are for the most part tolerate and comfortable living in a society shaped by diversity: between devout Muslims and liberal ones; between Muslims and Christians; between modernists and traditionalist; between Java and the other islands; and between the various ethnic groups.

Indonesians are very polite and courteous. Politeness often calls for ambiguity. The Indonesian and Javanese languages are full of euphemisms and vagueness. The Javanese have the tendency to talk politely around a delicate subject and get to the point without talking directly about it.

On the top five Indonesian core cultural values, George B. Whitfield III wrote on expat.or.id: “Here is what they came up with: 1) loyalty to a hierarchical structure of authority; 2) conflict avoidance; 3) subjugation to nature; 4) face and social shame; and, 5) relaxed future time perspective.. One point to note is that the core cultural values of the Indonesian archipelago are often assumed to be identical with the Javanese values. This is not always the case though these values do tend to dominate, just because of demographics and social pressure. [Source: George B. Whitfield III expat.or.id ^^]

Books: “Culture Shock, a Guide to Customs and Etiquette,” Indonesia by Cathie Draine and Barbara Hall.

See Society

Javanese Character

Javanese society has traditionally been hierarchal in its orientation with the sultan and the upper classes at the top. Status is very important among the "elegant taciturn princes of Java.” This conflicts with Islam’s egalitarian beliefs. “High” and “low” language used to address superiors and inferiors are still used in Java. Halus (refined) Javanese culture still exits. Rooted in Hinduism, it revolves around respect for the sultan and appreciation of the high culture and arts that are associated with it.

Javanese culture has been described as “status obsessed.” George B. Whitfield III wrote on expat.or.id: “ Javanese values evolved in an agricultural, highly stratified, feudal society. Values developed in such societies are often designed to protect the status quo and limit individual initiative. They may not easily lend themselves to enhancing attitudes and behaviors commonly accepted ‘globally’ as conducive to running an international business in the most efficient and effective manner.[Source: George B. Whitfield III expat.or.id ^^]

Javanese are known for following strict etiquette and proceeding with deliberate caution. Confrontation is done discreetly and indirectly. Halus describes the refinement that Javanese aspire to obtain. Nonkong is a word used to describe the art of hanging out.

Javanese are known for their indirectness. Like Japanese indirectness, it is based on politeness and addressing issues in such a way that the person is not offended and avoiding hints of criticism, pointing out mistakes or mentioning anything the other person might be sensitive about.

Javanese Muslims are said to be much mellower than their Arab counterparts. Until relatively recently you rarely heard of Javanese terrorists or fantastic Javanese fundamentalist movements. "This exacts at toll," journalist Richard Critchfield wrote, "unlike Egyptians, Javanese gnash their teeth in their sleep...[and]...'never mind' are just about the first words you learn in Javanese villages, though in Java it suggests keeping an unruffled tranquility." [Source: "The Villagers" by Richard Critchfield, Anchor Books]

Book: Javanese Culture by Koentjaraningrat.

Friendly and Sociable Indonesians

Indonesians are very friendly and love to make friends. They are sociable and curious to a degree that some Westerners find annoying. For a foreigner, sometimes it is hard to be left alone or find some place without Indonesian staring, saying Hello Mister or asking lots of questions.

The interests of the group and being with a group are regarded as more important than the interests of the individual. Individualism is often regarded as selfish and being by oneself is regarded a strange, pitiable and lonely. Indonesians rarely do things or go to places alone. Indonesians have a very strong sense of community and prefer to be “one of a group”. They always like to have a friend to accompany them and will feel pity for someone who is alone, saying “Kok sendirian?” (Oh, you’re by yourself?”) [Source: expat.or.id ]

Indonesians often seem to be busy and heading somewhere. “Where are you going?” is a common greeting. But at the same time they often can make time to chat with a friend. Indonesians ask questions like “What are you doing?” and “Where are you going?” when the answer is obvious as a way of making small talk to start a conversation. The polite response is to ask more questions.

As for foreigners, Indonesians are usually very friendly and helpful. They would be happy to show you around and experience the local culture. Be sensitive though when asking a married friend because he/she might not have the luxury of time to do that. Friends and colleagues appreciate the efforts you make in learning the language and the culture and are likely to be keen in helping you along. As your relationship grows, you will be invited to family events, such as marriages and other family and religious ceremonies; they will guide you on how to dress, act etc. Often, friends and colleagues will ask for your assistance in return to help with their English. [Source: Canadian Centre for Intercultural Learning, intercultures.gc.ca]

To Indonesians who have been to the West often find Westerners as "cold" when first meetinng them and it takes a while before they warm up to new people, which can be very discouraging. Often there are misconceptions about typical behaviours, as in many countries. Indonesia is a hot, tropical place and it is certain that the pace of life is more relaxed. It can be perceived by foreigners that locals are lazy or slow, but it is the responsibility of the foreigner to adjust to local rhythms rather than impose western expectations and judgements. [Ibid]

Indonesian Hospitality and the "Three No" Rule

One woman posted on expat.or.id: “Often in Indonesia one is offered something which one might not want. Not wanting it, you will refuse the offer kindly and thank them. Five to ten minutes later you will be offered it again. Once again you will refuse it. Five, ten, twenty minutes go by and you are offered it again. Once you refuse it the third time they accept that and won't offer it again unless you are there for a couple hours and then it will start all over again. [Source: expat.or.id ***]

“Same thing goes when you offer someone something. Whether they want it or not they will most likely refuse it. Let five to ten minutes go by and offer it a second time. It will then get refused again, even if they would really like it. On the third try you will know if they really don't want it or if they actually do. Sometimes when I know someone could really use the help, to avoid the three no rule I might say something like this, "It would really make me happy if you would accept my gift." That guaranteed, in the past, allows them happily to accept for they are helping me by making me happy. (Of course it is important that you really know they would like it or could use it. You don't want someone accepting something they don't want just to please you, now do you? I found this out purely by observation ... being offered and offering. What a gift it was figuring that cultural intricacy out. ***

Displays of Emotion and Expressions of Anger in Indonesia

Aggressive behaviour, showing frustration is not well regarded, being emotional, crying etc... will certainly make others very uncomfortable. As Muslim and Easterners, Indonesians are supposed to behave modestly. As in many Asian and Muslim countries, showing affection in public and showing a lot of skin are to be avoided. The same is true of being openly impatient and angry, or shouting and raising your voice. The Indonesian culture is a very high context culture (in other words, social relations are accorded a great deal of importance). You really have to read between the lines. We have many ways of showing our displeasure without having to shout or raise our voice. Shouting, showing that you are impatient and raising your voice could be considered as being uneducated and/or not well raised (a literal translation from "kurang ajar"). [Source: Canadian Centre for Intercultural Learning, intercultures.gc.ca]

It is not easy to know whether you have offended right away. Sometimes you might see that the expression on their face change but a lot of times you are really in the dark. You will know when they start to avoid meeting you or they become very quiet. Indonesians avoid confrontation at all costs, as it is again considered ill mannered or uneducated to confront someone in public. In some cases, you will never ever know whether you have offended someone as she/he will remain polite and hide her/his feelings from you. The Javanese are very good at this.

Traditional Indonesian culture emphasizes the need to live in harmony. Open displays of anger – shouting, hands on hips, rude looks, or slamming of doors – are all considered highly offensive behavior. Foreigners who behave like this in public (or in their own homes) are seen as rude individuals, unable to control their anger. Indonesian methods of dealing with differences is to strive towards consensus, and dealing with difficulties behind closed doors so that the persons involved do not lose face. [Source: expat.or.id ]

M. Marlene Martin wrote in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, “Interpersonal conflict, anger, and aggression are repressed or avoided in Javanese society. In Java it is difficult to express differences of opinion. Direct criticism, anger and annoyance are rarely expressed. The major method of handling interpersonal conflict is not speaking to one another ( satru). This type of conflict resolution is not surprising in a society that represses anger and the expression of true feelng. Concern with maintaining peaceful interactions results not only in the avoidance of conflict and repression of true feelings, but also in the prevalence of conciliatory techniques, particularly in status bound relations.”

Privileges, Favors and Conflicts in Indonesia

It is common for Indonesians to give and expect special privileges among friends. Naturally a colleague or employee would expect that from you if you have a personal relationship friendship with her/him. Foreigners often feel uncomfortable when being asked for a special favour by a colleague or subordinate given your personal relationship or friendship. There are however circumstances where you can grant such privileges or considerations. [Source: Canadian Centre for Intercultural Learning, intercultures.gc.ca]

For Javanese, maintaining harmony and showing respect is very important. You have to take care not to cause any "loss of face" to either yourself or people around you. The concept of "saving face", to show respect and maintaining harmony is very important. Showing your anger, raising your voice to anybody in front of others will cause loss of face to both yourself and the person you are being angry at. If this happens, your Indonesian friends will lose their respect for you and the person you shouted at will not be able to bear the "loss of face" you caused for him/her.

Javanese is a high context language, thus coworkers tends to relate this way by trying to avoid confrontations, by always trying to save a friend’s face, by giving hints instead of saying something outright. They will beat around the bush instead of being straightforward because that is the polite way of behaviour according to the Javanese culture.

Depends on your status and the status of the colleague. If you have a problem with someone lower in the hierarchy then it is ok to talk to them, but not aggressively, and certainly never in front of other staff. Take them aside and discuss your problem in a friendly manner. If it is someone equal or higher in status than you, this can become more delicate. If you feel comfortable with this person and have a basic personal relationship, it would be good to have a conversation and they would likely appreciate it if you made the first move since they will not likely bring it up. If the situation is drastic, between a colleague, it would be useful to ask another colleague to help mediate or to ask your superior to intervene. If you are having problems with a superior, then it might be useful to ask other external resources for advice on how to proceed. People who have a good professional working relationship with the superior, such as their supervisor or external consultants, funding agency representatives, etc. They won’t talk to you if they are having problems with you.

Malu and Bangga in Indonesia

Indonesians have been described as modest and shy. Monika Winarnita and Nicholas Herriman wrote on theconversation.com: “Malu means to be shy, embarrassed or ashamed. It’s a very ambivalent feeling which one both rejects and aspires to. In one sense, you don’t want to be too malu. Indonesians often feel malu, for example, that their nation doesn’t get into the World Cup, that their technology is relatively undeveloped, and so on. And yet, a malu person is humble and modest. In this sense, it is a very esteemed quality in an individual, and crucial in restraining passions such as sexual drive and anger. It enables one to negotiate – and perhaps even gracefully manipulate – social situations and interactions. But it also means to know one’s place. [Source: Monika Winarnita, Nicholas Herriman, theconversation.com, November 21, 2013 */*]

“If you don’t act malu when you should, you risk offending somebody. And one very formal – if rarely used – insult is tidak tahu malu, or: “you don’t have a sense of shame”. This was a prominent theme when Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono complained on Twitter about “the statement by Australia’s PM that belittles that spying on Indonesia", which was without rasa bersalah, which means “without feeling guilty/wrong” or “without remorse”. */*

“The flipside of this is bangga, which is self-esteem. In a perverse way, being spied on by United States and (to a much lesser extent) Australia demonstrates to Indonesia its importance in global politics. Also, through being malu, Indonesia may be able to manipulate this situation, creating a sense of pride. So, in a contradictory way the problem is that Indonesia feels too malu and Australia is not malu enough. In other words, Australia and prime minister Tony Abbott have not acted appropriately towards Indonesia and Yudhoyono. It’s not so much about saying sorry (as many Australians have urged of Abbott), but more about adopting the correct demeanour for the situation.” */*

Bapakisme- Loyalty to Hierarchical Structures

According to kwintessential.co.uk: 1) As with most group orientated cultures, hierarchy plays a great role in Indonesian culture. 2) Hierarchical relationships are respected, emphaised and maintained. 3) Respect is usually shown to those with status, power, position, and age. 4) This can be seen in both the village and the office where the most senior is expected to make group decisions. 5) Superiors are often called "bapak" or "ibu", which means the equivalent of father or mother, sir or madam. 6) Although those higher up the hierarchy make decisions Indonesians are advocates of group discussion and consensus. This ties back to the idea of maintaing strong group cohesiveness and harmonious relationships. [Source:kwintessential.co.uk]

George B. Whitfield III wrote on expat.or.id: “‘Loyalty to a hierarchical structure of authority’ is also called Bapakisme. At its worst it can be described as a blind submission to a higher authority with a lack of concern about work performance, standards, or initiative. At its best it is a system that encourages harmony, trust, and deference while motivating the subordinate to work diligently to obtain the superior’s goals. I believe that this value has its roots in the concept of natural born leaders and natural born followers. which translates in the marketplace as a kind of ‘divine right of bosses’. [Source: George B. Whitfield III expat.or.id ^^]

“In a society that values loyalty to a hierarchical structure of authority, subordinates may try to keep the boss happy, but may not understand what the boss really wants. Bosses are perceived to have divinely inspired knowledge and abilities. Good ideas flow from the boss and bad ideas are the fault of the subordinate. Seniors and superiors are to be respected due to their positions in a business’ hierarchical organization or, more generally, their positions in society, regardless of their sophistication, actual competence, or technical ability. Disrespect to a senior or superior may result in semi-divine retribution. This encourages the belief that a superior is always right. Rarely would a subordinate lose respect for, or argue with, a superior just because that person was obviously mistaken or overly concerned with his own status and the deference paid to him.^^

“If you cause a senior Indonesian manager to lose face, and the next day you are in a traffic accident, in the minds of many Indonesian office personnel there is a direct cause and effect relationship. You acted improperly, violated the natural order, and you were duly punished.If the boss mistakenly says that the sky is green in a meeting, for the duration of the meeting everyone may appear to operate on the assumption that the sky is green. Afterwards, information may be sent through an intermediary that, in fact, the sky is blue, allowing the Bapak to reconsider the sky’s true color before the next meeting. ^^

“While Indonesian personnel in senior positions are accorded the status of Bapak almost by default, foreign managers normally do not broadcast the same ‘signals’ as their Indonesian counterparts. Westerners often appear too egalitarian and friendly, or alternatively, vulgar and rude. They lack the aristocratic aura and ‘princely distance’ that characterizes the true Indonesian Bapak. Their subordinates may not feel comfortable in the non-standard relationship they must assume with the foreign boss and are not sure of his or her motivation and priorities. Thus foreigners, if they wish to assume the mantle of Bapak (Ibu for women), must earn it by fostering an image of parental concern and demonstrating a desire to look after the interests of their subordinates.” ^^

Avoiding Bad News and a Lack of True Information

Indonesians go throw great lengths not be a bearer of bad news and don’t like say no, instead telling people what they want to hear, to be polite.George B. Whitfield III wrote on expat.or.id: “Expatriates are often frustrated by lack of what they perceive as the ‘true information’ about a situation or problem and need to spend time explaining how they, as the Boss, want to be kept happy by having ‘bad news’ communicated as soon as possible so that actions may be taken to address the situation. Not conveying bad news is partly to protect the boss, the bearer of the news, or the bearer's own subordinates, and also to avoid drastic or upsetting actions being taken. There is a feeling that bringing bad news implicates the bearer.[Source: George B. Whitfield III expat.or.id ^^]

“Mid-level Indonesian managers may be reluctant to report problem areas within their own bailiwick. Therefore, a subordinate may try very hard to solve problems in his work area himself without disturbing the boss; thus losing the benefit of the boss’s wisdom and authority to influence the resolution of problems. Displays of displeasure or anger by foreigners upon receiving bad news almost guarantee that Indonesian personnel will remain silent in the future. Subordinates often must be encouraged to report potential and actual problems and this behavior positively reinforced if the boss wishes to be correctly informed in a timely manner. ^^

“Foreigners, when not informed of the ‘true’ situation by their Indonesian peers or subordinates, may decide that that employee is untrustworthy or incompetent, lose respect for that individual, and, thereafter, telegraph that lack of respect through actions and words. Indonesians are extremely sensitive to such signals and this can irreparably harm important business relationships.

Conflicts Avoidance in Indonesia

On “conflict avoidance” George B. Whitfield III wrote on expat.or.id: “‘Conflict Avoidance’ is also called Harmoni Kelompok. Most Indonesians value maintaining the appearance of harmony at all costs. This leads to situations involving possible obfuscation (e.g., saying ‘yes’ when they mean ‘no’) and perhaps taking an outwardly passive attitude toward most situations. There is a strong separation between appearance and reality in fundamental Indonesian belief systems. Usually, more importance is placed on the appearance or interpretation of a situation rather than on the ‘real’ facts or rational analysis. Reality is often best hidden. A few examples may best be of value here. [Source: George B. Whitfield III expat.or.id ^^]

If a problem arises in an Indonesian office, for many personnel it is often better to use the conflict resolution strategy of ‘denial’ to maintain the appearance of harmony rather than risk even the possibility of confrontation. This can be seen in the unwillingness of an employee to address problems or difficult situations and in the difficulty of accepting personal responsibility and demonstrating initiative. Former President Suharto often used a saying that loosely translates, “Everyone understands the situation without having to discuss it.” The underlying value being that discussing or using direct communication as a conflict resolution tool makes a situation or problem too real. This could lead to confrontation, which is to be avoided if at all possible, regardless of any possible beneficial effects. If an employee has made a mistake or serious error in the performance of the job, a supervisor who remonstrates that employee in private (i.e., behind closed doors) allows office personnel, though they are may be fully aware of the situation, to act as if nothing ‘disturbing’ has happened, thereby preserving the appearance of office harmony.

There is often a large gap between reality and appearance, with appearance being the more important. Situations that can be rationalized can be accepted, even though the ‘reality’ might not quite fit. Therefore, questions as to why health and safety standards are disregarded, or economic growth is low, can be blamed on outside factors and, by not assigning blame within the group, harmony is maintained.

Kekuatan Alami (‘Subjugation to Nature”)

On Kekuatan Alami (‘Subjugation to Nature”), George B. Whitfield III wrote on expat.or.id: “, Indonesians tend to take great comfort in common belief systems and religion. They are usually able to handle an unclear future because of faith; however, they also tend to be very superstitious, having a strong belief in the power of objects and events. This may lead to a failure to take responsibility for their own actions or to try hard to influence outcomes. Most Indonesians think that a belief in some kind of religion is necessary if one is to receive any of the benefits of life. Kekuatan Alami may also be seen in the lack of initiative and personal will to exert effort to change one’s life for the better. A quiet suffering is normally the proper response to life’s problems. Complaining about that which cannot be changed is considered disruptive to the group. [Source: George B. Whitfield III expat.or.id ^^]

“Western ideas of the value of emotional release are generally looked down upon. It is the common belief of most of Indonesian society that people should hold all of their negative emotions inside until the pressure becomes too much to bear and an expressive, emotional, and sometime violent albeit cleansing response, referred to as lari amok, occurs. Such a response is often believed to be caused by outside forces such as evil spirits, so the actions of an individual while experiencing this loss of emotional control are usually excused by society without punishment for evil acts committed while ‘possessed’ or otherwise out of control. ^^

“In another example, a subsistence-level farmer, who has had little contact with paper currency and less with political empowerment, may be encouraged by his culture and society to take the perspective that these circumstances are what God, nature, or the universe want for him and, therefore, he should be satisfied with his lot in life. Less educated company employees may take the same stance. ^^

“In Javanese-influenced Islam, a ‘good’ Muslim may also pray to, make sacrifices to, or perform rituals for the local sprits or places of power because their parents told them to. This following of village ritual, tradition, and ceremony without necessarily having an understanding of the belief system behind it – form separated from substance – is common. ^^

“Familial and religious obligations have strong power over Indonesians. If traditional rituals and ceremonies are not properly and duly performed, God, nature, or the universe will take serious retribution on the fates and lives of those involved. Since this exceeds the punishment that any employer might impose, such duties have greater priority than work. ^^

Face, Shame and Loss of Face in Indonesia

According to kwintessential.co.uk: 1) Due to the need to maintain group harmony the concept of 'face' is important to understand. 2) In Indonesia the concept is about avoiding the cause of shame ("malu"). 3) Consequently, people are very careful how they interact and speak. 4) Although a foreigner can not be expected to understand the nuances of the concept it is crucial to keep an eye on ones behaviour. 5) One should never ridicule, shout at or offend anyone. Imperfections should always be hidden and addresses privately. Similarly blame should never be aimed at any individual/group publicly. 6) One manifestation of the concept of face/shame is that Indonesians communite quite indirectly, i.e. they would never wish to cause anyone shame by giving them a negative answer so would phrase it a way where you would be expected to realise what they truly want to say. 7) Bahasa Indonesian actually has 12 ways of saying "No" and several other ways of saying "Yes" when the actual meaning is "No" !! [Source: kwintessential.co.uk]

On ‘face and social shame” in Indonesia, George B. Whitfield III wrote on expat.or.id: “In Indonesia there is a need to maintain the respect of one’s co-workers in order to have an enjoyable work situation, which also involves the indirect communication from a superior that one’s needs and well-being are being looked after and protected. Mistakes and errors should be freely forgiven or any criticism immediately given and then forgotten. This can sometimes be seen in the apparent lack of desire for professional development, the assumption that education ends upon hiring, or that one deserves respect because of one’s position and not because of competence or work performance. [Source: George B. Whitfield III expat.or.id ^^]

Criticism should never be given in public; an erring employee should be reprimanded in private for mistakes at work. All the other employees may know about the problem or error but because it was resolved behind closed doors, the co-workers can maintain the appearance of office harmony, pretending that the problem never existed. Subordinates can become easily upset, which can have serious consequences for the foreign superior creating the disharmony. Superiors should not make subordinates feel bad or attack their view of status or self-esteem. Subordinates normally do not take criticism easily, are frequently unwilling to take the ‘hard road’, and do not usually believe in a “no pain, no gain” mentality. They are generally not willing to sacrifice image, ego, or status to gain experience, develop professionally, or meet goals. Work situations generally must be enjoyable to have value. ^^

Sense of Time in Indonesia

In Indonesia, showing up half an hour late is often considered early. As a rule Indonesians take life at a slower pace than Westerners, who often seem like they are always in a hurry to Indonesians. In Sumatra the idea of "jam karet" or rubber time is an important concept. It means basically there is nothing you can do about the travails of life so what must be, must be. This used especially true in the old days on the buses in the rainy season. A journey that was supposed to take a couple of days can get bogged down in the mud and take several weeks. [Source: Harvey Arden, National Geographic, March 1981]

George B. Whitfield III wrote on expat.or.id: Punctuality is the responsibility of the subordinate. The higher the status of a person, the more he or she moves through life causing subordinates to adjust to and swirl around the superior’s schedule. The lack of a future time perspective in Indonesia is seen in areas such as health, safety, and maintenance. If work quality is sufficient for today’s needs, it is generally believed that there is no need to take extra steps to ensure continued quality for tomorrow. Such an approach can be seen in the perceived inattention to quality in business and the workplace and often results in projects being half finished by international business standards. Focus is most often on congratulating oneself on what went right rather than on attending to what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. Poor performance is often repeated. [Source: George B. Whitfield III expat.or.id ^^]

“For example, workman may install a split air conditioner, which looks good and works upon installation in an office. However, upon inspection of the compressor unit, one may find that it was not properly placed or supported. The unit works now, but will no doubt break down soon due to low quality installation. Work quality, that is, the intent for workmanship to last into the future, is part of a future time perspective. ^^

“Safety issues are also affected by the weak future time sense. Roadside arc welders normally use sunglasses in an attempt to protect their eyesight from the bright light generated by the welding. However, they seldom use facemasks. The welding is always bright, so the eyes must be protected every time. However, hot metal does not fly into the worker’s face every time that he welds, only sometimes. If there is a regularly occurring safety hazard, precautions are usually taken. A possibly dangerous future event will be only weakly comprehended and seldom will precautions be taken and the result can be seen in a family of four on one motorcycle. ^^

“The process is more important than the outcome. If everything was done in the time-honored and ‘correct’ way, there is no pressure to accept responsibility for failure. There is no sense of ‘Meet the Deadline or Die Trying’. Excuses for not meeting deadlines are many and various and more often than not involve allusion to outside agencies beyond the employee’s control. These excuses all have valid currency within the Indonesian society but are normally unacceptable to goal-oriented international businesspeople.” ^^

Persepsi Waktu (“Perception of Time”)

George B. Whitfield III wrote on expat.or.id: “Persepsi Waktu is the culture’s Perception of Time. The difference between the strong Western sense of Future Time (and its effects on scheduling, planning, deadlines, work quality, maintenance and safety) and the dominant Indonesian Past or Present Time focus is one of the strongest cultural barriers international businesspeople encounter operating in Indonesia. In traditional Indonesian business culture, planning, deadlines, and schedules may have little meaning or value; future time has no rigid segmentation. There is a belief that time is required to allow nature and the universe to reveal themselves. Forcing human concepts of time management on nature is seldom productive. The time needed to negotiate a business deal or to complete production of a product is generally seen as outside humankind’s control and attempts to influence the natural order are not humankind’s business.[Source: George B. Whitfield III expat.or.id ^^]

“A culture's sense of time is the importance given in that culture to the past, present or future. In a culture that is past-oriented, it is believed that man should look to tradition and precedent as a model for living today. A present-oriented culture believes that the present is everything and you should enjoy today with little concern for tomorrow. Finally, a culture that is future-oriented has a belief that planning and goal-setting make it possible for man to succeed. Most Western cultures are future-oriented with a very strong belief that organization, planning and goal achievement are the cornerstones of success. This is so important to some cultures that people from other cultures perceive them as being obsessive. For example, Americans are often seen as workaholics, placing the importance of success and goal accomplishment over that of personal relationships. ^^

“There is a wide gap between the way that mainstream Indonesian culture and most Western cultures view the sense of time. While Western cultures look to the future, the Indonesian culture is generally past-oriented. For instance, while most Indonesians have a keen perception of time, it is often focused on the past and includes an interest in heirlooms and a regard for ceremonies, rituals, history, and pedigrees.” ^^

Cultural Mental Illness

Koro is a mental disorder found in Malaysia (with similar disorder found elsewhere in East Asia) characterized by intense anxiety that sexual organs will recede into the body and cause death. There are occasional epidemics of the disorder.

Latah is a mental disorder found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and Thailand characterized nonsense mimicking others and trancelike behavior experienced after a sudden fright.

In Indonesia and Malaysia their is mental disorder called amok, experienced mostly by men, characterized by brooding and violent outburst caused by a slight or insult.

See Malaysia

Regional Differences

See Minorities, Bali, Papua,

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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