Life in Jakarta can be quite transient. Expats come and go; either having been hired for a short term contract or having found the city’s challenges a tad too trying. But we greatly respect everyone who is eager to learn to live the ‘Jakarta way’.
For those of us who have lasted more than a few years – and there is a big group that has thrived here for decades – they start to notice the peculiarities of life in the Big Durian: the nuances of culture, the expectations, the best way to get around life's challenges. So just for fun, here are a few “do’s” and “don’ts” to help you understand life here that little bit better.
1. Do always have small money and change. Don’t expect taxi drivers, food delivery people or even sometimes mini marts to have change for anything over IDR 20,000.
2. Do remember to buy oleh-oleh (souvenirs) for your Indonesian colleagues when you go on holiday, or even a short business trip.
3. Do pick a religion and stick to it. It’s easier just to say you are “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Buddhist” than to try and explain that you’re agnostic!
4. Do remember to give drivers, housekeepers, gardeners and other staff Ramadan bonus. It's called THR (Tunjangan Hari Raya) and usually it’s an extra month’s salary. In companies, it is compulsory.
5. Do take a portable phone charger, water, snacks and laptop in the car with you. You will run into traffic and you will be bored silly, especially if your phone runs out of battery! Maybe even keep a book there?
6. Do try and learn a bit of the language. Even if you speak with a broad accent, Indonesians will appreciate the effort and say you’re good. (Even when you’re clearly terrible.)
7. Do go to an Indonesian wedding. Even just once. It is much appreciated.
8. Do invest a batik skirt or dress to wear on Fridays in the office. It’s unique to Indonesia and shows respect for the culture.
9. Do buy cakes, donuts or pizza for your colleagues on your birthday, not on their birthday! Or take them out and treat them!
10. Do learn the Indonesian way of doing business, which is less direct and more personal and friendly.
11. Do pass over your business card to someone holding it with two hands.
12. Do eat at a warteg at least once. The food is delicious and cheap.
13. Do make use of the malls. At first you will try to refuse their overbearing presence, but they are useful and have everything you would need under one roof.
14. Do make use of social media for professional or business purposes. Its influence here cannot be underestimated! Get on facebook today!
15. Do get ready to pose for photographs with Indonesian school kids if you visit Kota Tua, Ragunan Zoo or Taman Mini. They love it.
16. Do expect to be asked for group photos or “selfies” at every possible event or occasion.
17. Do try to explore the city with public transportations. The TransJakarta, Commuter Line, and now Mass Rapid Transit are fun and those transportation modes will take you to most of places of interest in Jakarta.
18. Do join the expat communities. There are many associations in Jakarta, based on the country origin of the members. Try the BWA, ANZA, or AWA for example.
19. Do visit Jakarta's surrounding cities. You must have known Bali but Bogor, Tangerang, and Bandung also offer interesting places and activities. And by the way The Thousand Islands, just offshore, are actually part of 'Jakarta'.
1. Don’t (well try not to) get angry or raise your voice. For Indonesians it’s just not the done thing. And if you do - don't swear - it is not accepted.
2. Don’t expect to get things done at a normal speed over the holy month of Ramadan. Everything slows down completely.
3. Don’t get too personal with your girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife in public. Rolling around in the sun in a park kissing is not the done thing.
4. Don’t wear a bikini anywhere other than South Bali and expect not to attract attention.
5. Don’t be surprised when guests arrive an hour or two late to big events. The traffic has made lateness a bit of a culture here.
6. Don’t hesitate to ask personal questions to someone you have just met. Indonesians don’t mind and it is totally acceptable to ask about marital status, age and salary (they will ask you the questions back!)
7. Don’t get offended when your Indonesian friends say you look tired or you have gained or lost weight. They are that honest!
8. Don’t get too personal with greetings. Sometimes a kiss on the cheek is inappropriate!
9. Don’t publicly complain, get angry or take action about the noise from mosques. It’s a touchy subject!
10. Don’t always expect your taxi driver to know where things are. Unless it’s a mall, a mosque or a government building.
11. Don’t be surprised to hear loudly and unashamed burping after a good meal. It’s not considered to be impolite in traditional Indonesian culture.
12. Don’t use your left hand to pass anything. Traditionally, it was the hand used for toilet duties!
13. Don’t be surprised to find public toilets absolutely soaking and wet all over. Big scoops of clean water are poured all over the toilet seat after use.
14. Don’t go looking in the wrong places for love. Gentlemen, the ladies you meet in Blok M, Kota Tua and Jalan Jaksa will often expect to be paid for their company.
15. Don't do business meetings on Friday lunchtime. Most of Indonesians are Muslims and the men are obliged to conduct Friday prayers on lunchtime.
There are many other things that you can only learn by actually living in the city. If you plan to ease your way to the life in the capital, you can join various expat communities available here in the city. Or you can also contact experienced organizations that offer their insightful services to help you settle. One of them is EMC Indonesia. Led by Esti McMillan and Esti Lestari, they help expats who are moving to Indonesia settle into local life. Their services include home and school search, immigration services, language training, and cultural orientation.
For more information about their services, visit www.emcindonesia.com.