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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Jakarta, Indonesia

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

The (British) company my husband works for had an Indonesian lady come & tell us about faux-pas other expats had made & what was taboo in Indonesia. About 3 weeks before our move (from Texas) they decided to send someone to teach us basic Indonesian, not a good move as 3 weeks before moving across the globe you're not in the right mind set to listen or learn. Besides the teacher thought it would be a good idea to teach my husband pick up lines instead of office language. After the move my husband, got costly lessons but HR were merky to whether I was entitled & I didn't get any lessons despite being the linguist (I already speak 3 other languages), my husband is a tongue-tied scientist.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

I can understand most of what the locals say, but I do not speak with confidence. What I know I learned here.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Not really, since I have traveled within Asia for work prior to marriage as a translator/interpreter. Jakarta is a very cosmopolitan city & most things are written in English & Phoenician Alphabet is used everywhere so reading is easy for westerners. I also did a lot of "homework" prior to moving to Indonesia...I read "Culture Shock Jakarta" amongst many other publications & the web.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Hardly. So many people speak English & many western commodities are easily found here (unless the government is having one of it's temporary crackdowns or buy Indonesian Only phases).

The biggest culture shock for me has been the noise level. For some of the quietest spoken people, the Indonesians can be the noisiest when they get a loudspeaker or microphone in hand...& it can be daunting coming from all directions.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

There is a flip-side to living another culture & therefore, if you're not accepting of diversity you will be very unhappy. Of course, it is really annoying when someone takes your order at a restaurant, repeats it more than once & then brings you the wrong meal.

On the whole I'm happy & can laugh but it's only human to get more than slightly irritated at some people's lack of initiative. That said, nobody is EVER rude to you, unlike in the west.

I've lived in Jakarta for 3 years, some expats (the ones who see themselves as superior) can't hack it for much longer & become angry & ugly expats. I'm still enjoying it & hope to return one day.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

I have always considered myself privileged to be European, not just because I'm born to a truly democratic country, but one where the standard of living has been high.

I cannot be angry at a country or it's people for not being like me or not always understanding me. Why should they? After all, I am their guest & it's up to me to make the most of what they have to offer, not complain. To those people who do not like Indonesia & moan about it all the time, I say GO HOME!!

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

No matter how bad things are for the Indonesians, they always manage a smile. They are friendly & kind. Indonesia is wealthy in art & culture & history.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

You cannot get angry & shout at someone in Indonesia, they will close down totally. To "lose face" is the worst thing for an Indonesian, therefore they won't own up to not knowing something & shouting at them makes it worse.

People are afraid to say "no". Rather than say they can't or don't know something, they will say yes & then blunder through what ever they are doing. i.e. my husband is mentoring at work & has to ask 50 questions before he realizes his Indonesian colleague doesn't know what he's talking about. Or, tell a taxi driver the address you want to go to & he doesn't know where it is but drives in the wrong direction, so you have to direct him all the way.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

I asked for a "berak" necklace...instead of Perak (silver). I'd actually asked for a "shit" necklace. Amazing what mess you make with a B instead of a P!!!

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

For wives...NO MATTER HOW YOUNG YOU ARE, Sugar Daddies are extremely sought after... so if you don't have a rock solid marriage, Jakarta may not be the destination for you. If you are going to employ a nanny or housemaid, get someone more mature & already married & preferably someone who has worked for expats for many years.

For husbands...if you think you can get away with "a girlfriend," think again. The type of Indonesian girls who find "sugar Daddies" have more than one at a time, they are interested in your money, not you. It is not unusual to hear of "girlfriends" turning up at family homes to let the wife know of her existence if she thinks he will divorce his wife & marry her. When you marry an Indonesian girl, you inherit all her family, their problems & monetary needs.

Don't become an ugly expat. Treat your staff & new found friends with respect & dignity & they will do their utmost to make your stay in their country one of the happiest experiences of your life. Leave if you don't like it here, but don't think you are better than the locals (no matter their social position) are not, you are just different & had a different upbringing (not always a better one!).

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Comments about this Report

Oct 19, 2010 11:34

ummm..think you mean the Roman or Latin alphabet. The Phoenician alphabet died out a long, long time ago.

Jan 1, 2011 00:23

For husbands...if you think you can get away with "a girlfriend," think again. The type of Indonesian girls who find "sugar Daddies" have more than one at a time, they are interested in your money, not you. It is not unusual to hear of "girlfriends" turning up at family homes to let the wife know of her existence if she thinks he will divorce his wife & marry her. When you marry an Indonesian girl, you inherit all her family, their problems & monetary needs. This is very Rude report and very far from subjective point of view.. Maybe because u wrote a report but have very less knowledge bout Indonesia. Or your negative and narrow point of view because your arogancy being european woman. Unfortunately that your report is very far from reality,, most of Indonesia woman is well educated and they are very independent. For example : my self,, I graduated as Doctor of Dental Surgery and works as dentist in private clinic. Before u wrote a report there are one basic point that u should understand,that u really understand what u wrote and recognize well, and subjective.. Not only from your low and shallow point of view.. Bcos in this report u showed that u don't know anything bout Indonesia, and its like a fake and false report

Jan 9, 2011 06:08

ummm indonesian women are very nice and and by the way im dating an indonesian woman and we love each other very much. she doesnt love me for my money. she loves me for me. and u should really get to know indonesia before u actually comment on something like that, what u said was very rude. and im sure if alot of indonesian women saw this, they wouldnt be so very happy

Feb 21, 2011 13:26

What a thoroughly refreshing, honest and pleasant report!! You do understand what expat life is about! Do keep telling other people your truths! rgds, GJ de Beer (Indonesia 1974-75) France

Jan 4, 2013 02:19

I think the people who are offended by this report, regarding Indonesian women, who develope relationships with married men, are missing the point. The point is that the men are married. The author does not claim that all Indonesian/expat relationships are based on money, nor does she say that all Indonesian women are immoral and desire a foreign sugar daddy. She is specifically addressing a situation, which undeniably exists, where women have pursued married men in the hope that they will benefit financially. That these scenerios exist in Jakarta is a fact. i have witnessed many women flirt with my (married) father, and even proporsition him, right in front of my face. However,In a country with high levels of poverty, this is somewhat understandable, and I don't feel any enmity towards the women at all. I also feel that if a married man falls into such a relationship he is equally to blame, if not more, than the woman, as he is taking advantage of his position, of financial security, over a woman who may be acting out of desperation. Again, this only refers to the relationships born out of cheating, and is in no way a commentary on all Indonesian/expat relationships. I know of many that are based on real love and companionship. To the lady who attacked the author as being 'low and shallow' as well an arrogant European woman, your statements reflect just as much racial prejudice and ignorance as that which you claim to be offended by.

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