Indonesian Greeting Customs – Language – Culture

One of the hardest things about learning a language is that you have to learn about the customs. Like it or not, language somehow intertwines with customs, traditions, and culture including greeting customs. Greeting is something common in Indonesia. It is part of polite act which everyone conducts every day.

Indonesian Greeting Customs

People from western countries usually greet each other with handshake, hugs, and kisses on the cheek. Well, each country has its own way of greetings and so does Indonesia. When you are planning to visit or stay in Indonesia, it is always important to learn the greeting customs. In general, Indonesian greetings are divided into formal and informal greetings. Also learn Indonesian wisdom words.

In Indonesia, there is a term called ‘silaturahmi’ which means building relationship with others especially those whom you rarely see. This act includes greeting each other and asks how are you doing or simply having small talk.

Indonesian Formal Greetings Customs 

The formal Indonesian greeting customs are mostly used in formal occasion such as at office, business occasion, or when greet older people. Also read How to Say Hello in Indonesian.

  • Hand shake – handshaking is a basic greeting in Indonesia. The general rule of handshaking is basically the same as in western. You need to hold the hands firmly and if it is the first meeting, do not forget to say your name. Hand shake is mandatory in office or business environment, but it can be replaced with slight bow or nod and smile if you already know the person.
    Even though hand shake is basic greeting, but you have to be careful when offering hands to opposite sex. It is important to remember to only offer handshake to women only when she initiates it. If she is not willing to shake your hands, smile and nod should be enough. Also learn about Indonesian business phrases.
  • Standing up – when your first position is sitting then someone comes, you can stand up to welcome them. Standing up to welcome someone shows that you are respecting them. After standing up, you shake their hands and continue sitting and talking.
  • Slight bow – it is a common thing in Indonesia when you walk in front of bunch of elders (especially when they are sitting), it is crucial to give a slight bow while you pass by. It is not the same as Japanese of Korean bow, you just need lower your upper body and knee slightly. While you pass by and bow a little, do not forget to say ‘permisi’ or excuse me.
  • Calling the name by Bu or Pak, Mas or Mbak – calling people, especially older people and those you are not close enough, by their name is considered impolite. When you greet someone, you can use Pak, Bu, Mas, or Mbak before the name. That’s like, “Mr, Mrs, Sir, Madam”
  • Saying Assalamualaikum – the majority religion in Indonesia is Islam, so it is common for the people to use Assalamualaikum to greet each other. However, this Islamic greeting is only used among Islam people or Islamic occasion only. If you are not a Moslem, you can use the general greetings. Also read Indonesian idioms and expression

Indonesian Informal Greetings Customs 

The informal greetings are used to greet people who you already know in person or close with. Before using informal greeting, make sure that the occasion is also informal. Even though you are close to the person, but when in business occasion or at office, formal greeting is most advisable for professionalism. Also read Indonesian wedding greetings.

  • Waving hands – to greet someone you already close, you can just wave your hands and say ‘Hai,apa kabar?’.
  • Using vehicle horn – honking is also a common type of greeting especially when you are behind the wheel. It does not have to be a long sound, short honk is enough to greet people.
  • Nodding and smiling – nod and smile is crucial in Indonesian greetings. It is considered as rude if you greet someone with smile-less and bitch-face. Unless you are PMS, make sure to always smile when greet someone. 

Big don’ts in Indonesian Greetings

Once again, greeting can be quite different from Indonesian and western people. Also, there are some greetings form which is a big prohibition in Indonesian as the following.

  • Left hand is prohibited
  • No pat on people’s head, even to children, unless you are really close to the children.
  • Do not call older people by their name, especially to older people
  • No kiss on the cheek and hugging to opposite sex

Indonesia is famous for being a friendly country where the people greet and smile even to strangers and tourist. In some cases, some people may also ask to take picture with tourists. It does not they are being rude or annoying; it is just they want to be friendly with tourists.

You can be friendly with them by replaying their greet, but still, do not let your guard down because bad people will always everywhere, in Indonesia and other parts of the world. Thus, may you learn more about Indonesian greeting customs.