Offensive Hand Gestures in Indonesia – Culture – Etiquette

Welcome back! Ready for the new lesson?

Learning about a certain language does not only means remember all of the words or understand its grammar, but also learn about culture, society and people. On the other word, learning Bahasa Indonesia means you need understand its sacred Communication Etiquette in Indonesian and even Indonesian Greeting Etiquette and Manners. At this time, we will explore more about hand gesture because it could give you the impression, bad or good.

Offensive Hand Gestures in Indonesia

But, let’s be more specific with offensive hand gestures in Indonesia so you won’t make ridiculous mistakes just because you do not know.

Notes: Because Indonesia consists diverse society, some of the gesture are general, however the others are only considered offensive in certain society or culture

Before we start, check also.

1. Finger Pointing

Yes, finger pointing is considered rude in Indonesia. It gives impression of patronizing, countering, rage and even bossy. On the other word, it shows no respect to interlocutor. Therefore, sometimes, people may got offended because they felt degraded.

Moreover, in Javanese culture never pointing your finger to older people, especially above their chest (face, eyes) because it is really offensive and disrespectful. In addition, this cultures has been in the society ever since the past. Instead, long time ago if you pointing your finger to the head or eyes to a king, you would be beheaded!

Further reading: Coversation about Indonesian Culture

2. Folding Arms Across Chest

Okay, this one might also exist in many places in the word. Yes, psychologically, folding arms across your chest means you do not want to be interrupted. In Indonesia, it is also considered disrespectful because it gives arrogant impression, like a boss, or grumpy. Except you get cold, just stand or sit as usual and listen or talk to your friend or you might just build a distance to them! 

3. Shaking Hands

In business relationship, shaking hands of course show your respect to the partner. But, now we are talking about culture. In the big city like Jakarta, there are no problems with shaking hands. But, if you go to some Javanese speaking region, there are two different types of shaking hands. First is the usual shaking hands, mostly in formal situation or to peer group.

The second one is called ‘salim’, which is shaking hand and then followed by kissing the hands the older one by the younger one, such as teacher and student, parents and kid, grandparents and their grandchild. Using the usual shake hands to the latter condition means you treat them like your friends (same age), and abandon the culture of ‘respect to the elderly’.

However, this does not happened in the metropolitan city and might got awkward if you do it. Therefore, adaptation skill is very important, beside cultural understanding!

Moreover, for the Muslim, it is restricted to get/be touched to and by the opposite sex after wudhu (clean yourself before praying) until the praying. So, they could not shake your hands too in that condition and to respect them, you are prohibited to touch them in that condition because it would disturb them. In addition, some people also refuse to be touched by opposite sex (usually for shaking hands) because their religion belief. So, know your interlocutor!

Furthermore, never ever use your left hand when shaking hands even if you are left-handed. Majority of Indonesian (especially whom is really strict to the culture) very against it because we have local knowledge of ‘eat with your right hand’ or ‘use your good hand (means right). It happened because they believe that the left hand is used to clean your lower part when you poop/pee.

Read also: Indonesian Dirty Words

4. Gesture means “F*ck you”

The last one is the offensive hand gesture means f*ck you. There are two types of it. First, as the world know is using your middle finger. Yes, it is same with other countries because Indonesian also absorb some Western influence through movie, series and many more. So, do not use your lovely middle finger. On the other hand, there is more locally hand gesture of “f*ck you”, some might said it is symbolized woman reproduction apparatus, but basically it is an inappropriate gesture.

The gesture is hold your hand to a fist and put your thumb between your index finger and middle finger. If you can’t imagine it, it is similar to American Sign Language for the letter ‘T’. Furthermore, the funny fact is you could find it as a big installation at the Fatahillah Museum square at Kota Tua (Old Town) in Jakarta. It was actually the Portuguese sign of ‘Good Luck’. What about your country? Do the gesture has a meaning?

Read also : Untranslatable Indonesian Words with No English Equivalent

Notes: Moreover, even though it is not a hand gesture, in Javanese culture (especially still believed and applied by the older generation), do not sit higher than the elderly, because like the hand shakes it is about the respect. The sit symbolizes your position, the lower place is similar too. So, basically, know the culture and of course the people to avoid the offensive behavior.

Those are the offensive hand gestures in Indonesia. Some might be very weird to other society in other countries. Nonetheless, I believe every nation has its own cultural perspective through their hands gesture. If you want to find out more about Indonesian culture, you could check these following articles.

Good luck and get use to it!