Musings on Living Cross-Culturally (part 2)

I’d rather you not hit me

Crossing the street here is a bit of an art.  Cars are rushing by, traveling at a range of speeds.  It turns into a game of backward Frogger, trying to dodge varying vehicles, but having to look for cars coming from the direction opposite of the one you are used to.  The entertaining part to me is that you must let said cars know that you would prefer that they didn’t flatten you.  Your existence in the street is not enough to convey that message; while crossing, you must hold out your hand.  Translation: “I’m here, don’t hit me.”


It takes about 9,300 Indonesian rupiah to reach the equivalent of $1 USD.  For ease, we figure about 10,000 rupiah to the dollar.  This means that we are perpetual millionaires – we get paid in the millions, spend hundreds of thousands a day.  When I first arrived here, the big numbers were a bit frightening, I felt like I was spending more than I realistically was.  Now my only fear is what will happen to my spending when I return to the world of dollars!

Hi Stranger, let me help you!

One thing that has been a huge blessing to me here is peoples’ willingness to drop what they’re doing and help.  In the states, I feel like we tend to be rather unaware of those around us that we do not know; to go communications nerd on you for a second, we subconsciously place people into a “social relationships” category.  We tend to see those people for their positions, not as a person.  That’s why being a waitress is so darn difficult – people see you as a waitress, not as a person.  This mental organization definitely exists here, too, but as a strange I don’t feel like I am put in that side category.  People have been so willing to stop and help me find something, to translate, or to point me in the right direction.  Hopefully it will rub off on me!

Hello, Mr. President

Status is a very important thing here.  This deep-seeded teirs-of-respect system seeps through to the surface in many different ways.  For example, titles are hugely important here: everyone is referred to as ibu (miss) or pak (mister).  My favorite visualization, though, is in the uniforms.  Uniforms being a sign of status, everyone is dressed to the T.  Honestly, you would think that the hotel security guard was a high ranking general, judging by his garb.

Judge the book by it’s cover

On this note, appearances are, indeed, very important.  The comical part though, is that it is literally the appearance that is so vital.  This often plays out in ways that would seem pointless to me, coming from another culture, but it’s all about priorities and perspectives.  The one that lends me a moment of giggling every afternoon is the lobby of my apartment building.  It is very well-guarded.  Four security personnel man the metal detector.  I walk through the medal detector, fully decked out in my shoes, bag, and any hypothetical weapons or bombs that I desire to take in with me, and promptly set of the alarm.  They smile and nod to me.  You see, folks, their security looks impressive, and that’s what matters.


Now, Indonesians don’t technically crawl, but they definitely don’t walk (as defined by yours truly), either… I would say they meander.  Coming from Western culture and watching someone here walk, you would think that a) they dread arriving at their destination, b) they are secret agents, carefully studying everything that they pass for secret clues, or c) they are doing their best imitation of a sloth.  I, on the other hand, have been genetically engineered and nurtured to walk at an obnoxiously brisk place.  Needless to say, I have  mastered weaving techniques.

These are just a few of the differences that I notice as I live everyday life here.  Some of these perceptions will probably change, and others will most likely fade into a “totally normal” category.  While I’m new and aware, though, I’m doing my best to write them down!  If you’re a culture nerd (like me!) and these things fascinate you, too, you can read about a few other cultural observations here.


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