A collectivist mentality is at the core of the Indonesian social structure. Affiliation and togetherness are very important. For Indonesians, however, most activities (such as watching television, doing grocery shopping and eating) are done in the company of others.


Hierarchy is very important in Indonesian society and people’s status should be respected at all times. Status is mainly based on a person’s age, (job) position, level of education, wealth, fame, family connection and the size of your social network. How can we respect this Indonesian status? First of all through correct language usage and your social manner.

Conduct your first meeting with the highest ranking person of a company. An introduction from a local associate is helpful. Always determine who is the most senior person and shake hands with that person first. There will be a very strict hierarchy of who greets you first, second etc. and where you will sit. Similarly it is advised that your most senior representative acts as spokesperson and you refrain from having subordinates play a vocal role in the meeting. The right amount of deference should be paid to the senior people present. An Indonesian delegation will often enter the room in hierarchical order where the most prominent members entering first.


Indonesians place high value on maintaining harmonious social relations. When necessary this implies being indirect which by westerners sometimes can be interpreted as being dishonest or hypocritical. Vice versa, Indonesians expect others to be indirect to them too. Indonesians avoid confrontation at all costs. A person’s reputation and social standing rest on how you keep your cool and refrain from showing that you are upset. Aggressive behavior, showing frustration is not well regarded, being emotional, crying etc… will certainly make others very uncomfortable.


It is important to be aware that people of higher status in Indonesia should not lose face (especially not in public) and therefore it is advised not to criticize a person of higher status in public at all. If an Indonesian corporate leader makes mistakes or implements wrong policies that affect your business in a negative way land thus affects you), find an opportunity to meet, with just the two of you, and gently explain how business or policies can be improved, in your opinion, without criticizing existing policies too much. As a leader you also don’t criticize Indonesian employees in public.

Showing your anger, raising your voice to anybody in front of others will cause loss of face to both yourself and the person you are being angry at. Your Indonesian colleagues will lose their respect for you and the person you shouted at will not be able to bear the “loss of face” you caused for him/her.


In Indonesia, time is not money, building relationship is. Punctuality is not always observed, as Indonesians do not like to feel hurried and do not have the western sense of urgency. Indonesian culture demands that time be invested in building relationships, considering ideas, and preparing to act. Don’t assume tomorrow means tomorrow. Tomorrow may mean sometime in the future. Set specific dates and times for arrangements. Most Indonesians have a keen perception of time that is often focused on the past and includes an interest in heirlooms and a regard for ceremonies, rituals, history, and pedigrees.


Religion is part of daily life in Indonesia. People identify strongly with their religion. Whether or not they are devout practitioners is not relevant. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, however the country officially recognizes six religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Indonesians always assume that westerners are Christian. It is better to just declare yourself as a Christian (if you are an atheist), rather than asserting otherwise. When visiting a religious site, check with your Indonesian guides and friends to make sure you are following proper Indonesian etiquette.

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