Don’t be surprised if Indonesians feel uneasy when they meet you for the first time. That’s because they do not know who you are and so they do not know “how to place you”. Should I treat this person as an equal (i.e. the same age and/or social status) or should I treat him/her differently? An Indonesian has to know where to place you as soon as you meet them.

It is very common for Indonesians to err on the safe side by treating you as if you were “older and/or having a higher social status” and then slowly adjusting their behavior after they get to know you better.


Family is the first topic to be discussed, with the question of your marital status always being posed first. Whether you were married, and if not, whether you were then engaged to be married? They ask about children, their age, etc.

Do not be insulted, just change the subject if you do not want to answer. It is always safe to ask these questions in return and often it is necessary to go through this ritual of polite, light conversation (even in business) before getting to the topic or purpose of the meeting.

In a collectivist society, your Indonesian counterparts will always place family and community concerns over that of the business or individuals.


Where you are from is always asked and it is polite to ask this in return, particularly if you know the country a bit and can discuss their area of origin. Many Indonesians have moved around and are from other parts of the country originally.


They will ask you where you work, what your occupation is, where you were educated, and so on. You can answer all these questions casually if you do not want to answer them in detail.

Don’t overemphasize your personal successes.


Other welcome topics of conversation are Indonesian traditions, culture, and architecture; food, especially discussing the variety of local cuisine; sports, in general, is always a good topic, and the success and or future plans of your organization.


Age, as in many cultures, it is impolite to bluntly ask about their age.? Please avoid commenting on Indonesian customs that you find unusual; human rights, politics, the military influence, bureaucracy, corruption; sex, and roles of the sexes.

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