Indonesia Culture, Customs & Business Etiquette

Indonesia Culture, Customs & Business Etiquette


  • General Etiquette Guidelines:--
  • Meeting & Greeting
  • Gift Giving Etiquette
  • Dining Etiquette
  • Business Etiquette & Protocol:--
  • Business Cards
  • What to Wear
  • Communication Styles
  • Business Meetings


  1. Meeting & Greeting
    Greetings can be rather formal as they are meant to show respect.
    A handshake is the most common greeting accompanied with the word "Selamat".
    Many Indonesians may give a slight bow or place their hands on their heart after shaking your hand.
    If you are being introduced to several people, always start with the eldest or most senior person first.
    Titles are important in Indonesia as they signify status. If you know of any titles ensure you use them in conjunction with the name.
    Some Indonesians only have one name, although it is becoming more common for people to have a first name and a surname, especially in the middle class.
    Many Indonesians, especially those from Java, may have had an extremely long name, which was shortened into a sort of nickname for everyday conversation.
    There are many ethnic groups in Indonesia. Most have adopted Indonesian names over the years, while some retain the naming conventions of their ethnicity.

    Gift Giving Etiquette
    Gift giving etiquette in Indonesia heavily depends on the ethnicity of the receiver.
    Here are some general gift giving guidelines:
    Gift Giving Etiquette for the Chinese:
      It is considered polite to verbally refuse a gift before accepting it. This shows that the recipient is not greedy.
      Items to avoid include scissors, knives or other cutting utensils as they indicate that you want to sever the relationship.
      Elaborate wrapping is expected - gold and red and considered auspicious.
      Gifts are not opened when received.
    Gift Giving Etiquette for Ethnic Malays & Muslims:
      In Islam alcohol is forbidden. Only give alcohol if you know the recipient will appreciate it.
      Any food substance should be "halal" - things that are not halal include anything with alcoholic ingredients or anything with pork derivatives such as gelatine. Halal meat means the animal has been slaughtered according to Islamic principles.
      Offer gifts with the right hand only.
      Gifts are not opened when received.
    Gift Giving Etiquette for Ethnic Indians:
      Offer gifts with the right hand only.
      Wrap gifts in red, yellow or green paper or other bright colours as these bring good fortune.
      Do not give leather products to a Hindu.
      Do not give alcohol unless you are certain the recipient imbibes.
      Gifts are not opened when received.
    Dining Etiquette
    Dining etiquette is generally relaxed but depends on the setting and context. The more formal the occasion the more formal the behaviour. Below are some basic dining etiquette tips:
      Wait to be shown to your place - as a guest you will have a specific position.
      Food is often taken from a shared dish in the middle. You will be served the food and it would not be considered rude if you helped yourself after that.
      If food is served buffet style, then the guest is generally asked to help themselves first. It is considered polite that the guest insist others go before him/her but this would never happen.
      In formal situations, men are served before women.
      Wait to be invited to eat before you start.
      A fork and spoon are often the only utensils at the place setting. Depending on the situation, some people may use their hands.
      Eat or pass food with your right hand only.
    Business Cards

    Business cards are normally exchanged after the initial handshake and greeting.
    Business cards should display your title. This helps enhance your image and credibility. Although not required, having one side of your card printed in Bahasa shows respect.
    Give/accept cards using two hands or the right hand.
    Examine a business card you receive before putting it on the table next to you or in a business card case.
    It is important to treat business cards with respect.
    What to Wear
    Business attire is generally conservative.
    Women should dress conservatively ensuring that they are well covered from ankle to neck. Tight fitting clothes are best avoided. Remember - it is HOT, so cotton or at least light clothing is best.
    Communication Styles
    Indonesians are indirect communicators. This means they do not always say what they mean. It is up to the listener to read between the lines or pay attention to gestures and body language to get the real message.
    Generally speaking Indonesians speak quietly and with a subdued tone. Loud people would come across as slightly aggressive.
    Business is personal in Indonesia, so spend time through communication to build a strong relationship. Dealing with someone face-to-face is the only effective way of doing business.
    Indonesians abhor confrontation due to the potential loss of face. To be polite, they may tell you what they think you want to hear. If you offend them, they will mask their feelings and maintain a veil of civility. If an Indonesian begins to avoid you or acts coldly towards you, there is a serious problem.
    Business Meetings
    Initial meetings may be more about getting-to-know-you rather than business. Do not be surprised if business is not even discussed.
    It is common for Indonesians to enter the meeting room according to rank. Although you do not have to do this, doing so would give a good impression.
    Indonesians do not make hasty decisions because they might be viewed as not having given the matter sufficient consideration. Be prepared to exercise patience.
    Jam Karet" (rubber time) describes the Indonesian approach to time. Things are not rushed, as the attitude is that everything has its time and place. Time does not bring money, good relations and harmony do.
    If negotiating, avoid pressure tactics as they are likely to backfire.