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Social Eating Etiquette and Faux Pas in Indonesia

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When visiting others, whether it be professionally or as a guest, most of us have the basic skills of etiquette. From a young age, we are taught proper etiquette at the dinner table, regardless of where we are to dine. Indonesian culture is similar, yet d

When visiting others, whether it be professionally or as a guest, most of us have the basic skills of etiquette. From a young age, we are taught proper etiquette at the dinner table, regardless of where we are to dine. In some cultures, such as Indonesia, the culture may vary simply due to their religion. Indonesia is primarily comprised of Muslims, as well as Hindus, Christians, and others. One of the primary practices of the Muslims in Indonesia is that of the month of Ramadan, and a time of fasting. It is impolite to eat or drink in public. Although not all, but there are restaurants that serve to the public, yet will cover their windows. It is wise to learn the basics of etiquette within their culture.

The Indonesians are very much family oriented and respectful towards their elders. They do not show anger in the presence of others which is way for those concerned to maintain honor and dignity, what we call in the West as “Saving Face.” If there is a disagreement, it is customary to discuss the issues in private. Elders are of importance at all times, including when dining.

Dining in the Indonesian home is communal, possible close to what Westerners know as “family style.” Indonesians have a different style, etiquette, and faux pas which should be learned by those visiting Indonesia or the home of an Indonesian. One major point is to remember that the Elders always take food and eat first, as well as giving permission to eat to the others. Dress is similar to those in the West. Young boys may wear traditinal Indonsian (javanese) dress.

Communal Dining Etiquette

  • Always wash hands first.
  • Elders take food from the communal dishes and eat first.
  • Guests are to ask for permission to eat which is usually granted by the elders.
  • Do not take food from communal dishes with the same utensils that you will eat with.
  • Do not speak, laugh or make any sounds with food in your mouth.
  • Eat slowly. Slurping and eating rapidly is rude and a sign of being greedy.
  • Clean plate: Do not leave food, especially rice on your plate. To do so is a sign of greed.
  • Place food on your plate using your right hand only. (The left hand is used for toilets.)
  • Always eat with your right hand.
  • It is normal to eat rice with your fingers. However, it is acceptable to eat rice with utensils.
  • When eating with utensils:
  • Keep the fork and spoon in your hands at all times. The fork is used for the picking up of vegetables and meat, while the spoon is used to pick up the rest of the food, with a few exceptions such as bread or rolls.
  • When you are done eating, place the fork on your plate with the tines facing down, and the spoon is to be lie crossed over the fork.
  • Knives will not be found on the table or used as part of the table setting.

Dining In The Home

  • Guests should arrive 30 minutes late. This allows for the hostess time to finish the meal or last minute preparations.
  • Hostess eats first and then gives guests permission to eat. Do not overdo it with praising her cooking. Simply tell her that the meal is good. Otherwise, you may find the hostess adding more food to your plate. Remember, it is sign of greed, if your plate has food left on it.

Restaurant Dining

  • Often there may be a water bowl with lemon in it. This is to be used for washing fingers and hands before and after eating, which is called “air kobakan.” In the Western world, this is also called a “finger bowl.”
  • Payment for meal: The inviter pays the check. If the guest insists “going dutch”, you should offer to pay for the meal anyway.

There is one unusual custom in regards to who pays for the meal. Birthday meals that include invited guests are not uncommon. However, if it is your birthday, you are the inviter, therefore you pay. It is also customary to give the hostess a gift.

1 comment

deepa venkitesh
Posted on Jul 21, 2011

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Linda Smith

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