Indonesian Body Language and Gestures

It’s not only when we speak that we say things. Body language and gestures speak volumes, but only if you know how to “listen.” And just like understanding Indonesian spoken language, understanding the non-verbal can sometimes be very frustrating! But, interestingly enough, Indonesian gestures are often much less vague than the spoken language.

The following guide will help you “sound” more Indonesian in manner and recognise some of the most-used gestures. It was highly inspired by Tofugu’s “Japanese Body Language and Gestures” – check it out! This Indonesian version was compiled by Ibu Pipit, Ibu Lydia, Pak Wilfred, Pak Ady, Ibu Francesca, Pak Adi, Ibu Kiki, and Ibu Penny in 2012.

Greetings

When you meet an Indonesian person for the first time, you need to make some quick decisions! Do you refer to them formally as Bapak or Ibu or more informally as Kakak/kak, Adik/dik, Mbak or Mas? Do you shake their hand or offer both of your hands with palms together? The following guides may help but it’s often best just to let them take the lead!

Greeting an elder

To greet an elder (a respected person in the community, a teacher, your parents, grandmother, and so on), move their offered hand to slightly touch your forehead.

Bersalaman dengan orang yang lebih tua dari Anda. Angkat telapak tangan orang tersebut hingga menyentuh kening Anda.

Shaking hands

Shake hands softly and then slightly touch your chest afterwards. Men usually give a stronger grip than women when they are shaking hands.

Jabat tangan/bersalaman lalu telapak tangan menyentuh dada (sentuh dada Anda sendiri. Bukan lawan bicara!) sebagai tanda ketulusan.

Touching your chest after shaking hands demonstrates respect to other person (you’re taking their greeting into your heart).

Jabat tangan sesama laki-laki biasanya lebih kuat dibandingkan dengan perempuan.

It’s often OK to shake hands with someone of the opposite sex. Just use a soft grip…

Jabat tangan/bersalaman dengan lawan jenis juga bisa tapi genggamannya jangan terlalu kuat ya!

…and then slightly touch your own chest as well.  Lalu sentuh dada Anda sendiri.

Greeting another female friend

When female friends meet, they often greet each other by  kissing cheek to cheek. This is known as cipika cipiki in Indonesian.

Cium pipi kanan (cipika) dan cium pipi kiri (cipiki) ketika bertemu dengan teman. Biasanya untuk perempuan.


An alternative greeting

Sometimes you may meet a Muslim Indonesian who will not touch someone (who they don’t know) of the opposite sex. Greet them with your hands together instead and bow a little bit.

Kadang-kadang ada Muslim Indonesia yang tidak bisa bersalaman dengan lawan jenis. Salami mereka dengan kedua telapak tangan tanpa menyentuh tangan mereka. Tundukkan badan Anda sedikit.

Welcoming a guest

When welcoming people through a door or entryway (“silakan masuk“), gesture using your palm or thumb (never use your index finger to point or gesture!).

Gunakan ibu jari ketika mempersilahkan tamu. Jangan menunjuk dengan jari telunjuk karena itu tidak sopan.

Interactions

There are many hidden messages in dealing with other people. Always defer to people older than yourself, and more respect is better than less!

Giving and receiving things

Always use your right hand when passing and receiving things.

Ingat untuk selalu menggunakan tangan kanan ketika memberi atau menerima sesuatu.

Using the left hand is considered very impolite.

Jangan menggunakan tangan kiri karena itu sangat tidak sopan.

Slightly bow your head as you say thank you.

Lalu tundukkan kepala Anda sedikit saat mengucapkan terima kasih.

Calling someone over

Instead of waving your fingers upwards as you would in Australia, wave your fingers downwards.

Memanggil orang lain dengan melambaikan jari tangan Anda ke arah bawah.


(For)get the point

Similarly, when you point at something or someone, never use your index finger. In Java, it’s common to use your thumb instead.

Jangan pernah menunjuk ke seseorang atau sesuatu dengan jari telunjuk. Kurang sopan!

Walking past people

Slightly bow your body and put your right hand in front of your body as you walk in front of someone. And don’t forget to say “permisi”.

Tundukkan badan dan tangan Anda sedikit saat lewat di depan orang lain dan ucapkan “permisi”.

Telling it like it is

Indonesians aren’t shy when it comes to giving advice and making remarks about your/others’ physical appearance and manner(s). It takes some getting used to!

#firstworldproblems

“Kassseeehaaaan deh loe” was made famous by a sinetron in the early naughties. Together with the index-finger-swipe-gesture it’s the Indonesian equivalent of “bring out the violins” or “poor, pitiful you”. “Kasihan deh loe!” The gesture lends the phrase a certain sarcasm.

“Kasihan deh loe” adalah bahasa tubuh yang populer dari sinetron di Indonesia, biasanya menggunakan gerakan jari telunjuk yang diliuk-liukkan dari atas ke bawah. Memiliki makna yang sarkastis.


So over it! Capek deh!

Had enough? Over it already? Gesture like this and exclaim, “capek deh!” “Oh no, not again!”

Jika Anda bertemu orang yang membuatmu merasa capek karena tingkah lakunya (mungkin karena dia sangat menyebalkan) Anda bisa menggunakan bahasa tubuh ini.

You’re nuts, man!

Gile, lu! Calling someone gila is a pretty severe insult but this gesture lessens the impact: “You need a frontal lobotomy!”

Gerakan menggaris dahi menunjukkan kalau orang yang Anda amsuk otaknya cuma setengah, jadi menandakan dia tidak bisa berpikir maksimal, alias gila.

Use your brain, not your knee!

“Pakai otak, bukan pakai dengkul” is commonly said to people who do stupid things without thinking – their common sense comes up to the height of their knee, rather than the height of their brain!

Di Indonesia, jika Anda melakukan sesuatu yang bodoh, Anda akan dianggap tidak mampu menggunakan otak Anda namun pakai dengkul, jadi bahasa tubuh ini menunjukkan bahwa Anda itu sangat bodohnya sampai kecerdasanmu tidak sampai di otak, tapi cuma sampai dengkul/lutut.


Piece of cake!

When a concern/issue is “keciiiiiiil.” Touch the tip of your thumb with your index finger and then flick your index finger away. This gesture accompanies the phrase, “Masalah itu kecil sekali sampai bisa disentil” or “That problem is so easy to handle it’s like flicking away a speck of dust.”

 

Breaking up isn’t hard to do

How to break up with your pacar or even just a friend.


Doing my head in! Pusing!

What to say when you’re dizzy (pusing) with ideas, confusion… everything! It’s giving you a headache! “Pusing banget, sih!” But be careful saying “pusing” in Malaysia: There it means “to drive.”

Ketika Anda sangat bingung dan akhirnya tidak bisa berpikir, jadinya pusing. Hati-hati: dalam bahasa Melayu, “pusing” artinya “mengemudi mobil.”


Everyday life

And then there’s the body language of everyday life. These gestures/poses are a few things Indonesian people do almost unconsciously.

Sitting

Males: Sit with your feet crossed at the ankles. In Indonesian, this pose is called “bersila“.

Laki-laki duduk dengan menyilangkan kedua kakinya (bersila).

Females: Sit with your feet tucked under you, turned down on the floor.

Perempuan duduk dengan melipat kakinya hingga betis menyentuh lantai.

 Eating

Food tastes better when you eat with your hands! Indonesians call this the “eleven finger-fork”

Orang Indonesia suka makan dengan tangan karena makanan akan terasa lebih enak. Mereka menyebutnya “garpu sebelas jari”.

To eat Indonesian style, pinch your thumb and fingers together around the food, making it into a ball and eat! This is usually done with rice. Perhaps avoid this technique if you are left-handed, though, and ask for a spoon and fork!

Gunakan jari tangan untuk menyuap makanan ke mulut. Tapi, jangan pakai tangan kiri!

Get in line!

Stand closely to the others in line when you queue in Indonesia. Expect “VIPs” to push in!

Orang Indonesia berdiri berdekatan saat mengantri.


What would you add to this list? Please leave comments below!

17 Responses to “Indonesian Body Language and Gestures”

  1. avatar
    On October 8, 2012 at 10:54 am Lisa responded with... #

    Great explanations!

  2. avatar
    On October 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm Ibu Jackie responded with... #

    Love it!

  3. avatar
    On October 10, 2012 at 8:48 am Rossi responded with... #

    Wonderful!

  4. avatar
    On October 10, 2012 at 10:31 am Refly responded with... #

    “Kasihan deh loe” is rather dated, being superceded by “jangan sedhihh.” “Capek deh” has also quickly become the opposite of gaul. Another example would be “P.D. (bgt)” outlasting the near-synonymous “G.R.”

    Just fyi, since this page is still a good resource and people will still laugh if they hear a foreigner use any of these expressions!

    • avatar
      On October 17, 2012 at 12:57 am si jago responded with... #

      closer to ‘i’m over it’; terserah is more akin to whatever

    • avatar
      On October 17, 2012 at 12:58 am si jago responded with... #

      I’ve always found GR to have a lot more of a negative connotation to PD

  5. avatar
    On October 10, 2012 at 10:44 am Jodie responded with... #

    Another wonderful piece of work Penny! Hebat sekali!
    (Jodie from SA crew)

  6. avatar
    On October 10, 2012 at 10:58 am juniper responded with... #

    ‘stabil’ drawing the index finger horizontally across the forehead is the opposite of the slanted action of ‘gila’ and indicates thigs are going well rather than crazy. (Central Javanese ngamen – dont know if widespread)

  7. avatar
    On October 11, 2012 at 5:38 am Bu Zara responded with... #

    Awesome resource! Thankyou!

    I’ll be using this in a lesson on http://www.teacherinabox.net – please feel free to have a look and use my lessons in your classes (there is also one on nationality). You’re also welcome to use the portal to create your own lessons.

    Bu Zara

  8. avatar
    On October 15, 2012 at 11:45 am Halina responded with... #

    Terima kasih Penny! :)
    Great work!

  9. avatar
    On October 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm Pak Jim responded with... #

    Terima kasih banyak! This will be very useful for my family when visiting Indonesia next year as well as for my Indonesian classes.

  10. avatar
    On October 25, 2012 at 10:58 pm Angel responded with... #

    very helpful to my presentation

  11. avatar
    On October 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm Fendy responded with... #

    Hei, very good resource for my assignment about Indonesian Culture. Thanks anyway!

    Grüß aus Berlin,
    Fendy

  12. avatar
    On June 24, 2013 at 8:47 am Erlin responded with... #

    Blog ini sangat bermanfaat sekali. terima kasih! hebat!

  13. avatar
    On November 21, 2013 at 11:03 am latiefah responded with... #

    thanks you very much … :)

  14. avatar
    On October 22, 2015 at 2:49 pm Noe responded with... #

    men, this is very helpful, thanks!!! I live in Japan, since I have to do speech about Indonesia’s greeting, honestly, I am confused. and I found this, thank you so much guys!! you are great

  15. avatar
    On June 20, 2016 at 2:45 pm Chloe responded with... #

    Thanks is helped me so much

Add your response