The Flaws in Indonesian Culture

Monday, 18 September 2017 - 11:13:43 WIB
By : Dixie Thamrin | Category: Social Issues - 8758 hits
We are a nation of proud people, proud of our diversity and our culture and traditions. So proud, sometimes, that we take for granted the flaws in our culture, the norms, beliefs and perceptions that we should get rid of because they do not serve us and the don’t make us a better society. Here are some of them:

1. Respecting people who are older than you
The problem with this is that it implies that older people deserve more respect and younger people deserve less. I don't agree with this at all. You respect people, regardless of their age, religion and sexual orientation. By default, I am polite and I always respect people until they do something that proves they aren't worthy of respect.

2. Getting married when you’re still young is the best
I see many of my peers  being pressured to get married, whether or not they are ready. There seems to be an unwritten age limit for marriage, so single people must be aware of the ticking clock. Some even believe that the smaller the age gap is between you and your children the better. Marriage is everyone’s individual choice, so we should stop telling people when they should get married.

3. Wedding is a showcase of wealth and prosperity
When I heard stories of people selling their houses to fund their children's weddings, I thought they were an exaggeration. But they really happen! Wedding in Indonesia is such a big and important affair for the big families. People often go out of their way to present themselves in the best possible light, knowing that people scrutinize weddings to form ideas of your wealth. Although more people in my generation opt for much simpler, smaller weddings, they're often faced with oppositions from both sets of parents, so to avoid arguments and stress, they go along with their parents' wishes. While it's entirely up to people how they want to celebrate their weddings, I think it's necessary to break the perception that the scale of a wedding is related to your wealth.

4. Everyday sexism
A girl needs to wake up early. A girl has to have a tidy room (How is it going to be when you're married and you're messy?), as if tidying up is a job for girls, and girls only. A young woman needs to be able to cook, and when they're deemed good enough at cooking, then they're ready to be married (though, ironically, the chef profession is dominated by men). A wife has to prepare her husband's breakfast and other meals. These are some examples of the things that girls have to listen to and that people take for granted as the norm, although they are outdated and sexist. When I hear someone say these things, I'll tell them that it's sexist. They need to be made aware of the implications of the things they say.

5. Victim blaming sexually harassed women
"You were harassed? What were you wearing? Don't wear something revealing then."
Sexual harassment is still not taken seriously in our society. Most women in Jakarta have experienced catcalling, if not on a daily basis. A friend of mine was walking back from her office when someone on a motorbike groped her, then grabbed her hand and dragged her to a dark alley. She managed to break free and ran away. While this was happening, a woman was witnessing it, and she did nothing.

It's important to not stay silent when you're experiencing this, or witnessing this. Scream, draw attention, and tell authorities if you see any. And most importantly:  don't tell women what to wear, tell men not to harass.

6. Being nosy about other people's personal lives shows that you care
"When are you getting married? I'll be waiting for the invitation."
"You're not planning to have children? But why? Children are blessings, and they will bring fortunes."
When asked these things, I have a strong urge to reply "Why do you ask? It's none of your business."
But I usually give them a tight smile and say nothing. I am trying now, however, to gather the courage to say, "That’s personal, and it's inappropriate to ask that." These people need to learn a lesson too.

7. Being unpunctual is normal
Being late for casual meetups is acceptable in Indonesia. Even 15-30 minutes late is considered OK, and no notification is needed. Sometimes a one-hour delay is even accepted when you live in Jakarta. But, seriously, no! Don’t show up late – not even five minutes late! But if you are going to be slightly late, at least have the courtesy to notify the person you’re meeting. People are busy, don’t assume they have all the time in the world for you.

These are just some examples of the things we take for granted as the norm. While it’s easier stay silent and accept them, I believe it does more harm than good. So let’s start by speaking up about them, because your voice has power.

Dixie Thamrin is an Indonesian who often finds herself straining not to say offensive things by Indonesian standards. She enjoys solitude, and is often thought as an anti-social owing to her lack of activity in social media. In her spare time, she does photography, storytelling, and rant on her blog,

Got an opinion on this issue? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.

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Judas | 19 September 2017 | 13:28:02 WIB
I appreciate your criticism. I even have no intention to argue against this writing.
It's just... It's probably wiser to re-examine whether these culture are merely "Indonesian" or not.
There might be complexities in other parts of Indonesia, and some other countries share the same "wrongness".
Pearly Mershia | 20 September 2017 | 06:29:17 WIB
The other "wrongness" we have is the mistook of nationalism as a proudfulness toward our flag, country name, miscellaneous good potentials, assets, achievements, fame, etc., but neglecting about the core of its ideology: Pancasila and its people : Bhinneka -- social justice, gender equality, integrity, growing-mind attitude, tolerance, respect of diversity, integrity, honoring our heroes by deeds -- no corruption, professional public service, humane healthcare system, etc. Until then, just don't be proud... if we still seeing our fellowmen struggling in one or some areas mentioned above.
Netizen | 21 September 2017 | 19:44:01 WIB
Wow, this is a new low for Magdalene. Does the author ever think point 1, for instance, is not necessarily a “flaw” but merely a different point of view? Is this yet another case of “I have lived/am currently living in Europe so now I am free to talk crap about Indonesia”? Because this article reeks of that. “Indonesia, the land of crappy people.” This nation is not perfect but we could do with fewer people like you.
Kat | 22 September 2017 | 10:27:49 WIB
I get your point and I fully agree with most of them. However, categorising some of these points as 'flaws' sound a bit harsh. For instance, point 1, which to me personally isn't necessarily a flaw but rather a custom where the elderly are seen as much more experienced & wise than the younger ones thus deserving more respect, and in all honesty, there's nothing wrong with it. Respecting elderly more does not instantly make us disrespect the younger ones. The next one is point 3. I'm also one of the very few people who prefer weddings that are private and sacred instead of the big ones, but if some of the people here want big weddings then I think to each their own... because hey, not everyone is lucky enough to be exposed to different ideas of weddings out there.
Fred Rose | 14 November 2017 | 20:05:38 WIB
Sure. I am an Indonesian and have lived overseas, and the first thing you notice when you just came back is those things. Spot on. We got pretty inefficient culture, full of misogyny, suppressed sexuality, and hypocrisy. Not talking shit, those are hard facts. Apparently this is what culture is, it is a way of life that supports every aspect of the society, creating forms of government, economic plane and entertainment. And let me tell you this, there's nothing educating that's rolling on our TV screen. Politicians are just dancing dirty monkeys trying to impress lesser monkeys while getting paid by blood. There's nothing interesting except trying to listen to Iwan Fals and dreaming of better times when people actually have real values, they teach us to be nationalistic. Well shit, rating doesn't work like that man, it comes from appreciation, not some biased groundless dogma.

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