Advice From Aunty Mavis
A guide to social etiquette and life’s mysteries for the cosmopolitan, well educated and occasionally confused.
Dear Aunty Mavis,
What do you think of people who don’t vote?
Dear Undecided voter,
They deserve the rotten, corrupt, incompetent, uncaring and lawless government other people foist onto them.
Dear Aunty Mavis,
I’m new in the country and learning the ropes on its language. What’s the best way for a ‘bule’ to learn Bahasa Indonesia? And I’m only using “bule” for convenience, if it matters.
Dear Bule Baru,
Some expats take offense at the word “bule” – “albino/whitey” and some don’t. Personally, I don’t. Unless I get the impression that the person addressing me is trying to be impertinent and superior and wishes to insult me in a smug, hectoring way.
Then I reply in kind; sweetly and smilingly calling him or her chink/slope/wog/swarthie/dusky/brownie/blackie/darkie/little third-world person or simply, “Hey! You there! Indonesian!”
That normally evens the score a little. However, I don’t suggest you use this sort of familiar slang in a police station, at the airport, in dealing with any Indonesian official or in a law court, because in those situations you just have to put up with the fact that there’s is a possibility that an attempt will be made to put you down and keep you at a disadvantage. The rudest, surliest, uppity people only get positions out at the airport, apart from the delightful and helpful ticket and baggage check in darlings.
But apart from them, an expat in need is an opportunity too good to pass up. And humiliating them is a national sport. Likewise in an Indonesian court of law. It seems to make their day if they can treat a Westerner in particular with anything less than the usual miserable justice meted out to the downtrodden locals.
I think there is a “Course in Indonesian Law Schools – Nurturing The National Inferiority Complex: How to Take Revenge on Westerners by Being Overly Harsh With Them When You Have Them at Your Mercy.”
Always stay on the good side, if there is one, of Indonesian law because if you fall out of favor they will go for your jugular. We are all colonial Dutch and Japanese invaders in the eyes of most judges. Even if you come from Lower Oddington in the Cotswolds. Or Madrid.
As for learning the language?
The best way to learn the language is to try and speak it. You’ll need some books and you may need to attend a basic course, but the most important thing is to find a local friend who is willing to help you.
This may prove a little difficult because my experience is that many Indonesians don’t understand that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes. Hence if you mispronounce something or use the wrong word, you don’t want someone ridiculing you or pointing out your mistake in a nasty way. Or worse, laughing at you.
If you ask someone to help you as a language buddy, I suggest you point this out to them at the beginning. Learning involves making mistakes, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Otherwise, as I did, you will get frustrated and give up asking for help, because all you get is contemptuous ridicule. Even in some of the language schools.
Remember, this is the land of “Face must be saved at all costs,” where mistakes are seen as a weakness rather than an opportunity for further growth and development.
As well, a lot of contemporary Indonesian has been reduced to slang. Be careful. Otherwise you will end up saying what would be the equivalent to Her Majesty the Queen, “Hi babe, how are they hanging?”
I suggest you equip yourself with a vocabulary of 200 basic words and an armory of important and helpful everyday phrases and sentences.
To begin with I suggest:
Thank you. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening. Good night. Goodbye.
How are you? What is your name Sir/Madam? (use these titles and any title a lot).
My name is…… and I come from…… I am very pleased to meet you. And where do you come from?
Please come in. Please sit down. What would you like to eat? What would you like to drink?
How much does this cost, please Sir/Madam/Miss/Young man?
May I please have a taxi/the bill/the fried rice/a double scotch/your phone number?
My, what’s that strange smell coming from the canal?
Holy Moly did you see what I just saw?
Wadda ya mean it’s not ready? You gave me your word it would be fixed by today and already it’s three months late!
No! I am not giving you a bribe, Mr. Policeman!
Sweet of you to suggest it but I am happy here drinking my Bintang and I don’t want to go upstairs to the karaoke lounge and meet your sister-in-law.
Hello, I’m just phoning to say I am stuck in traffic and will possibly get to your office across town sometime next week.
Where’s the toilet paper? My left hand? Ya gotta be kidding!
I think I need another drink.
I know this bus is terribly crowded but do you have to brush your eyelashes against my face, blow in my ear, whisper “I love you” and would you mind giving back my wallet?
You mother is giving me that look that says, “Hel-lo future son/daughter-in-law.” Your older brother is giving me that look that says, “Hel-lo future business partner and unlimited fund of money.” Your younger brother just fluttered his eyes at me and giggled. By the way, I am not rich. Did I say something wrong? Where has everyone gone?
Of course, to avoid any embarrassment, the best thing to say in any situation is, “Maaf Pak/Ibu, saya tidak bisa bicara bahasa Indonesia. Saya bule gila.” With a big smile of course. I find it never fails to bring the house down and win me lots of sympathetic and helpful friends.