I grew up with an expat mother for the past twenty-five years of my life. We spend quite a lot of time together outside home. We enjoy chatting over coffee in cafes and looking for bargains. It sounds like a normal mother-daughter relationship, except we look nothing alike because I was adopted – even people often mistake me for her maid. My mother would answer them back and say that I’m actually her daughter, and she enjoys watching them squirm with embarrassment. Sometimes people are often too quick at jumping to conclusions.
Having an expat mother is a great experience: I get the best of the two cultures. The thing about having an expat mother is that I can really feel how much attention Indonesians give to expats, I mean of course, a blonde Australian woman with a pixie-cut hair such as my mother does stick out like a sore thumb in a sea of brown-skinned people. My mother is used to it, she’s been stared at by locals for the past thirty years she has lived in Indonesia.
It’s fine when people just look, but when people comment, especially in a not-so-subtle manner, it does get quite irritating. I remember walking around a shopping center with my mother, and a young girl yelled loudly, while pointing to my mother, “Mum, look at her! There’s a bule! There’s a bule!”
My mother told me that she would just love to go up to them and give them a big lioness roar just to freak them out.
I wish people would be a little more subtle, or at least they don’t have to be so vocal about it. Last weekend I met up with an Australian friend of mine. We walked along the Kemang Raya street, and as I looked toward the car windows, I could see people staring out of their windows.
Many Indonesians still see foreigners – especially caucasians – as superior beings. They wouldn’t even try to cut in line if they were standing behind a bule because people are intimidated by the bule’s presence.
I remember during school years, expat teachers were a lot more feared and respected compared to the Indonesian teachers. Indonesians who don’t often see expats would be a lot more fascinated by foreigners. Last time I went to the Prambanan Temple in Central Java, where high school students were a lot more eager to take photos of the foreign tourists rather than the temple itself (which was hilarious to watch).
It’s great to see Indonesians trying to be friendly with the foreigners, yet I think the over-the-top attention is highly unnecessary, especially when people start to see foreigners as superior beings. Indonesian parents should teach their children to start respecting people from our own country as much as we respect the foreigners.
On the other hand, people should learn to have better manners when they meet a foreigner, you don’t want to be speaking rudely about a foreigner behind their back in Indonesian, and it turns out that they understood what you were saying and it might hurt their feelings. Believe me, it happens really often.
Because in the end, Indonesians or foreigners, we’re all human.