Indonesian Culture Reference Guide

Greeting Norms


In Indonesian culture, people of the same gender usually greet each other by shaking hands. Some may bow after a handshake and place a hand over their heart. Women usually bow, instead of shaking hands. Common verbal greetings include Selamat pagi (Good Morning), Selamat siang (Good Day), Selamat sore (Good Afternoon), and Selamat malam (Good Evening).




Communication Styles


Generally, Indonesians are indirect communicators, preferring to be subtle in their verbal exchanges and paying more attention to body language and tone of voice. In fact, Indonesians speak in a soft tone when meeting strangers, as expressing anger, or speaking loudly may be seen as disrespectful. Indonesians are very polite and put a lot of effort into avoiding conflict and saving face. Because Indonesians do not want to upset others, they probably will not say ‘no’ bluntly, so it is important to try to read between the lines and ask questions clearly.




Personal Space and Touching


Indonesians usually stand at least at arm’s length from each other and allowing for personal space is a sign of respect. This distance may be shorter if they are among friends or family. Public displays of affection are not encouraged, and it is not very common to see people kissing, hugging, or touching in public. Nonetheless, among friends of the same sex there is some amount of touching during conversation.




Eye Contact and Gestures


Direct eye contact is expected among peers, but it should be avoided when speaking with those of higher status or older. Pointing with the index finger is considered rude, and the thumb should be used instead. In Indonesia, the right hand is the only hand you can use to eat with, as the left hand is considered unclean, because it is the hand used to clean yourself in the bathroom. Also, do not use it for waving, touching others or offering a gift. If you are a leftie, we may know the secret to why people keep staring at you weird.

Indonesian Population in the United States

Indonesian Interpretation and Translation Services

Indonesian Language Solutions

Volatia is a leading provider of professional Indonesian interpretation and translation services. Whether you are in the United States or anywhere else in the World, Volatia is uniquely capable of bridging all of your Indonesian language and cultural barriers. The secret sauce is our proprietary technology, coupled with our vast network of qualified professional interpreters and translators.


Click here to watch a one minute video of a recent innovation we pioneered.


Among the many reasons to choose Volatia for your language access program, below are a few to consider:



   1. We support more than 280 languages ondemand. Simply download our mobile app or login our online portal to request or schedule your language needs or connect to an interpreter within seconds.


   2. We’re local. Volatia employs Indonesian interpreters and translators in all 50 U.S. States, with a major interpreter contact center network in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Virginia.


   3. We’re always available. We offer 24/7 ondemand support for Indonesian interpretation and translation needs. In addition to our Indonesian phone and video interpreter services, you can also access onsite or in-person Welsh interpreters.


   4. We have a broad range of experience. We provide qualified Indonesian Interpreters and translators in healthcare, government, legal, and a host of other industries.

Indonesian Dialects

Across Indonesia’s 17,000 islands, there are over 700 local languages and dialects, all connected through the Indonesian language, or Bahasa Indonesia (how it is locally called), the official language of the country. Even though only 7% of the Indonesian people speak Bahasa Indonesia as a first language, around 94% of the population speak it as a second language, making it the lingua-franca of the country. It is taught in schools, used by the media and in official documents. Other local languages include Javanese, Sundanese and Sasak.


The Indonesian language is a variety of Malay with Javanese influence, and it is very similar to Bahasa Melayu, another form of Malay, spoken in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei.  The dialect variation among speakers of Indonesian does not vary greatly. Mainly because the language is mostly taught in schools and not acquired as a first language. However, there are differences in pronunciation and in vocabulary between the two varieties of Malay described above.


Bahasa Melayu is recalled by some linguists as the northern dialect, while Bahasa Indonesia is the southern dialect. The southern dialect can be divided into two main variants that have different intonation and patterns of stress. The western variant, spoken in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa and most of the Sulawesi, and the eastern variant, spoken in the north of Sulawesi, the Maluku islands, Flores, Timor, and West Papua.

Countries Where Indonesian is the Official Language

199 million people speak Indonesian worldwide, making it the 10th most spoken language in the world. Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia, the fourth largest Muslim nation in the world, and a significant number of people speak the language in the United States, the Netherlands, Philippines, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia.

  • Indonesia

When compared to other Asian nations, Indonesia has less political, cultural, and economic links to the United States. This is due to the nation’s past as a former Dutch colony until 1949. Nonetheless, during the 1940’s, many Indonesians departed from the country during its strive for independence, a migration wave that continued into the 50’s upon the creation of a scholarship by the American government that allowed Indonesian students to settle in the country. In the 1980’s, around 26,000 Indonesian-born immigrants lived in the United States and as of 2012, over 97,000 Americans reported having Indonesian descent, and over 65,000 speak Indonesian at home, according to the United States Census Bureau.


Leading states with the highest Indonesian American population:

Of course, each of the 50 states is home to many Welsh but the ones listed stand out based on annual data from the American Community Survey published by the U.S. Census Bureau