Meet our teacher: Facts, myths and traditions from Indonesia

In our "Meet the teacher" series of blog articles, we want to introduce some of the countries and cultures that our teachers represent. The best way to do this is to explore some facts about them, giving you a flavour of their richness. Then, we debunk some cultural myths and discover the beliefs that dominate particular regions. Last but not least, we present some of the lesser known traditions that are typical for the country in question. This week, our teacher Ati Kisjanto shares some of the cultural insights into Indonesia.



Kalau belum makan nasi, belum makan (If one hasn’t eaten rice, one hasn’t eaten yet) - No matter how many helpings of spiced beef stew (rendang) or barbequed chicken (ayam bakar) already devoured, if there’s been no rice, then the meal is not considered complete, the saying goes.



Jam Karet (Rubber Time) - The usual way to give your time of arrival is “jam 5-an” which means around five o’clock. This might mean you’ll arrive at any time between 4.05pm and 5.55pm. What’s more important is to arrive in one piece. Better early or late than never. The host would be delighted that you still made an effort to come amid your busy schedule, even though the whole event may already be over.

Wedding guests - The more the merrier. RSVP is almost never requested, let alone required. The guest list usually starts off with 300 to 3,000 but can easily double as you have to invite family, extended family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, bosses, staff, clients, suppliers, school “friends” (from primary school to university). When they come, they usually do so with their spouses and children.





Ratu Pantai Selatan (Queen of the Southern Sea) - Nyi Roro Kidul is considered the ruler of the Southern Sea. This unbearably beautiful goddess would claim lives of people, especially men wearing green outfits who swam or fished in her territory. There’s even a room in the Samudra Hotel in Pelabuhan Ratu beach which is dedicated to her.


Rumah Tusuk Sate – Skewered Houses located at the end of the road facing the coming traffic, are considered to bring bad luck to the inhabitants. To reduce the bad luck, people go to great lengths to move the entrance to the house as far as possible from the centre of the road.



Celaka 13 – The bad luck of number 13. Nobody wants to buy houses or rent a room or office linked to number 13. To deflect bad luck, you might see a row of houses sequenced 11, 11A, 15 or high-rise building floors numbered 12, 12A, 14. Good luck in trying to find a buyer for a skewered house with number 13.


Sungkeman (Kneeling) is one of the traditions from the more than 300 ethnic groups in Indonesia. The bride and groom kneel down and bow their heads on the laps of their parents and in-laws to ask forgiveness for all their wrongdoings and blessings for the future.



Food culture - The way to one’s heart is through one’s belly. Indonesians take food extremely seriously. Any event with invited guests should be opened or closed with food. Guests expect to be fed and it’s a loss of face for the host if the guests do not have enough food to eat.

Sellers’ unique sounds - Street sellers make themselves noticable with unique noises. Noodle-and-meatball sellers make a “toc toc” sound, hitting a bamboo stick on a bamboo. A welder would swing overlapping metal strips linked to each other, making a “clackity-clack” sound. Unfortunately, these noises are heard less often as more food and goods are delivered by ordering online.


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