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Business etiquette in Indonesia: your whistle-stop guide

By Josian Phillips, 

Indonesia, home to approximately 243 million people, is a diverse and vibrant country scattered over thousands of volcanic islands. Jakarta is its sprawling capital city. A country with a colourful past but, it is a country that – according to many predictions – we will be hearing much more about.

Twitter capital

In the West, we are accustomed to social media and its impact on everyday life. You could assume for a developing country that Indonesia would be slow to grasp the benefits and technology needed to fully embrace the online world, especially as only a quarter of the population have access to the Internet at home. However, smartphones and affordable data packages have meant that the Indonesians have become the most prevalent users of Twitter. Indonesia is one of the world’s top ten highest Twitter users, with Jakarta christened as the Twitter capital.


The youthful demographic of Indonesia also means that virtual communities are popular places, usually pre-morning commute to work and post-working day.

Once a country shielded from the outside world, social media now informs the mainstream news too, with stories on Facebook and Twitter feeding the thirst for knowledge.

Social media is big business in Indonesia

Of course, establishing a strong presence on social media is more than just following gossip. It has huge implications for both local and international companies who want to do business in Indonesia. For overseas companies looking for business and investment opportunities in Indonesia, this penchant for social media highlights how much the country and its people want to interact.

Social media is an important form of advertising and promotion too – this much we have witnessed in other countries and communities. With major Indonesian companies also investing heavily in social media platforms such as Path, the signals are strong – Indonesia wants to invest too, as much as it wants to welcome investment in its economy.

Five essential Indonesian culture tips.

Indonesia is a country steeped in culture. With the largest population of Muslims than any other country, as you would expect, there are several cultural sensitivities that you need to be aware of, especially if you are looking to the business partners, customers or supplier here.

  1. Patience
    Life here runs at a slower pace and there is a notion here that in order to do things right, you need to know the person. Don’t expect to jet in, do the hard sell with hours of hard negotiation and jet out again. This is about taking time to get to know people. Good relations and harmony are the order of the day, and not ‘time being money’.
  2. Demeanour
    Again, if you parachute yourself in, assuming that the Indonesians need you as their saviour, you will be disappointed and will likely earn a reputation as someone who is crass and insensitive. You will be expected to bow slightly on meeting someone considered to be your elder. You will be expected to be demure, quiet and respectful. Raising your voice is not going to endear you to anyone, nor being hypercritical.
  3. The right hand has it!
    The left hand is not a good hand to use – especially when shaking hands. It is thought to be unclean because it is the hand that is used when visiting the bathroom so everything must be done with your right hand. And don’t point – if you must point, use your thumb.
  4. Rubber time
    In our fast paced, hectic busy schedules, the notion of a meeting not starting on time is alien to us. We have become accustomed to using our time as efficiently as possible. “Rubber time” is a description in Indonesia that points to social events not starting on time. It is also worth noting that as a visitor, you may also need to follow a set routine, such as filing into a boardroom in a certain ranked order. Don’t cause offence with ignorance – if you are unsure, ask what the business etiquette is.
  5. Be smart
    From dressing well, to holding yourself in a polite but demure way, looking the part is also important when you do business in Indonesia. If you think sneakers and jeans will cut it, you will be disappointed that the people you thought would welcome you with open arms suddenly seem reserved and reticent.

A growing economy with opportunities

Indonesia itself has recognised that as a nation, it has the business and financial wealth to enter new, foreign markets, as well as inviting investors to its shores and offers huge potential for British exporters.

With a growth rate of 6% for its economy predicted from until 2020, it is a potentially lucrative market for British companies. However, making sure you seek the right opportunities in the right places, and taking into account local etiquette and social sensitivities is important too.

If you’d like to chat to Brightlines about how you can reach your global customers through professional translation do call 01225 580770 or contact us here, we are happy to help and advice is always free.

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