I navigated through cultural bumps in Indonesia in my blog post “It’s a Cultural Thing”. I am still negotiating the humps and bumps, which is proving to be a test of maturity, patience and understanding.

Without a doubt a clash will ensue when I’m in front of a counter as a customer and am faced with sale staffs who are so blasé. It’s worst when a sales staff is blasé and absolutely inept. Answers such as “I don’t know” or “I can’t” rile me to no end, as I expect quality service and intelligent answers in solving “commercial problems”. For example, after watching GI Joe (yes, it’s still being shown in Bekasi), facing an A&W employee was far from an agreeable experience. Aggravating the situation was the manager who should be stripped of the title, as he was utterly useless. He simply sauntered to a table to chat, ignoring the situation at hand.

 It’s ridiculous that one cannot change her order simply because it has already been keyed in. With a few punches the order can be cancelled. But she refused and stood before us with a helpless look on her face. Not wanting to get into an argument my friend just let it slide like water off a duck’s tail while I turned my head in complete exasperation. Fortunately, GI Joe proved to be entertaining otherwise the whole night could have been one big fiasco. Earlier on, I had already faced a boorish counter attendant at the refreshment counter buying caramel popcorn.

I have no quarrel with being mistaken as an Indonesian, but I do have a bone to pick with people who assume that I’m Indonesian and pretending not to know Bahasa Indonesia because I converse in English. The assumption, sadly, comes with an attitude that without my yoga sessions would have had me flying off the handle in a matter of nanoseconds. Popcorn man obviously mistook me to be Indonesian; he talked to me in rapid-fire Bahasa Indonesia and haughtily banged my caramel popcorn on the counter. He matched it with a look of irritation when my friend asked for two bottles of water. The manager behind him proved to be a member of the Inept Club because, instead of interceding, he casually remarked that his staff didn’t understand English. Duly noted, however my friend was trying to converse in tourist – Bahasa Indonesia, which popcorn man disregarded brusquely.

Exasperated, I retorted “We’re not Indonesians,” quickly affecting a sea change in popcorn man. He was meek as lamb when he handed us our items and change politely uttering terima kasih (thank you).  

Encounters in private spaces are not that different where courtesy is glossed over.  A closed unlocked door as far as I know means no entry. Of course, knock and you’ll be let in. But that’s not happening. My office door almost always flies off the hinges! However, conversely, personal space between two people is, interestingly enough, observed with much stringency. There’s no overstepping the boundaries of personal space because the gap is big enough for a lorry to pass through especially between opposite genders.

Nevertheless encounters in private spaces are pleasant. No one fails to say thank you. Every greeting is acknowledged not with a cursory glance at you, but with a directed gaze, smile and the return greeting. A question is duly answered and if there’s no available answer at the moment, rest assured an answer will reach you. Inquisitiveness is common especially questions about your personal life, plans and intentions. It’s heartening to know that colleagues are taking an interest in you but the twin fact of news spreading like wildfire is something I am not yet used to. I like keeping my cards close to my chest.

At the end of it all, when exasperation creeps in, I heave a sigh, mutter “It’s a cultural thing” and drive on.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by I_am_aoisoba on September 11, 2009 at 11:27 am

    as i always say: courtesy is universal, it’s not endemic in one culture only…


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