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Social Life in Indonesia

Behavior

Much like the dress, how the people of Indonesia behave is generally rooted in their Islamic faith. Among the greatest behavioral suggestions for Indonesia, next to dress, come in the form of dining. Islamic law forbids pork products and alcohol; however there is little expectation that you follow these rules while in a resort. Outside private resorts, few restaurants serve pork products and alcohol is difficult to find, although resorts, hotels, and some select restaurants and bars on islands like Bali do serve alcohol. Generally, alcohol isn't available outside these areas and nearly everywhere public intoxication is looked down upon, even if you only had one or two drinks. For more information on dining, visit our Indonesia Food & Drinks Page.

In addition to following the dress restrictions mentioned below and following the local dining etiquette, the most important behavioral restrictions are basic courtesy. Avoid sensitive conversation topics, such as politics, finances, religion, and business unless initiated by your local counterpart.

Dress

The diversity of the dress in Indonesia is great since the country is divided geographically and ethnically. Traditionally, these outfits vastly differed from island to island and even from city to city on the same island, but today the clothing is shifting to modern western-styled clothing. Despite the many variations on traditional dress, there are also many similarities. Traditionally, Indonesian women wore a kebaya, which is a somewhat tight-fitting blouse, which is paired with a sarong. This outfit is often brightly colored and has influences from (arguably) China, Portugal, and the Middle East, giving it great variation. Men traditionally wore checkered sarongs with a simple shirt.

Today the traditional dress is still in existence to a great degree. Most women wear this outfit for special occasion and events, while men continue to wear the sarong at Friday prayers in the mosque. However, most Indonesians today wear western-styled clothing on a daily basis. However, as a primarily Muslim country, the dress, no matter the style, remains fairly conservative as arms and legs are covered and women often times also cover their hair. In fact, in some parts of country it is required for women to cover their hair by law.

As a visitor to Indonesia there are a number of clothing items to pack. Be sure to understand where you are staying and what kind of travel you plan on undertaking. Indonesia has established itself as an island paradise and most tourists go with the intention of sitting on a beach with little clothing on. While this may seem ideal, the locals don't want to see your half naked bodies. If in the presence of locals, dress as they do and cover your arms and legs, especially your shoulders and legs at least down to your knees. If you are in a private resort wearing a swimming suit is acceptable, but nakedness and toplessness for women is strictly forbidden even in private resorts. Although you should wear long pants and shirts everywhere in public in Indonesia, on tourist islands it may seem as hedonistic as home.

This page was last updated: November, 2013