It's recently come to our attention here at Language Studies Indonesia (LSI) that many of our female students have given up on having conversations with local strangers due to "unpleasant experiences."
As one female student recently said,
"It's creepy to be having a friendly conversation with a man at a convenience store and have him start asking you personal questions like, 'How are you feeling today?' or 'Have you had lunch yet?' Some even ask me my age or where I work."
To all of our students (both female and male), we'd like to point out that "small talk" differs greatly from culture to culture, as do the questions which are acceptable to ask.
We certainly understand that you might run into an Indonesian who is simply "too familiar for comfort." That can happen anywhere, of course.
But we'd like to make clear that, here in Indonesia, questions about one's children, marital status, country of origin, age, height, weight and eating habits are not all that unusual . . . and, therefore, such questions should not automatically be assumed to be "overly familiar."
For most of we Indonesians, this kind of conversation is just our way of saying, "You're very nice and we'd like to be your friend."
With this in mind, we would encourage our students (and non-students) to just relax and enjoy the contrasts between the Indonesian culture and your own. The situation can be a lot of fun if you have the right mindset and keep your sense of humour!
Last week, one of our students nearly died when she asked her secretary why she was late for work. The secretary replied, "Oh, I always have a problem with diarrhea when I wake up in the morning."
Oh yeah, we forgot to mention . . . discussions of "body functions" are also quite acceptable here in Indonesia :)
A TIP FOR COPING (PARTICULARLY FOR WOMEN)
If you're worried that having a friendly conversation with a stranger might "send the wrong message," simply start your conversations with, "Saya sedang belajar Bahasa Indonesia” ("I’m now practicing Bahasa Indonesia"). This will clarify your motivations in speaking Indonesian and will create a comfortable "distance" between you and the stranger.
But whatever you do . . .
DON'T GIVE UP ON YOUR CONVERSATIONS WITH STRANGERS!!!
You'll never get to where you want to go if you're not willing to stay in Bahasa Indonesia 24/7.
Selamat belajar, happy studying.