Forms Of Address - Part Three
For expats living in the Capital, 'mas' is likely one of the least understood words in the Indonesian lexicon.
At restaurants all over town, we see Indonesians raising a hand to get the attention of a male waiter, while calling out "mas, mas!" This might lead a new arrival to conclude that 'mas' is an Indonesian form of address used by 'clients or customers' to address 'males in the service sector.'
Nothing could be further from the truth. 'Mas' is a Javanese word (not Indonesian at all), and it means "older brother." So, ironically, it is used by the Javanese as a term of respect . . . sometimes applied to one's actual older brother, and sometimes applied to a male friend or colleague of a similar or slightly older age.
It is perhaps understandable, on this island where a large proportion of workers are Javanese, that Jakartans would develop a habit of addressing all younger men working in restaurants and shops as 'mas.'
But regardless of what you see Indonesians doing in public, please know that there are many non-Javanese Indonesians who do not appreciate being addressed as 'mas.' They may tolerate it, but that should not be interpreted as "liking it."
On the other hand, if you are dealing with a man whom you know to be Javanese, and he is too young to be addressed as 'Pak,' then 'mas' can denote a great deal of respect . . . particularly if used with his first name
(e.g. "Mas Tono," "Mas Hendri," etc).
'Mbak' (literally "older sister" in Javanese) is the equivalent of 'mas' for females. Like 'mas,' it is used by the Javanese as a term of respect . . . sometimes applied to one's actual older sister, and sometimes applied to a female friend or colleague of a similar or older age.
As with 'mas,' 'mbak' should only be used when dealing with a young woman whom you know to be Javanese, as a means of denoting respect. Otherwise, it should not be used.
'Mbak' is pronounced "mm-ba" (with a silent 'k').