Budaya perbedaan–culture shock in a foreign land

A great intellectual and theologian once explained living in a foreign culture with this Johns-ist quote: “living in another culture is like snorkelling while everyone else is scuba diving. you can see what’s going on and are involved – but you can never get down to that other level”.

Part of the problem with integrating and understanding another culture is that you can never quite integrate or understand no matter how long you stay. You will always be an outsider, especially if you look different. No matter how much of the language we learn or culture we understand, the becak drivers will still try to take us to batik sales or special toko bakpia pathok (food souvenir stores – they employ becak drivers to ferry unsuspecting bules there for commission), or we will fail to be fully sopan (polite) especially within the extremely complex Budaya Jawa (Javanese culture).

Culture shock is said to have four phases. The honeymoon phase where everything is interesting, fun (or funny), the food is great and life is peachy. Approximately three months following the arrival in the country –the honeymoon is over baby, it’s never gunna be that way again. Enter the negotiation phase – where cultural differences become obvious and the shine has worn off. The quirks of another culture aren’t so charming – more annoying. This phase passes and eventually you head off into the adjustment and mastery phases – but we’ll leave them for another time. They take years. Surviving these phases are part of the fun (apparently!). So with out too much of a whinge – this post is about some of the budaya perbedaan (cultural differences) that have been a challenge – and led to us recently fleeing Yogyakarta for a short non-cultural break in Lombok!

One huge cultural difference that has affected us has been the differences in ideals for raising children. Living in such claustrophobic proximity to people in the kampung means that everyone knows what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, plus everyone has an opinion or piece of advice. “Why was Jack crying last night?” is common, “maybe he was hungry, you should feed him more”. Maybe we were pinching him – you’ll never know. Children aren’t allowed to cry here. The moment a slight noise escapes their lips they are to be fed. They could possibly be hungry. Additionally, children here are carried everywhere in a lendang, up to about adulthood. Fortunately due to a number of factors the kids here are pretty light. Jack is not. Trying to break free of this one has been a hard slog. Also, children are mobile feeders here with parents patiently chasing the kids around with a bowl of sustenance attempting to coerce them into taking a spoonful between playing soccer. There are also a few differences in food education. Rice is viewed as a life source, despite containing no real nutritional value aside from carbohydrates, and sugar is added to all the kids food (including mashed fruits) to make them more palatable. Vegetables or salad are not an option after lunch related to the lack of refrigeration and is technically are good thing food hygiene wise.

Then there are a few everyday things that can be difficult to come to grips with. Things here aren’t maintained. You repair when the item, car, motorbike is completely “trucked”. This is across the board, from bike tyres and car engines to roads and government systems. Furthermore, direct confrontation is very much not sopan (polite). So if someone cuts the queue – let them do it. If someone wants to listen to music at ear bleeding volumes at 5am – silakan! Additionally, while being sopan, if you arrive at someone’s house and they offer you a drink and you should refuse. They’ll ignore you and give you a drink anyway. Which you shouldn’t drink. They’ll insist three times – then you can drink it. But don’t finish it. That’s rude. Also, Within budaya Jawa culture it is better to give an answer. Even if you have truly no idea where that place/person/thing is/lives/was. And you shouldn’t ask a question if you think the person may not be able to answer it.

If you are lucky enough to have to deal with any office departments like I have had the pleasure to, you’ll learn a few things about being hormat (respectful) in that environment. Rock up in thongs, shorts and unshaved – you may as well not come at all. I wear a batik shirt, pants, good shoes, clean shaven and rock up as early as possible. While waiting I have witnessed unsuspecting bules being forced to wait for hours for things that take minutes. You have to play the game. There is no way around that. Also, every time the system changes – go here, go there, bring this, no you don’t need that you need this, come back tomorrow (when I’m not here), you’re too early, you have the wrong face, etc, etc. You have to smile and move on. Homicide will get you nowhere.

Within the kampung, whenever you go anywhere you are asked “Mau ke mana?” (Where do you want to go?) It’s the Indonesia version of g’day, how are you? No one actually cares. You’re not meant to answer properly, a simple jalan-jalan saja (just walking around) will suffice – but until you work that out you’ll be giving unwanted information to everyone. Another thing within the kampung, you can’t go out if it’s too hot. Or if it could be hot. Or was hot. Or if it’s raining. Or if it could rain. Or if it has rained. Or if it’s too late at night. Or if it’s too early. Or if it’s busy. Probably just stay home. The most common ailment within the kapung is Masuk angin (literally wind that has entered your body) and is blamed for everything. And caused by everything. Such as going out in the above mentioned conditions. Or going to the beach. Or having a mandi too late. Or [insert anything here]…….

So sometimes things get a bit too much and you need a break. Is living here a horrible experience surrounded by crazy people? Maybe – but only when you’re tired, sick or over it all. The rest of the time it is interesting, exciting and enjoyable. There just comes a time in every relationship when you need some some “me-time”. Time out to think about things – remember what you love. While in Lombok. By the pool. Watching the sunset. While sipping a cocktail. Ahhhhhhh……….


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1 Response to Budaya perbedaan–culture shock in a foreign land

  1. Angie says:

    Ha Ha too funny….. but true!

    Similar to some countries in Southern Europe.


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