Miserable People

Sep 11th, 2008, in News, by

UnhappyWhether westerners and expats in Indonesia are viewed as miserable and unfriendly people.

American teacher of English in Yogyakarta, Michelle Ahmad, tells that her Indonesian friends regard as her as being atypical for a foreigner in Indonesia - whereas most expats look grumpy and unfriendly much of the time, Michelle smiles a lot, her friends say.

On reflection however Michelle believes she isn't much different from other expats, especially when on the street:

when I am alone and walking around town, I look at the ground, avoid eye contact, and rarely smile. I ignore hellos in English altogether or respond in Indonesian, seeing even simple greetings as subtle harassment because I am foreign, I am a bule.

Michelle avoids eye contact and speaking to strangers partly because she doesn't want to invite amorous male attention, particularly when out alone at night.

However lately she has resolved to be less fretful about safety and more open to people, she says. michelleahmad.blogspot.com

Another blogger and foreign resident in Indonesia, this time male, Brandon, says he was accosted at the gym recently by an Indonesian woman who complained:

Why don’t you ever talk to anyone at the gym? You always wear headphones, so no one can talk to you. And when you workout you don’t smile.

Brandon says he is not very sociable at the gym because

  • he is there to work out not socialise
  • he doesn't want to be seen as "hitting on" women

But to an Indonesian:

...we may come across as being unfriendly or perhaps even a bit stuck-up

He recommends that Indonesians just ignore the apparent unfriendliness of bules, and just approach them if they feel like it. javajive.com


93 Comments on “Miserable People”

  1. avatar janma says:

    He recommends that Indonesians just ignore the apparent unfriendliness of bules, and just approach them if they feel like it.

    thanks a bloody lot brandon…!

  2. avatar Rob says:

    Here we go again 😀

  3. avatar Purba Negoro says:

    Some bules just have a “grumpy” face- like some Indonesians.
    Some Indonesian Ibu2 have very grumpy faces- even more so when they pass someone they do not like or are jealous of.

    There are some obvious cultural differences.
    In Javanese culture, ideally we should not project our inner feelings as facial expressions.
    Also- we smile a lot as polite recognition of another person acknowledging our presence- or us to them- like a non-verbal “thank-you” or “hi”.
    I think bule tend to do this more verbally- as in an office setting.

    Quite honestly- I do not understand the comment about safety. Statistically a bule is far less likely to be rape or robbery victim in Indonesia than even their home nation- this seems to be some sort of defence mechanism: “fear of other”, “fear of crowds”, :fear of non whites/non racial alikes”.
    Also- I argue many bule feel uncomfortable as their perception of Indonesia is incongruent with reality- ie feel uncomfortable because surrounded by those more/less wealthy, less well groomed, slimmer or more attractive (for women) etc.

    I think it would be very interesting topic for cultural anthropology.
    But- one cannot truly blame bule- the novelty of unwanted attention would quickly wear off.

  4. avatar timdog says:

    PN:

    Quite honestly- I do not understand the comment about safety. Statistically a bule is far less likely to be rape or robbery victim in Indonesia than even their home nation

    Totally agree. I wander brazenly into the kind of places that I would never go to in the UK without even a flicker of concern… Now that may, in part, be ignorance and naivity on my part; I may simply be protected by my own bizarre novelty value to the people around me (and by the fact that I’m bigger and scarier-looking than them), or it mat simply be because I’m smiling… but in any case, wandering through your average British town at midnight in a saturday is a far, far scarier prospect…
    Still, this Michelle woman hasn’t been here long, she is American, and she’s very earnest… just wait until she gets to Aceh…

  5. avatar Rob says:

    PN…

    I am not sure the novelty ever wears off across the board. I have been here 15 years and the colour of my skin distinguishes me from the crowd and, wanted or not, the novelty returns.

    That said, in places where I frequent regularly, like the office, there is no novelty value in me. I am just another one of the employees of the company going about my daily business.

    You get used to it and you deal with it, the novelty value that is. Just yesterday I was walking past the Satpam and there were Indonesians in front of me and Indonesians behind me, the Satpam made a point of talking to me and acknowledging me and ignoring the Indonesians completely. For me this is strange. Just because I am a foreigner does not mean that I should be respected in any way that is different from my Indonesian colleagues.

    It is strange for me because I work for a local company and my boss is Indonesian (he is my boss because he is better qualified for the task and my task is in a specific area where I do have the requisite skills). Some might say that the behaviour of the Satpam is politeness and the Indonesian way. I wonder whether a case could be made that subconsciously, at least, there is a belief that foreigners have to be given special treatment and receive special degrees of courteousness not provided to fellow Indonesians. I do not deserve special treatment or recognition, I do not ask for it, and I do not seek it. I hope that one day I can be just another face in the crowd.

  6. avatar Purba Negoro says:

    Timdog and Rob- you are indeed a very rare gems.

    A cultured, appreciative, intelligent reflective men of words and wisdom.
    Those rare few Renaissance men highlighting the fast fading pinnacle of Western brilliance.

    Timdog- yes. Poor lass- I’m glad she ignored the Terrrrrrrr Alerrrrrrts for Indoh-nesia. Hopefully she’s on “Blue: Guarded” and ever-freedom-vigilant.

    Indonesia is like anywhere- if you’re too flashy with money or wander into run-down areas – you’re making yourself an obvious and easy target.

    Positive discrimination. Very thorny Fortunately for you, this is probably the worst form of discrimination you’ll face globally.
    I have heard similar stories from British expats who’d lived for years in Africa, now movd here (they prefer it here btw 😉 )

    It is very offensive at times too- I would imagine, and make you most uncomfortable.
    It is rather strange- isn’t it- this residual colonial mindset. Or maybe your point is more accurate: guests require better and preferential treatment.
    Perhaps some hack academic can make their thesis about it and be published in one of their clique journals.

    Before the Bali Bombings- we native Indonesians were treated with contempt by the Balinese. Now- completely different attitude.

  7. avatar Purba Negoro says:

    PS-
    something a little related to the US and current “duck and cover” paranoia on Muslim nations:
    http://www.safenow.org/

  8. avatar DXP says:

    DXP surely do not want to tease or disturb a lonely bule women stranger on the street, the reasons are,
    – a bule women most likely big & tall, very intimidating size for mostly asian man
    – generally bule women may have high expectation on topic of discussion, we will not know where the conversation will end up looks a like?
    – asia women with petite, especially the xiao cie with the smooth & white evenly balance complexion are (personally) more compelling than a big, tall, blonde white with sprouting skin color women. DXP feel more comfortable to say ‘ni hao’ and will expect for an easy going conversation with typical xiao cie

    So, bule women can walk freely & say ni hao to everyone in the busy Pudong or Shanghai city without affraid to get any sexual harrasment from any china man, guarantee !

  9. avatar Marisa says:

    @ Michelle and Brandon, if both of you read this.

    Hello, how are you doing?

    In my opinion,
    You are miserable if you actually give a damn about what they think.

    Sometimes you take others’ opinions seriously, sometimes you don’t. Be selective about it. No matter where you live in, or who you live with, it is YOUR life. Take control of it.

    No offense. I just can’t see why it should matter.

  10. avatar kiwibali says:

    Before the Bali Bombings- we native Indonesians were treated with contempt by the Balinese. Now- completely different attitude.

    care to elaborate on this PN? what is the current attitude of Balinese towards their fellow Indonesians? you also used the term Indonesians and Balinese as if you are trying to separate the two as two different groups, Care to explain?

  11. avatar Vincent says:

    If you are miserable than go home.I think Indonesians and Indonesia are a wonderful country and people.Most foreigners are badly brought up with no manners and no asian values! Balik -lah!

  12. avatar janma says:

    Most foreigners are badly brought up with no manners and no asian values! Balik -lah!

    you see it’s the wealth of highly original statements like the one above that make discussing these things so educational and satisfying….

  13. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Halo Friend,

    If you act slightly insane, they’ll probably leave you alone. Try grinning inanely, nodding, and giving the thumbs up, over and over again.

    Hi Janma !

  14. avatar janma says:

    If you act slightly insane, they’ll probably leave you alone. Try grinning inanely, nodding, and giving the thumbs up, over and over again.

    trust me achmad…. that will just draw a crowd. If you do anything but stare at the ground you’re done for. I remember, at the end of my tether in India, a friend of mine and I decided that doing the slightly insane act would do it… we were on a train and a few guys had their faces pressed against a window staring at us, so we stared back inanely etc, so what they do??? began masturbating right on the station platform…. go figure!

    My worst here is being stuck in traffic with an open back truck full of people in front of me… they sit and stare, point and discuss me enthusiastically while I try wildly to overtake them even at risk to myself.
    Who was it above that said that Asians were well bought up and had manners?

  15. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Ah yes, the old random public wanking (RPW).

    Missed that entry in Martha Stewart’s etiquette guide and in How to Win Friends and Influence People. Those guys obviously forgot the “note to self – avoid RPWs with mates at train station.”

    What took you to India ?

  16. avatar janma says:

    What took you to India ?

    a plane actually, Air India and the toilet always overflows by the time you get to Singapore.

  17. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    the sweet smell of success. Didn’t u run a business in India or something ?

  18. avatar Purba Negoro says:

    @Janma-

    Toilet overflowing- That’s a cunning foretaste of sampling the pleasures of India.

    All you need is a stinky onion-curry-tomato-BO- cabby smells and some faux Victorian British accents with petty bourgeoisie cultural aggrandizement and that would be India in a nutshell.

    Such an amazing country filled with the very worst kind of humans imaginable.
    When I was there in 2007- three rich drunk kids had run over (and killed) dhalit children in their Hummers and caught on video tape laughing about it.
    Not even Tommy Suharto could escape a lynch mob for that here.

  19. avatar janma says:

    Didn’t u run a business in India or something ?

    I did lots of things…. Imagine…. I was an english teacher to orphan boys in bengal when I was 19….. and before everyone accuses me of rape you should know that I ended up being thrown out for exposing the pedophile English teachers…
    I did flood relief…. I started a jewelery business…. I learned sanskrit and bengali…. lots of things really…. the last couple of years there I went a bit wild and partied….. it was fun.

  20. avatar janma says:

    I always remember this one line on ‘Not the 9 o’clock News’ where Rowan Atkinson says… “and now for news on immigration…. another very emotive issue…. and at this juncture, I ‘d like to point out that I ‘like’ Indian people, indeed I even have Indian friends…. but now that we ‘have’ the recipe for curry, is there really any need for them all to stay?

  21. avatar Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    @ janma

    … so we stared back inanely etc, so what they do??? began masturbating right on the station platform…. go figure!

    Don’t compare us with Indians. Javanese are poles apart in mannerism. We have traditional court room sopan etiquette passed down from generations.

  22. avatar janma says:

    oh, that’s right AAB….. here they stare at you while absently picking their nose instead…. much politer…

  23. avatar Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    @ janma,

    Nose picking is Thai’s habit, ear wax picking is Ozzie’s, crouching and rubbing one’s finger around one’s toes is Jap’s and spitting is Chinese. Indonesian was not even on the top 5 list of the most impolite nations.

  24. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Janma,

    Sounds cool. You learned Sanskrit ? Wow. Just for kicks or did you want to read Hindu scriptures in the original ?

    Glad to hear you got back on the straight and narrow after partying – sort of. 🙂 BTW — everyone, had a look on Janma’s FB & she has some fabulous designs….

    Proof that not all Bules in Indonesia are miserable…

  25. avatar Andy says:

    PN-But- one cannot truly blame bule- the novelty of unwanted attention would quickly wear off.

    Well guess what, I agree with Purba..better check it’s not the end of the world or even snowing in Jakarta as we speak.

    Seriously, it is great that an Indonesian can acknowledge this. Most can’t understand why we don’t want their attention 24/7. I worked in an adult school for a year with some very educated people from quite smart backgrounds. However they seemed to find it odd that we didn’t want to be bothered and asked constant questions during our lunchbreaks. Even worse was the Indonesian staff who used to direct them to us in the lunchroom knowing we were on a break trying hard to read the paper, listen to music or just plain eat. There would then be the complaints that the teachers were rude or ‘off limits’ when we used to spend an extra three hours outside our lesson times for them anyway.

    As for the Joe, Adit, Putri or Ahmad in the street let’s put him /her in a street in Melbourne or Sydney for a while and see if they like every man and his dog yelling at them, gesturing and giving unwanted attention. I find it very hard even to strike up a simple conversation on the tram with most asians. Not even a hello most of the time.

  26. avatar janma says:

    yes, I learned sanskrit, but only for kicks really, I like to learn languages…. it’s pretty easy for me. Also I shared a house with a brahman couple from south india and learnt loads of interesting things from them…. they had no kids and I was only 17 or something, so they sort of adopted me….

  27. avatar Rob says:

    Achmad…

    This is a big call for you:

    Proof that not all Bules in Indonesia are miserable…

    Particularly, when your bread and butter is insulting your bule brothers and sisters here and abroad!

    😀

  28. avatar janma says:

    did anyone else ever notice that whenever you drop your bread and butter, it always falls butter side down?

  29. avatar Purba Negoro says:

    Andy-
    I just checked outside- we now have two moons and three suns, airborn pigs and a red night and there are four guys on horseback- one has particularly bad BO watering their horses in my rainwater gutter

    Not an ominous sign is it…

    Janma- your Oxford chappies did a thesis on it.

    They also hypoethsised a perpeutal motion machine could be theoretically devised by cellotaping bread with butter side up to the back of a cat then dropping it.

    And the world’s first computer game was written by bored computer scientists and physicists working on Russian and American ICBM launch command consoles and missile nav systems.

    So Cold war was just one long game of Pong maybe?

  30. avatar Jeames says:

    Many expats in Indonesia are miserable. Just look at their blogs; complaining, whining and critical of the country where they are guests. They hate it here but have just been here too long to ever go home and they’ve forgotten what home is like anyway. They complain about Indonesia, but their comparisons to their own country are imaginary. At least here they get comparatively big salaries, polite service and attention from the opposite sex that they would never get at home. So why are they here and why don’t they just leave?

    Sure; constant “hello misters” must get boring but you are a bule in Indonesia and it ain’t gonna change. Bule are still an interesting novelty to Indonesians. Don’t be so arrogant. A friendly greeting is better than being an Asian in Australia and called a “f***ing darkie” by the locals and attacked on the street because of your race. I think that Michelle is flattering herself; is she that hot to look at? Does she get this attention in America?

    And Is Brandon gay? Most guys go the the gym to check out the chicks. Why doesn’t he doesn’t want to be seen as “hitting on” women. One of the highlights of going to the gym in Indonesia is having something hot and female to look at while you’re working out. If you’re a guy of course!

    Cheer up bule expats in Indonesia! Enjoy the gracious hospitality that you receive or go home…if you have the balls! It’s always there for you if Indonesia is so bad.

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