Smiling People, Smiley Faces

May 18th, 2009, in News, by

Indonesians are officially the most smiley and pleasant people in the world, in shops.

The 2009 Smiling Report, conducted by two Swedish organisations called Better Business and the International Mystery Shopping Alliance (IMSA), analyses how likely shop, hotel, and office staff are to smile at and greet customers or people they are required to deal with as part of their job.

66 countries were surveyed and 2.5 million probing questions were asked during 2008 and in the Smiling category Indonesia was found to lead the way with a whopping 98% Smiling Rate. The most miserable customer service staff were in Pakistan, with a hopeless 44% Smiling Rate.

It starts young.

On the Greeting front Indonesia again had a near perfect 98% score, but this time grudgingly having to share top spot with Hong Kong. The gruff customer service staff of Morocco were weakest with pleasantries, with only a 48% Greeting Rate.

However in a third category, “Add-on sales“, analyzing the rate at which sales assistants suggest additional products or services to customers, Indonesia couldn’t claim first place honours. Instead Pakistani shop staff made up for their woeful 1 in 2 lack of smileyness and took the number one rank with an 82% rate of suggesting extras. The Finns, on 3%, were the least imaginative in this area.

Generals do it too.

In general the Report found that worldwide smiling and greeting rates in shops and offices had been on the decline since 2004.

The industry where smiling was most common was Health & Beauty with 86% worldwide, greetings were most likely in government service departments (94%) while the Business to Business area was lowest for both categories, 52% and 70% respectively.

In Stockholm an Indonesian embassy representative, Dody Kusumonegoro, proudly informed Indonesian media of the Report recently, and noted that his hosts the Swedes ranked a lowly 24th for Smileyness. gatra

57 Comments on “Smiling People, Smiley Faces”

  1. avatar Astrajingga says:


    people see me and they press their gass pedal!!!

    They were running away and scare, or they were trying to get help?

    Jeeeshh… Banjar–Pangandaran road still hasn’t been fixed? Still with many potholes? I was there many times eons ago, and all I could remember is how bad the road was, with so many ‘sleeping police women’ (polwan tidur–the other kind, the many bumps in kampung streets, are ‘sleeping policemen/polisi tidur.’) This is bad for our grand tourism industry, less dollar input for Indonesian dying economy.

    Comparing your ‘helpful Indonesians’ stories to the one with Andy’s force me to get to conclusion that Andy was mingling with ‘abnormal’ Indonesians. An Un-Indonesian hysterical laugh, McCarthy would’ve said.

    You better mingle with truckdriver, Andy, never curse ugal-ugalan (reckless) truckdriver, they are making their (small) money, and they might be the one who will help if you have accident.

    Better to smile at them, and if you like, give them a ‘finger’. They won’t understand, and they’ll smile back to you.

  2. avatar madrotter says:

    its been a while since i traveled the banjar-pangandaran road but if i look at the roads in and outside bandung i dont think that road will be fixed. to get to my house i need to take jalan sersan bajuri, the one from ledeng all the way up to parongpong. this is a pretty important road, many of those luxurious complexes are there and many jakartans use it as a jalan tikus to get to bandung. this road is now more like a riverbed, there are accidents all the time. since those responsible for road maintenance are…well….not being responsible it seems nothing is being done and folks take it upon themselves to fix roads, meaning dumping rocks and earth in holes or sometimes with loads of cement which just worsens the problem… honestly, most of bandung is like that these days… how laughable it was when they had this asia-africa conference thing a few years back and they frantically worked to make the city look better than it actually is, suddenly there were all these flowerbeds and streetsweepers, soon as it was over bandung was back at being a filthy disorderly place again… meanwhile our beloved mayor goes on a one week trip to texas, taxpayers paying ofcourse, and he uses an amount of 75.000 dollars for that…
    look what they’ve done to alun alun in bandung, it really is a disgrace….

    and yes those gaspeddal pumping people on the jalan tol were running away yah

  3. avatar ET says:

    Better to smile at them, and if you like, give them a ‘finger’. They won’t understand, and they’ll smile back to you.

    Don’t try it with a polisi. Believe me, they know what it means. But generally Indonesians smile in embarassing situations or when they are faced with something they can’t handle. I think it’s a instinctive protective reaction, probably culturally determined.

  4. avatar ET says:

    madrotter said

    and yes those gaspeddal pumping people on the jalan tol were running away

    Without denying your frustrating experience on the jalan tol, credit should also be given where credit is due. Here’s my personal experience.
    One day I was driving a Kijang together with 5 Balinese friends from the Ubud area who wanted to visit their relatives in a kampung near Singaraja. On the steep mountain road right above Danau Buyan the car ran flat and – malapetaka tidak diduga datangnya – we got caught at the same time in a scary freak storm. Due to the steepness of the road it wasn’t possible to change the tire on the spot and to make things worse the car refused to start again because air was trapped in the fuel pipe and the many attempts to restart had exhausted the battery. Meanwhile the storm got worse by the minute and trees, power lines and rubbish started to come down from the mountain, partially blocking the road. I was particularly afraid to get caught in a landslide, which often happens in that area – in fact a giant landslide in the past had divided the once big lake at the time into two smaller lakes, Danau Buyan and Danau Tamblingan. As there were also one small child and a baby in the car I stopped a slaloming passing bemo and asked my passengers to continue the trip to their kampung with public transport. Together with our pembantu who insisted to stay with me, I would wait until the storm was over and then try to find help. To my surprise and relief an hour later, the storm still raging and the pembantu without interruption praying Sang Yang Widhi to save us, a pick-up truck with help from my companions’ family came from the opposite direction and without hesitation, amidst the danger of falling trees and debris, they managed to get the car running so it could be placed on a sufficiently flat spot to change the tire. I’ll never forget that among those who came to help was an elderly handicapped man who, soaked to the bone by the gushing rain, fearlessly cleared the road removing fallen branches and rocks in the howling gale. When the rescue operation was done and I insisted to pay them for their brave assistance they jointly refused with a grin from ear to ear. Smiles like that remain tattooed on ones memory.
    Acung jempol and thanks again. It’s people like you who tie me to your country. The least I can do to repay is tell your story on the internet.

  5. avatar madrotter says:

    well that’s a beautiful story and it’s like what i said before, people WILL come running up and offer their help here without wanting anything back for it

  6. avatar tomaculum says:

    Interesting experiences, guy. Here is mine:
    in the 80s I lived and worked in Indonesia (after almost 10 years in Europe). As some of you know I am a mixed blood (javo-chinese, not sino-javanese 🙂 ) and my performance was and is rather javanese than chinese.
    One day I drove home wit my old car as I saw a motorbiker knocked down by a car.
    With my idealism in my heart (although some of my friends, also “pribumis” have warned me to drive away in such situations) I stopped to help and took my doctor bag out of my car.
    As I came to the lokation there were already about 25 people around the victim, some of them laughing as the saw the broken leg of the young motorbiker.
    One of them saw me and my car and barked at me if I were the car driver (which was involved at the accident. Unfortunately the car flew away.).
    I answered friendly no and told him that I wanted to help.
    The man, good dressed and surely not poor, screamed at me and isulted me further that I was the driver. Some of the other men stood around me and looked angry too.
    I screamed back that I would tell the police they have interrupted my help and if the young man were dead I will insult them so that they came in to the prison. The victim meanwhile lied there full of pain and tried to tell the people that it was an other car…..
    Fortunately a military car with an officer stopped and cleared the situation, so I could help the victim and brought him with my car into the hospital where I worked. And the police came later (I’ve seen them in the hospital and they tried to charge me and wanted money from me. Without smilling.)
    I noticed in the situation that some of the surroundings, also some women and girls, were always smilling like they already smell blood.
    Here we are with the smilling people.
    I think many people in Indonesia (read: Java) are scared to be involved or insulted if they stop to help. I have heard about some accidents where car drivers (really involved in the accident or not) are beaten to death and I saw pictures where those beater laughed and smilled after their work was done.

  7. avatar Chris says:

    I thought Russians were famous for “service with a scowl”. Do you know where they ended up relative to the Pakistanis? (The ref link doesn’t have a full list).

  8. avatar David says:

    Some great stories here….

    Do you know where they ended up relative to the Pakistanis? (The ref link doesn’t have a full list).

    To see the full list you have to email ‘Better Business’ and explain why you want it or maybe pay.

  9. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:


    yes, why do people laugh at accidents here ? I fell over once and had an open, bleeding wound, when a nearby Kaki Lima pointed at me and started laughing at the blood.

  10. avatar ET says:

    tomaculum said

    although some of my friends, also “pribumis” have warned me to drive away in such situations

    I’ve got the same advice from pribumi friends, especially if one would become involved in an accident even without being at fault. The rationale behind it is as follows: ‘We know you are not at fault but you actually don’t belong here, so if you wouldn’t have been here the accident wouldn’t have happened. Cough up, misterrr’.

    And the police came later (I’ve seen them in the hospital and they tried to charge me and wanted money from me. Without smilling.)

    How come I’m not surprised? In most countries a policeman is somebody carrying a gun with the function to uphold law and order. In Indonesia it is simply a man with a gun.

    Two valuable lessons from this thread:

    – An Indonesian smile – in fact Asian smiles in general – can have different meanings and shouldn’t be necessarily equated with friendliness. If smiles are used to hide helplessness or embarrassment in some situations they may easily be misunderstood by westerners and even have an effect of putting out fire with gasoline.

    – Much of Indonesia is still a jungle. The jungle is a beautiful and interesting place with many attractions but beware of becoming infatuated. One should always be on guard and never relax too much. You might be bitten or stung before you even know it.

  11. avatar tomaculum says:

    Killing me softly with their smile ………. 🙂

  12. avatar BacKStbrZ says:

    hey are you all being a little bit over? dont tag all people like that… some of those aren’t smiling when people are being hit by pedestrians…. including me, i’m the guy with the camera on it!! LoL… FYI!! i’m the one who invented that yellowish smiley logo! but people wont believe me!! sigh…

  13. avatar David says:

    Full list for smiling:

    Indonesia 98
    India 97
    Italy 97
    Hungary 96
    Switzerland 96
    Finland 94
    Austria 93
    Chile 92
    Portugal 92
    Australia 90
    Bulgaria 90
    Greece 90
    Spain 90
    The Netherlands 90
    China 89
    Germany 88
    New Zealand 88
    Poland 88
    Denmark 87
    Ireland 86
    Hong Kong 85
    Luxembourg 84
    Philippines 84
    Sweden 83
    Turkey 83
    Puerto Rico 82
    France 81
    Iceland 81
    Thailand 81
    USA 81
    Belgium 80
    Guam 80
    Japan 80
    Latvia 80
    UK 80
    Estonia 79
    Oman 79
    South Africa 77
    South Korea 77
    Malaysia 76
    Mexico 74
    Norway 74
    Romania 74
    Singapore 74
    Croatia 73
    Argentina 70
    Guatemala 66
    Lithuania 65
    Russia 60
    Slovenia 60
    Jamaica 59
    Morocco 56
    Pakistan 44
    World average 77


    Hong Kong 98
    Indonesia 98
    India 97
    Italy 97
    Taiwan 97
    Hungary 96
    Canada 95
    Argentina 93
    Australia 93
    Portugal 93
    Ireland 92
    Greece 91
    Japan 91
    Macau 91
    Bulgaria 90
    Chile 90
    China 89
    Croatia 89
    New Zealand 89
    Spain 89
    Germany 88
    Poland 88
    Singapore 87
    Estonia 86
    UK 86
    Malaysia 85
    South Korea 85
    Philippines 84
    Thailand 81
    Turkey 81
    Sweden 80
    Belgium 79
    Oman 79
    Russia 77
    South Africa 77
    Austria 76
    Slovenia 75
    Denmark 73
    Iceland 73
    Finland 72
    The Netherlands 71
    Puerto Rico 70
    Bosna i Hercegovina 69
    Latvia 69
    Switzerland 69
    USA 68
    Guatemala 66
    Norway 66
    Pakistan 65
    Romania 62
    Luxembourg 61
    Lithuania 60
    France 48
    Morocco 48
    World average 81

  14. avatar Odinius says:

    Hmm…the accident stories, as I see it, don’t really speak to anything cultural as much as the danger of crowds, particularly in a place where state authority is thin and police are not widely available and respected as authority figures. Similar stuff happens in Mexico, India, etc.

  15. avatar diego says:


    FYI!! i’m the one who invented that yellowish smiley logo! but people wont believe me!! sigh…

    It’s quite understandable people won’t believe you. How hard could it be to come up with the idea “yellowish round, smiley face”? But, please, don’t be let down by my words. I thought the same way about Andy Warhol “masterpieces”…: WTF, really he became famous for putting pictures side-by-side?

  16. avatar Zekky says:

    I don’t think Indonesian smiles are ‘fake’…
    … I believe it’s just politeness to smile over there…
    … technically therefore it’s a bit fake but not with the intention of lying to someone’s face.

    I presume the same goes for Thais, Malaysians, etc.

  17. avatar Pena Budaya says:

    I am quite surprise that Hungary is placed in the fifth rank. I have been visiting Budapest (with caucasians and I am an indonesian) and no one smiles at us during my visit: no smiling people in the street, in the hotel, in the shop, in the restaurant, well, everywhere! It was quite shocking experience actually. I feel it is bit weird to be served in five stars hotel by hotel staff who didn’t even bother to smile. I guess this ranking result derived from all region in Hungary, and certainly Budapest is just minority…

    After my Budapest experience, believe me, you’d rather be in a place where people love to smile rather than in a place where people just having trouble to smile – last place was certainly very depressing!

  18. avatar Lairedion says:

    Pena Budaya,

    Same goes for the Swiss. Been there twice and all I saw were chagrins. As for Hungary Eastern Europeans are not well-known for their joyfulness and friendliness. On the other hand I once visited Belgrade with a Serbian friend (after the Balkan war and NATO-bombings) and it felt like the Mediterranean, lots of smiling people, especially the stunning beautiful women… 😛

  19. avatar Zekky says:

    How the hell did France come so high (and above the UK?!) for smiling?

    After all the times I’ve been there I’d say the French are some of the most miserable bunch around.

  20. avatar Odinius says:


    To culturally essentialize, I found that Balkan types do smile a lot, but not in service industries. Only been to Belgrade briefly, but lived on the other side for a while and found that there are few less smiley and less attentive human beings than Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin waiters and waitresses.

    But outside that context, people are very nice, very friendly and inviting to foreigners.

    …and yes, the women are absolutely ridiculous.

  21. avatar maman says:

    well i like the politeness that indonesian has. i really hate those chinese clerks (i mean from chinese mainland or hongkong, not indo-born chinese) who almost never smile when they serve me in restourants and shops. even in the fine dining restourants.

  22. avatar Chris says:

    This article also made me think of the classic line from Richard III (see top of image) :


  23. avatar matahari says:

    Reading all these … makes me want to stop smiling.

  24. Hello I am Shigeo Hayakawa living in Tokyo, Japan. Last week I heard on NHK radio, a national radio broadcasting station in Japan that a Japanese women living in Jakarta reported that according to the survey coducted by Swedish survey organization people living in Indonesia offer the best wonderful smile at their services in the world. Once a week she report on many things which happens in Indonesia on the radio program, which I always enjoy listening to.

    These days a lot of unhappy things have happenned in many respects such as in economic and political fields worldwide. We tend to feel lousy and people including me tends to forget to give a smile to the persons we meet.

    I think that a smiling face is very important in our daily life. Because it makes people happy, not only the persons you meet but also you who give a smiling face.

    After reading this article, we have to learn a lot from Indonesian people in this respect.
    Thank you very much for sharing a wonderful report.

  25. avatar devilkitty says:

    We seem to smile a lot because our language use mostly the vowel “A” :p even when we’re mad “BANG$@T LO YA!!!” “KEPARAT!!” GILAAAA!!!! hahahahahah…

  26. avatar Ira Rahmawati says:

    It is sad that some Indonesians are always ready to say bad things about their own country. I guess they have been very successful in learning self-hatred into their poor Indonesian souls.

    Guys, love it or leave it! You don’t have to stay in Indonesia if you hate it so deperately.

  27. avatar Diky says:

    @Matrotter: You lived in bandung, bless you. Sundanesse people is most warmhearted people in the world

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