Can Love Transcend Cultural Barriers?

Feb 22nd, 2012, in Society, by

Having inherited multiethnic bloodstream from my parents, I grew up fascinated by culture, languages and existing diversity in humanity. I have always thought of cultural differences as the spices of the world; however I’m quite aware that often the lack of understanding of these differences is often the root of conflict. I have lived in around three countries, with different cultures and gained a lot of experience when it comes to adapting and interacting with other cultural groups. Since childhood, perhaps influenced by my parents, I developed a great sense of respect for life and a great awareness of cultural and social context. I believe in the good side of people and I’m often confused with being naïve or unaware when I interact with others. I have a strong believe in the ability of true love to transcend cultural barriers.

Not long time ago, I had to unique experience of visiting Indonesia and experiencing the beauty of the nature there and its saturated culture. I was fascinated and my interest in Indonesian culture increased a lot. Before visiting Indonesia, I had read books and watched documentaries about it, to be somehow prepared for the cultural experiences; as the trip objective was to get to know the culture well enough. My friends and I tried to avoid as much as possible places saturated with tourists, however this was often practically impossible, especially in Bali. Nonetheless our experience was gratifying and we met many good people and enjoy the greatest hospitality. My fascination for Indonesia reached its pinnacle after meeting a girl. She was kind, simple and so easy to talk to, despite language limitations. It did not take long for me to develop feelings for her and my departure from Indonesia was sad. Today, I communicate with her about every day and I would like for us to be together.

However, I’m aware that at the moment my feelings could be blinding me and I’m willingly dismissing the cultural barriers that exist between us. I have no interest in volatile affairs, as by experience they don’t often end so well. I am and will always be an admirer of true love and will avoid by all means a relationship that lacks it. Few days ago I accidentally stumbled into this site, while looking for information about Indonesia courtship culture. I was a bit surprised about how many of the posts here depicted foreigners as low class individuals searching for wives in poor countries and that many Indonesian did not view foreigners with good eyes. I’m aware to some extent of this issue, but what surprised me was the facility of many of the people commenting to make generalizations. I would please, love very so much to get some help to understand, through your comments, the way Indonesians view foreigners and to get a sense of how big of a problem can the cultural barriers be when it comes to forming a couple, or marital life, with Indonesians. If it helps I’m 28 years old, university student (not anthropology), lived most of my life in South America; however I have also lived in Eastern and Western Europe. I do not belong to any religion, as my parents decided that I needed to make that decision by myself as an adult and I don’t think I need to adhere myself to any religion. I do however believe in what some people might call God, so I’m not an atheist. I’m strongly influenced by Hindu mystics, and their view of reality; however as I said before, I do not practice any religion. I do not smoke, do not drink and I’m vegetarian. Please, I would really appreciate all comments. Thank you beforehand. Romi.

89 Comments on “Can Love Transcend Cultural Barriers?”

  1. Asri says:

    Hi Romi,

    Yeah, those comments in this site about Indonesian people, and particularly about dating Indonesian girls, probably will quite a shocking fact. Of course there are some elements of the truth there, but in my opinion (I’m Indonesian, btw), it happened in every cultures, in every countries, so it can’t be unique to only Indonesian. Contrary to your impression that some Indonesian seeing foreigners here from a low class in their native countries, in fact, there are many opinions of seeing foreigners superiors because of their skin colors (no racism intended), their high salary, and their international atmosphere (language, outlooks, etc) so that sometimes it’s quite intimidating. Some people even feel proud to be linked to foreigners because it makes them feel superior, too. Well, just perhaps :p.

    But there are also many people, like me and my inner circle, if I may point out, that seeing foreigners as same as we are, despite their skin colors, languages, education, salary (if we knew the numbers), or else. Like to local acquaintances, we decide by their personality to like or dislike them (but we admit that sometimes language barriers make us feeling inferior). But, yes, of course there are some different threats too, knowing that they are foreigners with totally different cultures and customs.

    And you may have known that foreigners with fair skin usually called “bule” here. Some foreigners that I know don’t mind with that call, but some are feeling abused with the term. Generally, when Indonesian call you “bule”, we have no bad intention nor trying to offend you what soever, unless you meet Indonesian who call you “bule kere” or just “bule” with harsh intonation, now that can be an abusive gesture. But, I assure you, when we said “bule”, it’s just for casual term, with no negative/positive purposes.

    Anyway, back to your question about cultural barriers, religion can be one big barriers, and sex before marriage, too. Religion can be a big family matter, too, so for instance, if your girl doesn’t mind if you’re not embracing any religions, perhaps her big family insisting her (and you) to embrace any (or same) religion before marriage. Sex before marriage is very personal issue, of course, and it depends on your girl. But in social view, sex before marriage (or even getting pregnant before marriage) is considered as scandalous. Some people will say that it is one bleak picture of how Indonesian people is so hypocrite since free-sex or getting pregnant before marriage is become common nowadays, plus those prostitution everywhere. But I just tell you the general picture, hypocrite or not will depend on your girl and how you take the situation.

    And Indonesian people have very close family ties. So, it may be a big problems as well if you’re not quite familiar with such culture because for some family, if you’re the richest one in the family, you should help other family members who are less fortunate.

    There are many more issues that can be a big barriers, of course, but I think I have writing talking so long and perhaps you don’t get anything new from me, but I just want to say that love can be an important ground for you to transcend any cultural barriers. It can’t be the only factors of course, you still need huge understandings to each other cultures, customs, and characters to make a marriage long lasting (just my humble opinion, tho), but love will make easier to do it. Good luck with your love.

  2. apollo23 says:

    Asri, thanks a lot for you comment. Believe me, the information you have provided is helpful. I appreciate that you have taken some time to address my concerns. Yes, indeed religion seems to be a bit of an issue and her family might insist in me embracing their faith. Yeah, I´ve noticed that the family bonds are quite strong, that is a quite positive thing, the only problem is that her independence seems to be quite limited.

  3. UtilitarianIndon says:


    The fact that you’re in love with her proof that it transcends cultural barrier, at least in your case. In my pov, this means that for you at the moment at least, your love for her has higher value than the sum of your cultural values that you considered to be your barriers.

    The question now then: Does she feel the same about you?
    And if she does, does she value it higher than whatever her cultural barriers are?
    And if the answer is yes again, there shouldn’t be any cultural problems at all, for now at least.

    Cultural differences are just like other differences, be it religious, political, etc. Either both of you value the relationship more than the sum of those differences thereby deciding together to ignore or reconcile them, or you don’t.

    One thing I’d remind you though, that feelings DO change over time, thereby the value of the relationship for you (and her) will change too, for better or worse. And if at one point the relationship value for either of you is lower than the sum of then (unreconciled) differences, problems will emerge.

    Last, as you seem to be aware of the potential of ‘blinding yourself’, you may want to look information such as those in the following link to determine what your current stage is: I suppose it may somewhat help you if you’re trying to predict future ‘volatility’ of your relationship.

  4. berlian biru says:

    Can Love Transcend Cultural Barriers?

    With a bit of imagination and common sense, yes of course it can.

    Next question.

    Seriously, you yourself say you are of mixed-race origins, doesn’t that rather prove itself to you without having to listen to the silly nonsense we post on a website when we’re bored and feel like winding each other up.

    It’s a great place mate, relax, you’ll have no problem if you keep your wits about you.

  5. ET says:

    Some very wise words have been wriitten here above.
    I’d like to add this. Whether a mixed-culture relationship will succeed depends a lot if the partner who gets ‘uprooted’ will be able to adapt to his/her new environment. The only way to find out is a sufficiently long stay for the to be uprooted partner in his/her new country of destination and his/her ability to become fluent in the local language and get accustomed to its culture and cllimate.
    For Indonesian girls getting the permission to stay away from home for a long time in a foreign oountry – even if she has the means to do so – is not self-evident with the spectre of ‘free sex’ looming above.

  6. Chris says:

    Hi Romi,

    A couple of questions that I hope will help you (plural, meaning you and her) make a wise decision.

    1. Has she visited any countries outside Indonesia?

    If not, probably most of the “adaptation” would be done by you. The question is then whether that is an issue for you.

    For example, if you visit or live in another country, she may still expect to eat Indonesian/Asian-style food and may be less flexible in other areas too. If you can deal with that, no problem. If you hope she will learn to accept a different lifestyle, it would be best to talk about that first. She may say “ok” now, but decide later that she doesn’t like it.

    A few of my Western friends have gone to live in their home countries with their Indonesian wives (spending significant amounts of time and money on visas and relocation expenses), only for the spouse to decide after a short time that country is “too quiet” or “too cold” and then they moved back to Indonesia.

    2. Is it possible for your parents to visit Indonesia and meet her parents?

    This will go a long way to show your potential future in-laws that your intentions are honourable. It might be also helpful to have the opinion of someone you can trust about whether they think it will work.

  7. apollo23 says:

    Let me thank you all for your valuable comments.
    UtilitarianIndon, yes I assume she has the same feelings for me judging by her behavior and the conversations we have had 🙂 I guess my question could have been better understood if I would have asked whether love could survive cultural barriers. Because it has obviously transcended those barriers ,as I already have strong feelings for her 🙂
    Berlian, yes I´m a mixed race but my parents marriage did not survive; however I don´t believe that was culture to blame :/
    ET, yes I have thought about whether she could adapt to my environment here in Europe, however I´m ready to try living in Indonesia as well. I believe it would be easier for me to adapt, than for her. The issue for me might be to ensure a source of financial income once I move out. I´m good with languages, plus Indonesian is on the the simplest languages I´ve encountered so far; so I believe it would take shorter for me to start communicating with people, then for her in here.
    Chris, No she has not visited other countries. Regarding food, I´m a great cook..however I´m vegetarian :/ No, I don´t think my parents would go all the way to Indonesia, even if I insist :/ , they are divorced and live in different countries :/

    I want to reiterate my appreciation for your help. Believe me you comments do help me. Greetings Remi.

  8. bonni says:

    Hey romi,

    I believe love and faith transcend cultural barriers.

    I´m ready to try living in Indonesia as well. I believe it would be easier for me to adapt, than for her. The issue for me might be to ensure a source of financial income once I move out. I´m good with languages, plus Indonesian is on the the simplest languages I´ve encountered so far; so I believe it would take shorter for me to start communicating with people, then for her in here.

    Wow, I think you are ready then. Although you might have to consider the 2 questions chris mentioned.

    If you believe it, then go for it. Good luck romi 🙂

  9. apollo23 says:

    Thanks for your encouraging words bonni. I guess in a way I´m already going for it 🙂 How about my adaptation to the Indonesian atmosphere; could that be a problem for me? How willing are Indonesian to accept immigrants into their culture?

  10. bonni says:


    About that I think you would have to ask other expats who have been living in indonesia for quite some time… But I guess it depends on yourself how you would be able to adapt 🙂

  11. Tence says:

    Apollo, I agree that love indeed can (not always) transcend cultural barriers. So I’d say: Go for it.

    However one small word of warning: Indonesian language is actually NOT as easy as it seems to be at first sight. While it is very true the grammar is very easy, and it indeed is a language in which you can express yourself rather fast, it is this simplicity that also cuts two ways. Being able to say something you need 7 words and tenses for in English, in 3 words without tense in Indonesian seems nice. But remember that if someone says a sentence with 3 words to you, you have to read from context what is meant with that. You have to translate it into tenses and more words in your head.

    Indonesian is not just bout what is said, but often also what is not said. Context is very imprtant in Indonesian and that is the hardest part to learn.

  12. apollo23 says:

    Ok, thanks bonni 🙂 That is quite interesting indeed Tence. You are probably right, I might have overlooked many aspects of the language when passing judgement. I have not explored Indonesian language well enough, I just felt it was easy to learn because I was able to make myself understandable, and understand the basics within two weeks; but as you mentioned it has a dark side 🙂 . Thank you for making me aware of this. The truth is that I have not reviewed most of what I learned, so I guess it´s time to check the books. I appreciate your comments. By the way, I have read in the internet that in some parts of Indonesia ,when you ask a woman to marry you, it is a common practice to pay a dowry. Can somebody explain to me more about this? Thanks before hand. Romi

  13. ET says:

    By the way, I have read in the internet that in some parts of Indonesia ,when you ask a woman to marry you, it is a common practice to pay a dowry. Can somebody explain to me more about

    Actually it seems that in some parts of Indonesia (I believe in some remote parts of the Moluccas) the aspiring groom has, or had to, present the head of a member of an enemy clan as a dowry to his future in-laws. But I don’t believe this rule also applies to bule contenders. 🙂

  14. berlian biru says:

    If I understand my official state-issued marriage certificate correctly I paid a dowry for my wife, it’s mentioned on the back page I think, my dowry was in the traditional form of a gold wedding band but presumably had I bought her a Toyota Alphard that would have been acceptable also.

  15. ET says:

    In East Java the (token) dowry is 50,000 Rp. After the ceremony the money is returned.

  16. Patrick says:

    @ ET – will 5 USD suffice? 😀

  17. rustyprince says:

    TherZs an invigorating sexual revolution going on across the archipelago, and there are zero Virgins here. And Jakarta gals Are the most genuine.

  18. Chris says:

    By the way, I have read in the internet that in some parts of Indonesia ,when you ask a woman to marry you, it is a common practice to pay a dowry. Can somebody explain to me more about this?

    In my wife’s culture, traditionally I am supposed to pay my future father-in-law a dowry.

    However, in my culture, traditionally my future father-in-law is supposed to pay me a dowry.

    When I pointed out the latter fact, we mutually agreed to not pay each other anything – problem solved!

  19. agan says:

    Wakakaka, Chris do you have any sister who is still available?

    Ka-ching! $ Rp.

  20. apollo23 says:

    That is quite a peculiar dowry ET. I hope I won’t need to present such a dowry, remember, I’m vegetarian, so no killing for me 😀 So It seems that the payment of a dowry is a negotiable thing.

  21. deta says:

    I wouldn’t listen to ET if I were you. Last time he gave dowry to a lady, he asked her to return it after the wedding with 10% interest.

  22. ET says:

    I’m serious about the 50,000 Rp dowry because I witnessed it first hand (and it wasn’t me, deta, but a close relative).
    And the ‘dowry’ was given back right after the ceremony.. However I don’t know if this is also the case with the ‘Maluku dowry’. 🙂

  23. berlian biru says:

    I checked my marriage book and can confirm that I paid a dowry, the word used on the document, of one 6-gram gold ring for my good lady wife’s hand.

    She couldn’t give it back though, the pembantu pinched it a couple of years ago.

  24. deta says:

    On a more serious note, yes Romi, dowry is a negotiable thing and should suit the affordability of the groom. It can range from nothing to – like BB said – a Toyota Alphard 🙂 . There is a trend nowadays that the amount of dowry reflects the special event for the couple. For example, if they want to preserve the moment they met for the first time, say, on October 10th, 2010, then the man might present dowry as much as 101,010 rupiah, equals to 11 USD. Ain’t that romantic (and affordable)?

    But somehow the amount of dowry also shows how seriously the groom takes the marriage commitment. That’s why some tribes in Indonesia – like in North Sumatra – still take the dowry thing very seriously. While the Javanese custom is more “nyantai” (relax) about the dowry. Hence the borrowed 50,000 rupiah 🙂

  25. ET says:

    Actually what we are talking about here is not dowry but bride price. According to Wikipedia dowry is the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings forth to the marriage.
    Dowry is a common practice in many Asian countries, including Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. No mention of Indonesia however. I wonder why.

  26. Chris says:

    Wakakaka, Chris do you have any sister who is still available?

    Ka-ching! $ Rp.

    No, only 1 married brother.

    I didn’t mention that the Western system of paying a dowry disappeared long ago (unlike in my wife’s culture). My parents got married in the 1960s, and there was no dowry then.

    Be glad you don’t have to pay $50 000 to marry an Indonesian, like a recent proposed amendment to the marriage law. There actually is a law like this in Egypt, although it is a smaller amount.

  27. Nay says:

    I really don’t want to pollute the original poster’s mind with my own personal experiences. He should be free to discover these things on his own.

    That said… while it MAY be easier for a male to adapt to the woman’s life, is this what you really want to do? Marriage historically is about men “buying” women via dowry, and this practice still exists in Indonesia. Should you talk to a number of young Indonesian men, you may find that a good deal of their time working is for saving up for their dowry.
    If anything, the onus is on the woman to satisfy the man, and not for you to be henpecked by the woman and fit into her agenda… so really, you shouldn’t be the one having to adapt to her adat, religion, or anything really. The onus is on her. Otherwise you’re going to find that you’re just giving up your own freedom and way of life…. the very thing that she found attractive in the first place!

    …that said, she’s going to be really unhappy if you take her too far away from her friends and extended family and plunk her down in Western suburbia with few friends and a lack of knowledge of the language.

    For me, I just couldn’t reconcile the problems. So I just stuck to having lots of girlfriends. 🙂

  28. amaryllisfaye says:

    Hi Romi – I hardly ever post comments on this site although I do try to visit often, but your questions compelled me to comment. Primarily because I too have pondered the same for a while, only for me it’s the other way around, sort of. I’ve lived in various cities in Indonesia as well as other countries in Europe and Asia – so I think I might be able to offer some insights.

    How big of a problem can the cultural barriers be? From your post I’m sensing there’s not going to be any problem from your side, if anything it’ll be on the Indonesian girl’s. It will largely depend on the attitude of her family and friends, i.e. what is their view of foreigners? Indonesia is a diverse mix of people – as you know. There are some cultures that are open to foreigners, and those that are not. Is her family traditional/conservative? Does she belong to any particular religion and if so does she practice it strictly? I ask this because the majority of Indonesians do practice a particular religion. If the girl is a muslim and strict, then you might have to give that some thoughts because most strict muslim families do not view cross-religion marriages well. Some may even disown their offspring for marrying someone not of their own religion. I don’t want you to misunderstand the concept however, or interpret that the girl’s independence is compromised. Certainly, as with most societies, peer pressure plays a part in how you live and choose to act. At the end of the day though – it all returns to the individual right? If the girl strongly feels for you as I see you do for her, then both of you would mutually try to make things work.

    The topic of religion isn’t an easy one. From what I understand of the western culture, love is believed to conquer all. But in Islam, your first love should be for God, not for people or other worldly things that can disappear – and when you love, it too is because of God. This is because muslims believe that they were born because of God, so their life, and all that they do with it, should first and foremost be for God, as He is who they will return to one day. So if the girl is a strict muslim, these would be her considerations in my opinion. Some strict catholics are the same way if I am not mistaken.
    IF she isn’t a strict believer then you won’t have (or won’t have too much of) a religion problem.

    Cultural-wise, I think it’s safe to say that Indonesians are a friendly lot. Yes there are some who don’t take too kindly to foreigners, and this you have to understand is largely due to our history of being colonized for centuries by a myriad of foreigners. But for the most part, Indonesians love it when foreigners take an interest in their culture – it’s exactly what makes them so rich (food, art, traditions, languages, etc). What I’m trying to say is, mix marriages are not that strange or rare to find, and I’ve seen how it can work beautifully – whether you as a couple choose to live in Indonesia or abroad. You being a vegetarian should pose no major problem if you’re ok with the girl not being one (I don’t know many Indonesian girls who are veg) – many Indonesian cuisine favors green veggies.

    As for dowry – again this will depend on the girl’s background. I’m afraid I can’t help more without knowing what kind of culture she belongs to. Is she Javanese? Padangnese? Or from somewhere else? They should be negotiable though. There isn’t a law that forcibly requires you to say, pay a certain amount (certainly that’s not in the Law on Marriage – I should know, I was a law student).

    I hope this helps and I wish you all the best!

  29. apollo23 says:

    Hello amaryllisfaye:

    First of all let me thank you for dedicating some of your time to advise me. Your commentary is well elaborated and constructive. Indeed as you mentioned before religion is a bit of a problem. She is in fact Muslim and I think the only way we would be allowed to marry is if I would convert to Islam. I don´t think she is that strict when it comes to religion, however I think her family is. Personally I think love is the language of God, and God would not oppose love, but I guess her family has a different opinion on the matter. I don´t mind converting to any religion to be by her side; however she told me that I should only convert if I truly believe. I´m not quite sure what should I do about that. Regarding the opinion of her peers about me..I don´t think it is the most positive one. By what she tells me, her friends think that all “bule” are just looking for fun, adventure but nothing serious and that I´m just using her. It is funny, because I have not met any of her friends. I actually totally dislike to be put in such a category, but I guess her friends have their reasons to believe such things of foreigners. She is from Sulawesi. Well, I really appreciate your advice and let´s see whether I proceed with my conversion 🙂 My close friends are already making fun of me, as they picture me with a long beard and wearing peculiar clothes.

  30. ET says:

    I don´t mind converting to any religion to be by her side; however she told me that I should only convert if I truly believe.

    Damn right she is. Why aren’t they all like that and shake off the shackles.

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