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How to mingle with the locals: five tips

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One difference between tourists and travelers is how they treat the place they visit.

Tourists often distance themselves from a destination as a whole, making it just another “vacation" spot, while travelers usually decide to do more with the local people, the culture, the reality and end up getting a much richer experience from the trip.

If you prefer to be a traveler rather than a tourist when visiting Indonesia, then mingling with the locals might be worth a try. We made a list of tips that might make the effort easier.

Learn basic and useful terms. Many Indonesians are impressed with tourists who are fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, and I believe that the same can be applied in other countries. Small chitchat using Indonesian could bring positive reactions: big smiles, warm welcomes or even big discounts while bargaining in the traditional market. Indonesian is not as demanding as Thai or Chinese, particularly because it uses Latin characters and does not rely too much on intonation. Examples of common phrases are: terima kasih (thank you) sampai jumpa (good bye) and permisi (excuse me).

Refrain from dressing like a tourist. I would advise you to leave the “Bintang" t-shirt at the hotel and show it off somewhere else where it can actually stand out. Budapest, perhaps? Some places in Indonesia require visitors to respect the local culture by wearing suitable clothes. Thus, certain ways of dressing-such as too revealing or too casual- can provoke disrespect or even danger.

More local gestures. Eat with your hands. Bow your body a little when passing elders. Say greetings every time you meet people. Local gestures are a good start for you to gain respect from the locals. Try to smile at everybody while exploring the market. Don’t be afraid to interact with people around you. Explain yourself before asking for something. Once you get their positive attention, nothing could be easier.

Landmarks are not everything. Don’t waste the whole day at places you have seen in postcards. Landmarks are overrated, often filled with tourist traps and most likely, predictable. You will likely take template photos with a template pose, getting around for a couple of minutes and that’s it. Thus, you are unlikely to get the idea of being Indonesian by remaining at a landmark. Explore more, visit other less commercialized spots in your area. Try to visit traditional markets, food hawkers and many more. But remember to stay safe.

Tolerate more. It is no secret that you will meet plenty of obstacles during your trip. For instance, the infamous traffic congestion in the capital city, the unruly queuing-if it can be called queuing at all- and many others. It can be infuriating at times but try to calm down and view things from another perspective. Getting angry at one taxi driver will unlikely improve Jakarta’s traffic conditions, for instance. Since anything could happen in Indonesia, make plan B, C, and D and be extra safe with your belongings.

Last changed: Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 10:56 am

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