November 29, 2011

Jakarta Primer 1.0

Selamat datang!  

It has come to my attention that I have neglected your cultural introduction to Jakarta and Indonesia.

We have been here a little over a year now, and it's past time I gave you the low down on the fun, the sometimes frustrating local customs, and some of the laws and quirks that are part of what makes living overseas interesting.

Much of Indonesia, and especially this giant capital city, would be familiar to most people.  It has miles and miles of fairly good paved streets, lots of shopping malls and fast food, cable TV, movie theaters, and skyscrapers. 

But there's plenty of stuff that wouldn't be so familiar (some of which I haven't mentioned because it was true in Africa too and I forgot that it might be noteworthy).

Let's start with the things I was happy about when we spent that week in Anglo-Saxon London...

Body language.  Whew!  This is a minefield.

Bad things: showing the bottom of your feet (try sitting all day without lifting your foot, I dare you), offering or accepting something with your left hand, eating with your left hand, patting or touching someone on their head, standing with your hands or hand on your hips, pointing with your index finger, or smacking yourself in the forehead (as in: I could've had a V-8!)

All these things are disrespectful/rude, except the hands on hips thing which is just seen as arrogant.  I never realized how much I did that in the U.S.- it's a handy place to keep my hands and in my family it's practically genetic to stand that way.

Since I am left handed to an extreme I am handicapped here to a certain extent.  I constantly remind myself to hand people things with my right hand and extend my right hand to accept things, but it's very, very hard for me because it requires that I basically change everything instinctive in order to comply.  All my stuff is arranged for my left hand, just as yours is arranged for your right.  Try spending all day doing things only with your left... and there you see my problem.

Few of my right handed friends and family have ever understood the left handed thing- when I took Ted to his first "Lefthander Store" he kept walking around picking things up and saying "Oh wow! I never thought about how hard this would be for a lefty..."  - so I know you are shaking your head and thinking, 'Get over it!'.

All I can say is, it's not something I can just switch (a fact proven by my medieval 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Geary).  My brain is hard wired to use my left hand and it can't simply be altered by wishcraft.

Even though this using of the right hand thing is so ingrained in Indonesian culture, when I mess up- aside from the occasional flinch- people are kind and pretend I didn't just make a mistake.

Think about shaking hands with a small child you just saw pick his nose.

That's what it's like to deal with me in Indonesia and they do it very well.

Anyway, for the most part we muddle through, although my Blog Photo is... the bottom of my feet.  I have had that photo for many many years and it transcends this single blog, (and is actually 1/3 of the family feet triptych that hangs in my house with our family hand triptych) so to my Indonesian friends I just beg a little cultural indulgence.

I'll continue this primer in installments so you don't get overloaded.  :-) 

Your job is to spend the day not putting your hands on your hips, resting your ankle on your knee, or using your dominant hand.

Just to practice being here with us.