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A Polite Smile for Every Occasion

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I had been in Indonesia only a few weeks with no grasp of the language, apart from the common courtesies - 'good morning' etc. and 'thank you'.

Previously I had read that you will receive more smiles in Indonesia than anywhere else in the world, but be warned - there is a smile for every occasion. Inadvertently that theory was put to the test and found to be the case.

I'm a 'baby-chuckler'. If there is a baby or a little kid around I talk to it, usually accompanied by a tickle under the chin. Being Australian, male, tubby, round-faced, white-bearded, old, chaste, out-going, friendly and totally politically incorrect,and having taught kids for years, I have brazened out the conventions of the po-faced theorists who consider any friendliness towards a child is intrusive to say the least, if not downright threatening.

Well a trip to an Indonesian supermarket is a revelation. Indonesian kids, like Italian and Spanish kids, appear to be doted on. Someone told me they don't hit the ground under two years - always in the arms of someone, kissed and cuddled. So wandering around a supermarket (being politely stared at - there are few bule in our area), seeing all these wonderful babies, I would occasionally smile at one of them and say in English, "Hello baby". A big smile from the parents or the pembantu - and the usual wide eyed look from a shy kid.

Baby, baby, baby!

Then I started to teach myself bahasa.

Well, you know the rest. Here I was, wandering around the worlds biggest muslim country, bule gila (crazy foreigner) that I am, saying to every kid in sight, 'Hello babi - Hello pork!' Babi, Babi, Babi - Porky! Porky! Porky!

They are a very polite people, these Indonesians.

I quickly learnt the correct word bayi (baby) - and I get the same smiles, but for different reasons no doubt.

Meanwhile the kids in our street no longer shout out 'Hello Mister' but 'Halo oom' (Hello uncle) and the next door 'bayi' likes to come into our house after breakfast and wander around eating bananas and watching Play School. She smiles a lot too.

© Phillip Turnbull

Housing and schooling information for expats in Indonesia expatriate website for Indonesia Indonesian language translation of article

Practical Information for foreigners, expats and expatriates moving to Indonesia - find out about housing, schooling, transport, shopping and more to prepare you for your stay in Indonesia

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