Cultural Tips in Sumatra

 
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Here are some basics guides for traveling around Sumatra not to offend the locals. A lot of these tips apply to other Muslim countries.

When receiving and giving things, including money, always use the right hand, however inconvenient it can be at times. See bottom tip for reason.

Use only the right hand for eating. Sumatrans generally use the hand to eat - no knife and fork. Rice is pinched into a ball and then pushed into your mouth with your thumb.

When eating with fingers, clean them in the water bowl provided. Wait until everyone has finished eating before you go to wash your hand.

If using spoon and fork, leave them backside up as a sign you have had enough.

Placing your hands on the hips, even casually, is a sign of arrogance or anger.

It is rude to place one's feet in such a way that the soles are facing another person.

Take off your shoes when visiting someone's home.

If you visit someone's house you may be asked if you have already eaten - "Sudah Mekan?" The polite answer is Sudah. (Already).

If a meal is spontaneously provided, it is impolite to refuse.

When leaving it is polite to thank the wife, even if she has spent all evening in the kitchen.

Men touching men and women touching women is commonplace but touching between the sexes is rarely done in public.

Avoid visiting Moslem homes during prayer times - five times a day.

Burping is normal. Farting is not.

Don't throw things to anyone. It is more polite to hand it over, even if it means moving.

Be prepared for squat toilets and no toilet paper! Most up market hotels have westernised toilets but the sewerage system still doesn't handle toilet paper and will generally clog the toilet making a mess. There will be a basket next to the toilet for the paper waste. Yes can get smelly so try the local way - the bucket of water next to the toilet.

The Sumatrans don't use toilet paper and think it uncleanly to just use toilet paper. There will always be a bucket of water with a ladle or a hose for cleaning yourself. The left hand is used for this purposed - therefore rude to pass things with the left hand. No tips on how best to do this. Just have to work it out yourself for best technique.

As a Sumatran man asked me - if someone slapped some shit on your forehead and then offered you some toilet paper to wipe it off or a bucket of water to clean it off which would you use???

 

Last updated 20th July 2008

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