Indonesian Culture: Family, Money, Responsibility and Sacrifices

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I didn’t post for a while simple because I got tired of writing about startups, for now I guess enough has been said and I hate repeating myself. So today I decided to share some of my experiences in Indonesia hoping it will benefit other foreigners understanding the culture better. For me it’s sharing my thoughts and maybe it will help others coming to Indonesia.

Indonesian people are family people. Now probably foreign readers will say “well, so are we”, but Indonesians take it much further. First of all, we Western people tend to see our parents at some point as a problem which we solve by putting them in retirement homes for all sorts of (mostly egoistic) reasons. Nicely put away not bothering their kids anymore. For me it’s sad to see how people that raised us, fed us, educated us and love us are now put in an environment where they collectively await the inevitable. Where they’re reminded of their fate soon to come  by the daily appearance of ambulances and hearses. Where they’re often waiting in vain for a visit of their kids or grand children. No longer part of society and even having lost their voice in society. Yes, I’m generalizing here but don’t tell me it’s not happening on a large scale in the “developed world”. One of the main reason for this happening is that many western cultures believe that the parents are responsible for their kids until the day they die, not the other way around.

Now Indonesia is much different from that. First of all, people show much more respect for the elderly and acknowledge their wisdom and experience in life. Second, when people come to an age where they can no longer take care of themselves their children will take responsibility. It’s not a mandatory thing but just something that comes natural, at some point the roles reverse and the parents become the responsibility of their children. At least one child will live with their parents to take physically care of them, even when that requires sacrificing their career and social life they had before.

Others will sacrifice even more by moving to another city far away from their loved ones simply because they have the opportunity to make the hard needed money for their family. Definitely we have people like that working in Tokobagus who are daily struggling between the need to make money to provide for their family but having to live a life far away from their loved ones. Having a daughter living on the other side of the world I can imagine how they feel and only respect them for the sacrifices they make. Also I have to cope with this internal struggle daily and I still haven’t found the final answer for this dilemma.

Family comes first. It’s something I deeply respect but because of my cultural background it’s also a source of frustration for me sometimes. Sometimes it seems the burden put on one single person is unfair and too high. Taking care of your parents goes without saying and western people can learn from that. Unfortunately I also see the situation where other family members want to cash in on the success of this one person in the family. Situations where people offload their problems easy to this one person instead of taking their own responsibility for whatever mess they’ve gotten themselves into.

I think both from a private as well as business point of view this is one of the things foreigners in Indonesia should realize. When people leave a well paid job and maybe even throw away a great career to take care of a family member in need of help, it might seem illogical from a western perspective while it makes perfect sense for an Indonesian person. Don’t make the easiest mistake of judging based on your background, you’re part of a different culture so try to understand and learn.

It took me 3 years, many discussions and flames with my fiancee to (not even fully) understand and deal with this difference in culture. But then again, there are still so many things I can and hopefully will learn.

  • Madina-9926

    wierd as