Here’s an interesting/funny cultural moment.
I’m sitting around my house with my friend Dang Ari. He’s a young guy in his early 20’s. He’s a real social animal and loves to talk and go out and do things. I appreciate Dang Ari because he’s a lot of fun, knows English pretty well, and teaches me his language off and on. But anyway, I tell him my mom is in town and in a couple days we’re going on a short trip to stay in the mountains for a couple nights. He gets this excited look on his face and picks up his phone to call his boss. Uh oh, what’s this going to be about?? I realize I just did something very wrong. He gets off the phone with a satisfied look on his face and announces that he just got permission from his boss and can take off work to accompany us to the mountains. Oh, but even better. Why not make it a large group thing- his boss can come too. . . and our mutual friends Jeremy and Lindsay! The more the better! Geesh. How do I navigate these cultural waters? How do I explain to him that I see my mom at best only once a year and was really looking forward to some private quality time with her? I’ve been in Indonesia over 3 years and I understand their culture quite a bit. But they don’ know my culture so it rarely helps to explain my perspective, especially in a place as small as BK. Their ideas of privacy and quality time are very different than mine.
So what do I do? I try to dodge it. It would be rude to outright refuse or reject his idea. Instead, I affirm that going to the mountains as a large group is a great idea and we should all go sometime- like in a month or so (long after mom is gone). I explain that this time it’s all arranged but NEXT time will be a lot fun. After repeating this four or five times he finally gets it. Lesson learned: when you tell an Indonesian friend your plans they often think it’s an invitation for them to join.