In their curiosity of the ‘wong turis’ now living in their village, the people of Paciran have told me or asked me the craziest things.
“You look like a doll.”
“Your nose is bangir (long), but we have pisek (flat) noses!”
The most ridiculous so far: “You are like Barbie.”
“Your hair is the colour of cows hair.”
“Your hair is the colour of corn.”
“Is that your original hair colour?”
The most interesting so far: “Are you wearing a wig?”
Grabbing my hand and comparing my hand to their hand: “Your skin is white! WOOOOOOOW.”
“You have a pimple on your face.”
“Wow, your face gets so red when you are hot.”
“You look fat in that photo.”
“You are skinny, but you have a small belly.”
The funniest so far: Pointing at a mole or a freckle on my arm: “So when a mosquito bites you, it is brown coloured?”
“How much money did you bring to Paciran?” (I’m not sure if everyone uses a banking system here….)
“How much money does it cost for a meal in Canada?”
“How much money do you pay for rent in Canada?”
“How much money does a doctor, teacher, professor, housekeeper, construction worker…make in Canada?”
“How much money did your plane ticket cost you?” “Around 15 million Rupiah” “WOW! I’ve never had that much money in my life!”
“Are their beggars in Canada?”
To the point: “You are rich.” or “Can you give me some money?”
“Can you get me a VISA to come to Canada?”
“Can you get me a job in Canada?”
“Can you buy me a plane ticket to Canada?”
“Where is Canada?”
“How long does it take to get to America?” (Because the concept of a land border, for some people, is not understood as Indonesia consists of over 17 000 islands.)
“Are you married?”
“Oh, but you have a boyfriend. When are you going to get married?”
“What year are you going to get married?”
“Don’t wait too long to get married. You won’t be able to have children!”
“Can you invite me to your wedding?” Sure!
“Are there muslims in Canada?”
“Is it true that Catholics cannot divorce but Protestants can?”
“Why don’t you wear a head-covering like some Catholics, i.e. the nuns?”
“Do you want to convert to Islam?”
“Where were you going when I saw you two nights ago walking on the street?”
“I saw you running last week on this road. You are so brave to run alone!”
“You are so brave!” (To walk 500m to my friend’s house alone.)
While the concept of “malu” (you must not shame someone in public) is very important in Javanese culture, I have learned that people are actually very direct in questioning other things. It is clearly not impolite to comment on someone’s physical attributes, such as your weight, colour of your skin, that you have a zit on your forehead. These questions or comments have not only been directed at me, but I have also heard a mom tell her daughter, “oh, you are fat”, directly to her face. So it’s not just to me. It is also not uncomfortable for people to directly ask about money. I once was asked how much I paid for this gift that I bought them. For me, I would consider the direct questioning about money or physical attributes to be very impolite.
For an example of how the concept of “malu” works, we had an Indonesian guy friend coming over to our place in Yogya to hang out. Then, one of our neighbours came to talk to my roommate, and told her that the Indonesian guy was so loud, and whenever he came over, he was so LOUD when he called and knocked on the door. My roommate was so confused, because whenever he came over, he just quietly sent an sms to her to open the door. But what the issue was, it was that it was a GUY and moreover, he was Indonesian, and why was he spending periods of time in our house with us girls, alone? Then we understood, and another girl who knew the guy casually mentioned to the neighbour that the Indonesian guy had a girlfriend, but the girlfriend was abroad at the moment, and he comes over to work on his thesis. And then the neighbour gave my roommate a necklace, and everything was hunky dory. So roundabout! But you must respect this “malu”!
So although it is extremely impolite to directly address a problem with a relationship, or how you are working, or how someone is acting, I have quickly understood that the questions or comments about physicality and money and religion and marriage is normal.
And for the record, no, I do not use a special cream or wear powder on my face to make my skin white. And yes, my underarms are white and I do not use a special deodorant to make my underarms white.