11 Weird Habits I’ve Picked Up Since Moving to Indonesia

I’ve been traveling the world on and off for 10 years, but before I moved to Jakarta I’d never actually lived outside of California before.  Clearly living abroad is way different than traveling.  Having the chance to live in Jakarta has enabled me to fully immerse myself in the culture and get up close and personal with all of this city’s cultural quirks.  Things that were weird and foreign to me when I moved here nine long months ago have become routine and almost normal.  And at this point I find myself doing all sorts of weird things I never did before I moved here.

11 Weird Habits I’ve Picked in Indonesia:

1. Walking while browsing the internet

11 Weird Habits I've Picked Up Since Moving to Indonesia - The Travel Lush

Jakartans are obsessed with social media and as a consequence they constantly have their noses in their cell phones and tablets.  According to this article, Indonesians spend an average of nine hours a day looking at their phones, tablets and laptops.

Think this sounds unrealistic?  Spend a day wondering around a mall in Jakarta and you’ll get the gist of how true this actually is.  Whenever I’m at my local mall I’m always taken aback by how everyone – from kids to grandparents – is on their cell phones.  Whether they’re dining with their families, standing in line at the store or just walking through the mall, people are staring at their phones.

When I first got here I found this behavior disturbing.  And I was thoroughly annoyed by how everyone would walk around with their eyes glued to their cell phones.  But after being here for almost a year, I’m now one of those people who walks around while browsing the internet on her cell phone.  And, yes, I have had many near-collisions with people and walls…

2. Taking jamu at the first sign of sickness

Jamu is a traditional herbal medicine and Indonesians swear by it.  Aaron’s co-workers and students turned him onto it.  Actually they forced it upon him the first time he got a cold.  He then forced it upon me when I caught his cold.  Ever since then we simply can’t live without it.  There is absolutely no scientific evidence that jamu does anything.  But it’s kind of like taking Emergen-C in the US before getting on a plane.  It’s just what you do.

3. Living without a microwave

Going nine whole months without a microwave was never part of the plan.  I always intended buy one, but every time I went on a mission to purchase a microwave I was shocked at how much they cost.  Literally I haven’t found a microwave here that isn’t more than $150 for something so small it won’t even fit a plate.  Considering most things that are made in Indonesia either don’t work or break shortly after purchase, shelling out hundreds of dollars on a microwave was a gamble I wasn’t willing to take.

Then months went by and I learned to toast bread and heat up leftovers on the stove.  And I realized, sure it would be nice, but I don’t really need a microwave.

4. Eating raw peppers

11 Weird Habits I've Picked Up Since Moving to Indonesia - The Travel Lush

Indonesia is a huge country and the cuisine varies wildly depending on where you are, but in Jakarta people like their food spicy.  Being from San Diego – a haven for Mexican food – I am a spicy food lover through and through.  But I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get in the habit of consuming raw peppers on a near daily basis.

It all started when Aaron brought home some bakwan – one of the many popular street foods in Indonesia.  The corn fritters came with a handful of tiny green peppers and Aaron explained that Indonesians just straight up eat them whole.  So I gave it a go.  Those little peppers can be spicy as hell, but they are so good.  I now can’t eat bakwan without the peppers.  I’ve become so obsessed with raw peppers that I’ve now gotten in the habit of slicing them up and putting them on everything from sandwiches to pizza.

5. Learning to trill my R’s like a true Mexican

Being from San Diego (and being half Mexican) I started taking Spanish classes at an early age.  I am embarrassingly awful at learning languages so I can’t say that it did much good, although I do know enough to get by.  Never did I ever think that my Spanish speaking skills would help me in Jakarta.  But they have!

Indonesian words are pronounced a lot like Spanish words.  So when I’m saying anything in bahasa Indonesia, I just pronounce it the way I would in Spanish and people can actually understand me!  The only difference is that in bahasa all R’s are trilled.  If I don’t trill my R’s people have no clue what I’m saying.  A lot of the foreigners in Jakarta, many of whom are Australian, have a lot of trouble trilling their R’s.  Indonesians actually get a kick out of the fact that I can do it!

6. Getting freaked out about escalators

11 Weird Habits I've Picked Up Since Moving to Indonesia - The Travel Lush
FYI, that sign says “Do Not Stand on the Yellow Line.” Some people take this a little too literally!

Oh the escalator phenomenon…or as some of my expat friends call it, the magical stairs phenomenon.  I don’t know why, but from my experience I’ve found that quite a lot of Indonesians seem a little freaked out of escalators.  But to be fair, I’m mainly talking about elderly people.

It’s not uncommon to pass by an escalator and see someone standing at its base just looking down at the moving stairs.  I’ve seen people stand there for up to a minute – while people pile up behind them – before mustering the courage to get on.  I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been walking full speed toward the escalator only to run into the person in front of me because they came to an abrupt stop.  It’s the weirdest thing ever, but I’ve noticed that after being here for so long, I’ve started overthinking getting on an escalator.  What is happening to me?

7. Becoming a delivery fanatic

In San Diego, very few things are delivered – mostly it’s just pizza and Chinese food.  But in Jakarta, you can get anything delivered and most of the time there’s no extra charge.

Want a cold beer or a pack of smokes?  No problem, just call down to your local convenience store and they’ll bring it to your door.  Need your laundry done?  They’ll come pick it up and deliver it back to you for a small fee.  In Indonesia you can even get McDonald’s delivered to you 24/7.  I’ve never done that, but knowing that I can is kind of awesome.

8. Avoiding the sun at all costs

11 Weird Habits I've Picked Up Since Moving to Indonesia - The Travel Lush
Notice the lack of lounge chairs around the pool? Such a shame…

Indonesians are petrified of the sun.  Well, that’s not true.  They just really, really don’t like it.  In the US having a nice tan is considered beautiful, but here having white skin is the epitome of beauty.  Skin whiting products are huge sellers here.  Everything from body wash to deodorant to face scrubs have whitening agents in them, to the point that I have to be really careful what I buy.

Suffice it to say, Indonesians don’t like being in the sun, at all.  None of the enormous pools in my apartment complex have lounge chairs, because why on earth would people want to lay in the sun?  Given Jakarta’s lack of parks and outdoor activities I’m not sure that most people here are ever exposed to the sun – and that goes for me too.  When I go out, I go from my apartment complex to a cab to (most often) a mall.  That’s how life is here.  My body rarely gets sun and I miss it so much!

9. Swimming in my tank top

While I’m on the topic of pools I will admit that I have become that person who just swims in her shirt.  To be fair to me, a lot of women in Indonesia swim in their full-on clothes (jeans, shirts, socks) so it’s not all that weird.  What is weird is when I go to the pool in my bikini.  People stare and they probably get offended.

So now, when there are people around, I just jump in the pool in my tank top.  I realize I should probably not do this while back in California this summer.  (That’s right.  I’m heading back for a visit!)

10. Throwing toilet paper in the trash can

After spending the majority of the past two years in Southeast Asia, I’ve nearly forgotten that in the US toilet paper goes in the toilet.  Like pretty much everywhere else in Southeast Asia, the plumbing in Jakarta isn’t so good.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

11. Not being phased by the call to prayer

11 Weird Habits I've Picked Up Since Moving to Indonesia - The Travel Lush
Mosques are tucked away in virtually every crevice of the city.

When I first moved here I wrote a post about the quirks of living in Jakarta.  At the time, the call to prayer was one of the most foreign, most surreal aspects of living in Jakarta.  It occurs five times a day, and each time the sound reverberated around city I would have one of those whoa-I’m-living-in-Indonesia moments.

Nine months later and the call to prayer has become normal.  In fact, I’ve become so accustomed to it that I rarely notice it during the day.  That being said, I’ve recently become acutely aware just how quickly my last two months in Jakarta are going to go and I’ve really started relishing the sound as of late.

I usually go jogging in the evenings, during the final prayer of the day.  Instead of listening to music, I now take out my ear buds and listen to it as a run.  That sound that was so foreign to me when I moved here is one of the things I will miss the most about Jakarta.

Have you ever lived abroad?  What sorts of weird habits did you pick up?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

35 thoughts on “11 Weird Habits I’ve Picked Up Since Moving to Indonesia

  1. Yes, living abroad provides you so much more of a cultural aspect. #1 I think is a new epic everywhere that technology is influenced. Haha and the plumbing I had to adjust to that aspect when I lived in Chile. It was something that took time. Also, while in Chile eating white bread at every meal or watching the news like it was a religion.
    De’Jav recently posted…20 places to see in your 20’s

    1. The cell phone thing is off the hook in Jakarta. I think you’re going to Bali soon, but I’m not sure it’s as crazy there. If you do happen to go to Jakarta during your trip, you’ll see what I’m talking about! Ugh, the plumbing thing is annoying but I’ve adjusted! Haha, I can relate to eating white bread all the time. All of the bread in Indonesia is sweet white bread. It’s not very good but I’ll take what I can get!

  2. It’s so interesting to me how we so easily adapt to our surroundings. I think the hardest thing for me to adjust to would have to be the toilet paper situation. But as far as keeping out of the sun i am fine with that. i hate the heat, so any excuse to avoid it is great for me.

    1. It really is amazing how quickly we adjust. The toilet paper thing is really weird, but I suppose I’d been traveling around Southeast Asia for so many years before I moved to Indonesia that I knew what to expect. As far as the sun thing goes, I’m not the type of person who likes to lay out for hours on end but I think I’m starting to become vitamin D deficient 🙁

  3. Nice article Justine! Hope you can break that toilet paper thing before you get here! But to be fair, we glush woth leftiver shower wayer due to the drought! See you soon!!

    1. Thanks Camille 🙂 Haha, I find that people walk very slowly in Indonesia. They must think that I’m crazy for walking so quickly. Anyway, I walk into people all the time because they’re walking around looking at their phones and they’ll just randomly come to a stop or slow way down. It’s too funny!

    1. I don’t think McDonald’s delivers in the US…well, at least not in San Diego where I’m from! I love the delivery culture in Jakarta. It’s especially nice not to have to sit in traffic 😉

  4. Interesting to know! I’m used to some of the things you’ve written but it’s always interesting to know how different it is in another country. Although I’ve got to say that you really tried jamu? It’s not something that I would willingly take but I suppose traditional medicine is more prevalent in Indonesia than Singapore. Not that many people here take traditional medicine that often, it’s usually easier to just head to the pharmacy to get some over the counter medicine. But awesome that you gave it a try! 🙂

    P/S: You only have 2 months left in Jakarta? Does this mean you are going back for good soon?

    1. Now I need to know why you wouldn’t try jamu! Should I not take it?! I haven’t actually tried the stuff on the street, which I guess is really popular in and around Jogja. Some of the ingredients in that freak me out. The stuff I’ve tried is from the store so I don’t think it has weird ingredients…

      Yup, seven weeks left here and then I’m moving somewhere else. I will announce it very soon!

      1. Haha! I don’t really know what goes into jamu but it tastes horrible so I suppose my reluctance is more cos there are better alternatives here so not gonna try jamu anytime soon! Time sure flies though, felt like it was not too long ago that you moved over to Jakarta…

        1. Jamu does taste really weird! There are totally no health benefits to taking it. For me it’s purely psychological! It’s just become a weird habit 😉

  5. You know, I’ve found that even living in ‘less foreign’ countries (i’m in the UK) there are some crazy cultural differences. The microwave thing is the same – I have been meaning to buy one but with minimal counterspace it just has never happened. Turns out, they’re not an essential kitchen gadget. I mean, you’ve got me beat on some of the strange things, but it’s so fascinating to finally figure out the weird little stuff!
    Julie recently posted…Eating Well and Drinking A Little Too Much in Stockholm

    1. Hi Julie! I can imagine that pretty much any country has its quirks. I’m battling the same lack of counter space here in Jakarta, so I know where you’re coming from! Apartments are just smaller in these corners of the world. I really never thought it was possible to live without a microwave but it really is. But I’m kind of glad that I’m not the only one who feels that way because my family back in California things I’m kind of insane 😉

  6. When I lived in Buenos Aires, I got Burger King delivered to my apartment… just because I could (and because my Mexican roommate and I were severely hungover). It really felt like I’d hit a new low, but at the same time it was amazing. You could get steak, liquor, sushi, and so much more delivered there too.

    Also, people swim in socks?! That is so very weird.
    Rachel recently posted…Snapshots of Beaufort, North Carolina: Before the Summer

    1. Haha, I’m secretly kind of glad I’m a vegetarian and can’t really eat fast food or get it delivered. There’s no temptation for me 🙂 I have had liquor delivered though, but seriously that’s because it’s kind of hard to find hard liquor in Jakarta. And, yes, a lot of people swim in full on clothes. At my apartment some women wear what looks like a full body wet suit. It’s just the norm here, but such a far cry from California!

  7. Great list!

    The escalator one made me laugh. I’ve actually never seen anyone have problems in Jakarta, but I bet the people that do are visiting the big city from the kampung! About two years ago, a little shopping complex here in Kerinci put in the regions very first escalator, and it was a sensation. Kids would line up to ride up and down it, giggling and working up their bravery to take that initial step. Adults would just stare at it, confused and not sure how to proceed before finally making a couple of tentative movements to try to time it just right. Some literally took five minutes or more before they could get it right. Things we take for granted…

    I still have never been tempted to go for Jamu. Seen too many articles about them being dangerous and BPOM banning certain ones every few years. Almost totally unregulated, especially out here where I live in the middle of nowhere.

    One thing I’ve picked up that’s not on the list – it’s impossible for me not to put my hand to my heart after shaking someone’s hand. Even if I’m back visiting the States, unless I really really make a conscious effort, I do it, to my embarrassment. Just a part of muscle memory now!

    1. Ha, I saw the escalator thing happen again yesterday! But, again, it was an older man. I imagine that seeing an escalator for the first time would be a total trip. I would be freaked out too! I love hearing about the kids’ reactions 🙂 The people who I see in Jakarta who are really hesitant are typically much older people. Timing their step perfectly seems like a major concern for them.

      Luke! Now I’m totally freaked out by jamu! I had no idea certain types have been banned. My boyfriend’s students are always giving him different ones to try, which is why we always have it in the house. Now I’m scared…

      Putting your hand on your heart is a nice habit to pick up 🙂 So how long have you been in Indonesia?

  8. Great post! It’s nice to read it from a different perspective. I’m a Malaysian who’s moved to Australia, and this made me think about any habits that I have picked up since then. Though, I like to bundle it all up and call it “complete cultural immersion”!
    Michelle recently posted…Preparing for 6 months travel

    1. Ha, it’s definitely cultural immersion! It really is funny how quickly we pick up foreign cultural customs though. I’m sure I’ve picked up way more habits that I haven’t even noticed!

  9. I don’t think you should be freaked out about jamu as long as it’s traditional-made. I’m okay with jamu from those old jamu sellers since usually they made it traditionally. The only instant jamu brand I’d prefer to drink usually from Sidomuncul or Mustika Ratu.

    About escalator thing, I happened to witness this when I brought my cousin to nearby supermarket and she almost toppled me due to her fear towards it. I found it amusing since it’s not really her first time using escalator, and the one on market area is a sliding type (like in the airport). But some people would always feel reluctant with it so it’s kinda normal to see.

    And the sun, hm.. how should I put this. You know the heat in Indonesia feels like a super sized oven, and some people like me for instant will drown in our sweat less than a second under this heat. I never really care much about whitening my skin, I’m inheriting my Mom’s Balinese trait and and born in tan skin. But the heat is actually the problem. It’s a torture exposing skin to the sun, at least for me.

    Well, I hope you’ll enjoy more living in Jakarta. If you have chance, visit Lampung too. 🙂

  10. This is an awesome post! I love it!
    Oh I hate about that ‘the whiter skin you have, the more beautiful you are’ campaign. I was born with relatively white skin to Indonesian standard, but I don’t mind getting tanned as long as it gets me beach experiences among others.
    I used to be scared of getting on an escalator when I was little because it was a rare thing in my hometown back in the early 80s, so I wasn’t used to it.
    About microwave, hm, mine works just fine since 2009, and I think it wasn’t over $150, and my big plates fit in there 🙂
    Oh, the chili / pepper. Do you miss it now already in Pnom Penh? I missed eating food with chili soooo much when I was in Greece for a whole month! The first food I ate when I arrived in Jakarta afterwards was the padangnese food at Sederhana restaurant! LoL…

    I once lived in Michigan, back in the 90s, for 3 years. Habits that I picked up include wearing sunglasses when it’s too sunny out (where in Indonesia people would say you’re just being showy and celeb-wannabe, sort of), complimenting other people’s nice outfits when I see one but normally just the people I interact with, and liking the BBQ sauce! hehe..
    vira recently posted…Swimming with Stingless Jellyfish at Kakaban Island, East Kalimantan

    1. Ha, I’m glad you liked it Vira! One thing I really miss about Indonesia is the sambal! My boyfriend and I would put it in everything. Plus, there are so many different kinds from around Indonesia to sample. I took a Thai cooking class in Bangkok and learned how to make a chili paste which seems similar to sambal. This weekend I’m going to tinker with the recipe and try to make homemade sambal…it’s so good! Oh and bakwan. I miss those corn fritters dearly!

  11. Hello, I am an Indonesian
    This is a good post.

    people in Indonesia is always play smartphone any time, most young pepple are easy but not everyone is always with their mobile phone.

    second, it’s a habit of running Slow possible bad things that exist. i hate it so, because i cant walk slow, because time.is very important.

    Third, for the Indonesian people usually use the toilet water and the average of all in Indonesia is same use water not toilet paper

    4th.. bathing habits of Indonesianpeople use clothing is about the culture and morals.

    and the last I dont.know about Pray call.. i.am christian and rarely hear it in Manado City..


      1. Hope Your dreams Come true, Justine.
        really Nice to meet you!!

        I life in Manado for Study…
        and I’ll back To hometown (Molucass) Halmahera Island..

        so what Country are you from?

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