To Say Thank You in Indonesian {or not?}

Terima Kasih RED TAG

I read an interesting article a while ago, which really made me start thinking…it was written by Dr. Timothy Hassell, a Lecturer in Indonesian at the Australian University in Canberra….it was about the use of saying thank you in Indonesian {or terima kasih}.

It got me thinking about times when I have been in Indonesia and either I have used ‘terima kasih’ perhaps too frequently and I had strange reactions from locals or on the other hand I had felt that a local had been rude to me for NOT saying ‘terima kasih’. I read this article and realised that…cultural understandings are a unique facet…and can take a long time to fully understand the depth of a cultural action or belief system.Some snapshots of quotes from the article written by Dr. Timothy Hassel:

‘…On my first trip to Indonesia twenty years ago, I arrived in the village of Ubud in Bali and was sitting in my losmen. Two young hotel maids came in, and started making up the beds. I said, “Terima kasih”. One of them mimicked mockingly to her friend in an irritated tone. “Terima kasih, terima kasih”. The message, it seemed, was “Thank you, thank you – that’s all these foreigners ever say.”

Ever since then I’ve noticed how hard it is for Australians to thank properly in Indonesian. The form is easy…The big problem is knowing when to do it. And most Australians do it too often, causing awkwardness or even offence…

How often do Indonesians thank?

Indonesians use “terima kasih” and “ma kasih” only sparingly. One Indonesian explains: Indonesians … do not express their thanks in every occasion explicitly. Indonesians’ expression of thanks only appear if they explicitly ask other people to help them. This will be clear in a situation like borrowing books in the library or buying goods from the market or getting off the bus. Indonesians feel that they do not need to say “thank you” to librarians or merchants or bus drivers because it is their duty to serve the customer…’
(Soenarso, 1988, p. 31)

This makes me think a lot about the whole concept of saying thank you…I grew up being taught to ALWAYS say “please” and “thank you”….it’s the polite thing to do. And actually, I know that I say thank you a lot…maybe even more than the average Aussie! And I have been told this many times by different people from all over the world with different cultures! But now that I think more and more about the customs around when and when not to say thank you in Indonesia, I could give lots of examples where I have seen Indonesian’s NOT thanking particular people such as; in the supermarket, in a shop, in a restaurant, at a hotel etc. I can remember thinking many times…that Indonesians showed lack of gratefulness or kindness in the sense that they didn’t say thank you.

Why Indonesians thank sparingly?

‘…This seems to be linked to traditional values. Most Indonesians, especially Javanese, have a firm sense of social hierarchy and of status differences. So they are unlikely to thank a person of lower status in many everyday situations as they regard that person to be simply carrying out his or her social obligations.

Also important is the great value placed upon group membership or communality. It creates a feeling that you should do certain things for others without receiving formal acknowledgement, simply because you all belong to the same group. And so thanking someone you know well can at times seem aloof and create offence…

Thanking among Australians

Australians thank each other a great deal in everyday situations. It makes little difference who has the higher status or whether the service is big or small – we just thank anyway. And often we even do it repeatedly, so that a routine encounter between a shopkeeper and customer turns into a litany of murmured “Thank you” … “Thanks” … “Thank you” …’

So true isn’t it…?! Now I’m even thinking about when I get my coffee in the morning before I start work…I have found myself saying…’Thanks! Ta!’…sometimes without even a pause. How many times does one need to say thank you?!

The article went on to discuss the fact that saying “Thank you” is on the rise for Indonesians, particularly those living in big cities and for the many Indonesians that have lived overseas in western countries where they have adopted the western thanking habits. It’s even common now in Indonesia to hear locals say: “Thanks”…(in English) just like a westerner would! It’s universal!

Of course if one is in Indonesia and feeling unsure about when and when not to say thank you…there are other options…it is acceptable to lightly nod your head in recognition of an action, rather than actually saying “Terima kasih”. Eye contact and facial expressions also tell a thousand words…a smile…a look of relief…Or one could state a phrase to show appreciation or thanks such as; “Saya senang sekali!” – “I’m very happy!”…or…”Wah asyik dong!” – “Wow that’s cool!”

Next time I go to Indonesia, I am going to take careful consideration and observe local people…at different places and in different situations…and just see when AND when not they say TERIMA KASIH.

Read the whole article here: ‘To Thank or Not to Thank in Indonesian‘ – by Dr. Timothy Hassel.

And from me: Terima kasih, ya!

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