Selamat datang di Jakarta!

While the driver is trying to gain some meters here and there, I am watching from my comfy back seat the never boring spectacle that unfolds before my eyes: school kids walking home, cheerfully chatting with each other and seemingly not bothered by the vehicles brushing past them; street vendors preparing their 'kaki limas' for the breaking of the fast; one lonely police man standing at the main junction trying to give directions with his arms and a whistle . . .

Yes, I am caught up in traffic. Selamat datang di Jakarta!

For anyone living and working in Jakarta the traffic is the overall determining factor of life. In February of this year Jakarta was announced to be the city with the worst traffic in the world. Another survey revealed that Jakarta residents spend 400 hours a year on commuting to and from work, meaning that for each trip they spend two hours in traffic on average. Depending on the time of the day, the weather or other unpredictable reasons a track of less than 5 kilometers can take you from 15 minutes to 1,5 hours if not more. No wonder there is this local expression that "In Jakarta you can only do one thing a day".

'Jam karet', the Indonesian concept of time

I have never been more aware of my very Dutch or Western perspective on time. In Jakarta still try to schedule several activities per day and you just end up frustrated because "I wasted my time".

The Indonesian approach to time is known as 'jam karet' (rubber time), meaning that time is elastic and can be stretched almost infinitely. Deadlines are flexible and plans are easily adjusted and adjustments are not necessarily communicated.

When a local supplier who had agreed to come to our house at 9 am in the morning only arrived at 11.30, there was no excuse at all. When I asked what was the reason for the delay, the answer was "that something else had come up".

When it comes to Indonesian corporate life, especially in global MNC's, my experience is different. In general meetings start on time and Western "time management" principles apply instead of 'jam karet'. Traffic is not used or accepted as an excuse. Employees leave home as early as 4.30 am to arrive too early and then sleep in the parking lot before turning up in time in the office.

Shared Ownership of Information

Another thing that has struck me since I moved here is the strong level of group orientation. Sharing of anything and everything seems to be in the genes of Indonesians, whether it relates to food, money, work or information. The latter, the shared ownership of information, is probably one of the reasons that Indonesia is considered to be "The Social Media Capital of the world". It also has its effect in daily private and corporate live and can be quite shocking for people that have a much more individualistic perspective.

A befriended Western European Managing Director, who explicitly requested his Indonesian Management Team members to keep the meeting information confidential, was unpleasantly surprised to learn that right after the meeting several colleagues in the office were already aware of the confidential information.

In Hofstede's research on national cultures, Indonesia is considered to be the Asian country with the lowest score on the dimension of IDV ("Individualism versus Collectivism"). Having worked throughout Asia and being aware of the collectivist character of societies in this region, my first impression also is that the "We-factor" is very strong indeed in Indonesia.

One last fun fact: Is the answer Yes . . . or No?

In line with their group orientation, Indonesians highly value group harmony and go to lengths to avoid anyone loosing 'face' ('malu' in Bahasa). One manifestation is that Indonesians are masters in communicating indirectly. Can you imagine that Bahasa Indonesia has twelve ways of saying "No" and several other ways of saying "Yes" where the actual meaning is "No"?

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