Are you planning to travel to Bahasa Indonesia? If the answer’s yes, you’ve clicked on the right page.
Knowing how to properly greet people in Indonesian is going to make your experience far more memorable and enjoyable. Sure, if you know nothing about Indonesian greetings, a “hi” and a “bye” will do. But in Indonesia, like everywhere else, using the country’s official language will lead to more fun and more meaningful interactions.
By greeting locals in their own language, you break the cultural barrier and you show them that you’re truly interested in soaking up their culture.
Below, you’ll find a list of handy Indonesian greetings to remember.
Saying Hello in Bahasa: A Matter of Time
The great news about Indonesian greetings is that they don’t come in different versions depending on the intended level of formality. However, you’ll need to use the right greeting based on the moment of the day. So, just in case, make sure you don’t forget your watch!
Something you should know is that all Indonesian greetings start with selamat, which roughly translates to happy, merry, or peaceful. Think of it as the word “good” in English greetings such as “Good morning” or “Good afternoon”.
- Good morning: Selamat pagi. (All morning until around noon.)
- Good day: Selamat siang. (From around 1 p.m. until 4 p.m.)
- Good afternoon: Selamat sore. (From 4 p.m. until it starts to get dark.)
- Good evening: Selamat malam. (After sunset.)
- Good night: Selamat tidur. (When you go to sleep.)
We should warn you, however, that these are approximations, and that the times given might vary depending on the time of year (for example, it gets darker earlier in the winter). In the end, do you know what the best proof is that you didn’t get it wrong? People’s reactions. If they respond with a different reply and an eye roll, then you’ll know you’ve made a mistake!
Although Indonesian greetings do not show great variation, sometimes you will hear Selamat petang instead of Selamat malam for “good evening”, especially in formal situations. But this only happens regularly in Bahasa Malaysia. Elsewhere, the four greetings above will do.
In very informal contexts, you might hear these greetings without the selamat part, much in the way we sometimes omit the word “good” in English greetings and just say “morning” when talking to our friends (or when we’re just too sleepy to say the whole thing!).
Finally, when going to bed or telling someone goodnight, use Selamat tidur.
However, just like with its English counterpart, you must make sure to use this one only when you’re going to sleep. So, for example, if you go inside a bar for a drink, no matter how late it its, say Selamat malam (good evening) when you arrive, and Selamat tidur (Goodnight) only when you leave.
(Tip: if nobody’s yawning, it’s probably not time for selamat tidur yet!)
Beyond Indonesian Greetings: Asking How Someone Is Doing
Do you want to expand on your selamat pagi’s? Then, you need to learn to ask how someone is doing in Indonesian.
- How are you?: Apa kabar?
If we were to translate Apa kabar literally, we would get something like “what is the news?” But, as it happens, fixed expressions have little to do with the literal meaning of individual words and a lot to do with how people use them within a specific cultural context.
If you want to show interest by asking someone how they are, Apa kabar? is the universal way to do it.
Now let’s focus on the replies.
- Fine: Baik. – By far the most common answer you’ll hear, this reply is sometimes said twice: Baik, baik.
- Not good: Tidak bagus. – Hopefully, you won’t get this one.
- I’m sick: Saya sakit.- If you get this reply, watch out! You won’t go to spoil the rest of your trip by getting an unknown virus.
How to Say Goodbye
Now that you know how to start a conversation or just greet random strangers on the street, the next step is learning how to say a proper goodbye. Closing a conversation on a friendly note will help you cause a great impression and will make all your efforts worthwhile.
You can use one of the following phrases:
Are you the one leaving? Say Selamat tinggal.
Are you the one staying? Then say Selamat jalan.
(Note: Tinggal means to stay, and jalan means to leave).
Do you hope to see the person again? Then, you can go for a more endearing option:
See you later: Sampai jumpa.
Let’s meet again: Jumpa lag.
Watch Out! Pointers for Foreigners
Are you one of those people who pride themselves on their firm (i.e. unnecessarily painful) handshake? Well, you’ll have to leave that for business meetings at home.
Indonesians shake hands, but they prefer a slight touch rather than a squeezing grip. In fact, a long, firm grip can be interpreted as aggression, especially if it’s accompanied by strong eye contact.
Also, it’s customary to gently (gently!) put your hand on your heart after shaking as a sign of respect and appreciation.
Siang vs Sayang
When saying selamat siang, be careful with how you pronounce the “i” in siang. If you do a long “ai” instead of and “ee”, you’ll come dangerously close to saying the Indonesian word for “sweetheart” or “baby”: sayang.
So, if you want to avoid comical, potentially embarrassing situations (like calling a random stranger “sweetheart”) make sure you get this one right.
Indonesian Etiquette for Visitors
Indonesians are known for their generosity, and they expect the same in return. If you’re invited into a local’s home, it is advisable to bring a small gift.
Also, once you’re invited to sit down, make sure not to show the soles of your feet. Instead, keep both your feet on the floor (they should point towards the person who sits opposite you) and adopt a straight posture.
Want to go beyond Indonesian greetings? Visit our website and explore our tailor-made courses taught by native Bahasa speakers. Depending on your preferences and learning style, you can go for one-to-one or group lessons! Reach out to us now and let the learning begin!